The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality is going to be partnering with FP Innovations to study the feasibility of harvesting aspen trees in the area as a more lucrative resource.

The municipality announced in a press release that the study is being financed both by them and by the Northern Development Initiative Trust. Aspen trees are one of the prefereed trees for the manufactured of oriented strand board, however there has been little demand for the trees since the Canfor PolarBoard OSB Mill was permanently closed in June 2008.

The closure of the mill caused a reduction in harvesting in the Nelson Timber Supply Area, due to the fact that mixed wood stands comprised of both spruce and aspen are predominant. Though there is a demand for spruce lumber, the demand for the aspen trees is virtually nonexistent. Due to the stands of trees being mixed, the municipality says that harvesting them is uneconomical.

While Fort Nelson claims that the aspen trees in the area is recognized as being of “high quality” they have embarked on the study in order to back up this assertion, and to investigate other markets for the trees.

The initial study is focused on demonstrating the quality of the aspens. Fifteen candidate pure aspen stands were initially chosen. Of those, nine sample plots of at least 10 hectares were picked with a variety of tree diameters. Five trees with no visible external defects were chosen from each stand for harvesting, and 4 cm discs were cut at one metre intervals along the length of each tree. The discs were then sent to FP Innovations for analysis. Fort Nelson’s Community Development Officer Mike Gilbert likened the mixed stands of aspen and spruce in the area to a herd of beef cattle. “Up to this point, we’ve only been using them to make hamburger, that’s the OSB in the industry,” said Gilbert. “What we want to know is how many steaks and prime rib roasts we can get out of that animal to get maximum value.”

Aspen trees are commonly harvested and shredded for use in OSB, as well as in animal bedding due to the wood having a lack of phenols that can cause respiratory problems for critters in the long term.