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Unique project looks at different forest management model

The Willow River Demonstration Forest Society is undertaking a unique project that could set the parameters for forest management of the future in B.C.

The society oversees the Willow River Demonstration Forest (Willow River Demo Forest) which is woodlot licence located east of Prince George. The site is visited by hundreds of school students and visitors each year who want to learn more about forest management and enjoy the forests.

The project involves ‘commercial thinning’ of an area of the Willow River Demo Forest that was burned in the 1961 Grove Fire. The area regenerated naturally but is over-grown with too many trees competing for space. The solution was to harvest some of the trees to allow more space for others to continue to grow to maturity. And, at the same time allow other species of plants and shrubs to populate the forest floor and attract moose, deer and other animals which graze on these species for food.

“The Grove Fire area regenerated almost too well on its own,” said Willow River Demo Forest Manager, Mike Trepanier. “In the past 60 years spruce, Douglas fir and pine trees have grown tall but there are too many of them growing too close together competing for water nutrients and sunlight. In Finland, Sweden, Germany and here in Canada in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, ‘commercial thinning’ is done to help open up overgrown forests and while providing the fibre to local sawmills, pulp mills and bioenergy plants. We were confident this would work in our demo forest and we then contacted a local forest contractor who we knew had some experience with commercial thinning.”

That company is Freya Logging.

“When Mike called we were happy to meet and discuss the project,” said Freya Logging owner Liam Parfitt. “The commercial thinning project in the Willow River Demo Forest fits with our philosophy of how forest management should be done. Some call it ‘intensive forestry’ which simply means doing more within a defined forest base.  Instead of constantly looking for new forests to harvest to supply the fibre to make lumber, pulp, paper and other wood products, you manage the forests already regrowing after harvesting to a higher standard using techniques such as commercial thinning.”

It supplies much needed fibre to local mills, create new employment, brings back plants and shrubs to the forest floor and in turn, allows moose, deer and other species to return to those areas.

“The sawlogs we harvest from the Willow River Demo Forest will go to local sawmills and the rest of the material not suitable for other wood products will go to Pacific BioEnergy to make wood pellets,” said Parfitt. “A win-win-win for the Willow River Demo Forest, local sawmills and PacBio.”

“We were pleased to be contacted to see if we would purchase the fibre not suitable for sawmills from the Willow River Demo Forest ‘commercial thinning’ project,” said PacBio CEO John Stirling. “We are always searching for new sources of fibre and this project fits perfectly with our view of intensive forestry. There is a huge amount of fibre available in what we call working forests, those sites that have been harvested in the past and then regrown over many decades. We believe there are millions of cubic meters of fibre around B.C. that is currently unallocated as part of the AAC (Allowable Annual Cut). Commercial thinning on a larger scale would make this fibre available for all the mills that would not have to be taken from new harvesting sites. We see this project as a solution to BC’s dwindling fibre supply challenge and we are very pleased to be supporting it by purchasing the fibre that no one else wants.”

The commercial thinning project in the Willow River Demo Forest is drawing a lot of attention. Both of the College of New Caledonia and FP Innovations are conducting long term research on this project including growth and yield studies, wildfire fuel hazards, machine productivity and biodiversity impacts. Their monitoring work will help inform other projects of this nature in the region.

Educational opportunities have already been shared as two groups of staff with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations have already toured the site. Others in industry and other forest organizations have also called to request tours to see first-hand what the future of forestry in B.C. could look like.

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