Thursday, June 14, 2012

Timber Supply, Operability and opportunity

Timber Frame Construction

The BC Legislature Committee on timber supply is seeking solutions for expected declines in timber supply in the aftermath of the mountain pine beetle epidemic. There are approximately 55 million hectares of timber in BC of which only some 22 million hectares can be harvested. Some of the 30+ million hectares that cannot be harvested is in Parks, wildlife reserves or otherwise protected for environmental reasons. Some of the area is not physically accessible because it isolated by cliffs and canyons in mountainous terrain. Most of this 30+ million hectares will remain in natural condition as wilderness. It is about twice the size of BC's designated Park System and is the largest wilderness area in BC.

The Ministry of Forests has drawn a line around the forest that can be harvested to arrive at the 22 million hectares. The line is correct if it runs along a Park boundary or excludes timber land that is physically inaccessible. A line is not correct if the boundary involves economic operability. Some timber is too costly to harvest. Economic operability can change with economic conditions. If you can get a good price for wood products the operability line will move to include a greater area. Increasing cost of fuel could decrease the area that can be harvested.

Improved operability could add several million hectares of timber to the area that can be harvested and it represents the best potential opportunity to add some timber to support forest dependent communities. Economic operability of local forests has not been adequately assessed. A more technically detailed method is required. Rather than just placing a line on a map as a rough judgement of operability, the entire accessible forest is mapped by a forest engineer and divided into areas suited to different types of harvesting equipment. Ground based harvesting equipment is less costly than cable harvesting. Other major costs in the equation are forest road and bridge costs and the cost of transporting logs to the mill. The map of harvesting types can be overlaid on the forest inventory map in a geographic information system (GIS) to give the timber volume and species. If the value of the timber exceeds the costs of delivering the timber to the mill, then the area can be harvested.

An adequate forest engineering assessment of operability done by experienced local foresters would probably reveal additional operable area even in present conditions. GIS Software to calculate the limits of operability in changing market and economic conditions was developed 20 years ago. The Ministry of Forests had the software but lacked the forest engineering experience to do an effective job of determining the timber harvesting land base. This type of task is best done by local foresters with forest engineering experience and a knowledge of local terrain, soil, rock and timber. The Local Forest Trust could do a much better job than a centralized bureaucracy.

A major change in the legal and institutional framework for managing public forests could change conditions and lead to major additions to the timber harvesting land base. Our existing system seems to have been designed by a Flat Earth Society. It provides timber to an oligopoly of commodity wood products manufacturers and has restricted timber flow to value added secondary manufacturers. Low value commodity wood product manufacturers are going to be most competitive on flat terrain where low road and harvesting costs are in their favor. Most of  BC is not flat. In addition to restricting diversity in woods products manufacture, the system is vulnerable to export tariffs that can take dollars away and reduce operability. Stewardship arrangements in the forests allow capital assets such as roads necessary to maintain operability to become environmental and safety liabilities.

A move from the present centralized Government and corporate oligopoly management of public forests to a devolved free enterprise model involving Local Forest Trusts, a BC Forest Trust Assembly would give BC a competitive forest products industry with greater diversity in forest products and value. This would give forest dependent communities more wood manufacturing jobs and expand the area of forest that can be harvested. Good quality wood and large sized timbers can be grown in BC. (See Photo) Do we have to reduce it all to two by four inch material to hold up gypsum board?

The idea of using wood as bio-energy is being seen as a potential opportunity. It is efficient to use bark, and other wood waste that you have already transported to the mill as a source of energy. However, hauling logs and dead wood from the forest for energy use will have limited operability given the relatively low value of the delivered timber.

The Special Committee on Timber Supply is having public hearings in some forest dependent communities. See http://www.leg.bc.ca/timbercommittee/public-hearings.asp for dates and times.

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