Sundre Forest Products, a division of West Fraser, operates a sawmill and a treated wood facility in Sundre, Alberta. The Sundre woodlands team are also responsible for the delivery of logs to the West Fraser’s laminated veneer lumber (LVL) facility, located 20 minutes south-west of Rocky Mountain House.
Overview of Forest Management Plan (FMP) Process
Forest Management Plans are 20-year plans describing strategies for how the forest will be managed. The goal of the Plan is to balance environmental, social and economic values by developing various strategies to address these values. We balance values by collecting input from various stakeholders such as First Nations, trappers, industry, recreationists, other timber operators, the general public, municipal and provincial governments.
With many stakeholders engaged in this process it can be a challenge to achieve a balance for these values because not everyone will agree fully with every strategy all the time. For example, we might construct new roads into areas that were previously inaccessible. This access may be of benefit to recreationists. However, others may be opposed to the new access as they would like to have less area accessible to motorized vehicles or any possible human activity. The Forest Management Plan aims to find an access management strategy that may help to balance the two opposing values for stakeholders. Two key components that are used to develop the Plan are the forest inventory and landbase determination, which are described below.
One of the most important components of any management strategy is an inventory of the values you are trying to manage. In the case of a Forest Management Plan, assessing the total timber resource accurately is crucial. From an economic perspective, trees within the forest may be a resource that can be harvested to enable the operation of the mill facilities. Trees also determine the ecosystem that is home to many different organisms and provide scenery that recreationists are looking for. The forests along the eastern slopes of the Forest Management Area (FMA) are dominated by lodgepole pine trees (80 – 85%). In smaller numbers, white and black spruce trees are also found along with aspen and poplar. Old forests provide different attributes – or what foresters call values - than young forests and pine forests provide different values than spruce forests.
In 2011, Sundre Forest Products purchased aerial photography for the entire R10 forest management unit (FMU). From the imagery photo we begin to interpret and distinguish all the various categories of forest found within the area. Areas of forest that are similar have boundaries drawn around them called polygons.
A polygon’s code relates to the size and type of trees growing at that site and other codes are assigned for areas that are not forested such as roads, water, muskeg etc. For example, an area of mature pine trees would be put into one polygon while an area of young spruce trees would be put into another polygon. There are also lots of areas that do not have trees such as lakes, rivers or rock outcrops. These will also have polygons assigned to them. In the end, the photo interpreters will develop hundreds of thousands of polygons of forest area that is similar in one way or another. Each polygon is assigned a number and an inventory code. The code is part of Alberta Vegetation Inventory (AVI) standard that was developed by the Government of Alberta to support consistent forest inventories across the province.
After a forest inventory is complete, it allows foresters to start to further categorize the areas within the Forest Management Unit. The landbase determination is a process for determining the areas where trees can be harvested now and in the future. Foresters look at the forest inventory information and photos of the region to start to separate areas that can be harvested from those that cannot be harvested. For example, trees are not going to be harvested from roads, rivers or rock outcrops etc. No harvest zones buffers are put around water courses and other site sensitive features. There might also be trees growing on a site, but foresters will determine that the terrain is too steep to economically harvest the trees or to build a road.
At the end of the landbase determination process, what is left is an accounting of the area within the Forest Management Unit identifying which trees may be harvested and areas that will not be harvested as part of the Forest Management Plan. Past experience has shown that a considerable amount of the overall boundary area will not be available for harvest.
It is important to remember the landbase determination is simply a snap shot of the forest area at one point in time. There are many changes that occur almost daily. For this reason it is important to complete inventories and to review the landbase categories on a fairly regular basis. Natural changes might result from blowdown, insect and disease or forest fires. Man made changes include the construction of gravel pits, pipelines, roads, cutblocks and other such activities. All such activities can affect the growth of the trees within the forest.
Sundre’s Woodlands Team Composition
Sundre’s woodlands team is comprised of 20 forestry professionals who are responsible for forestry operations, planning, land use and silviculture. Described below are the roles of these departments.
- Operations Foresters are responsible for road construction, maintenance and reclamation along with harvesting trees and hauling the logs to the mill facilities. All of this work is completed through contracts with private companies and overseen by West Fraser supervisors.
- Planning Foresters develop and use a wide range of data and a large volume of information such as forest inventories, road layers, contour lines, wet area locations etc. to plan activities within the Forest Management Area (FMA).
- Land Use Foresters work with many other stakeholders and provincial and municipal governments coordinating activities to reduce the industrial footprint within the FMA. For example, instead of building two separate road systems requiring land in the FMA, they explore ways to build one road in a location which will allow access to oil and gas and timber resources at the same.
- Silviculture Foresters are responsible for what most people think of simply as reforestation. However, reforestation is only one component of the job of silviculture foresters, who also consider strategies for harvesting trees in a way that supports an effective reforestation of the site. West Fraser has a legal responsibility to ensure that those areas harvested are being replaced with a new forest that represents the characteristics of the harvested forest. A successful reforestation means that at 14 years after the site is harvested, there is a young growing forest that meets the government requirements to reach a free growing status.
Sundre Forest Management Plan Area (R10 FMU)
Types of Forestry Plans
Sundre’s woodlands team uses the information gathered from operations and planning to develop four levels of forest management plans: the Forest Management Plan (FMP), the Forest Harvest Plan (FHP), the General Development Plans (GDP) and an Annual Operating Plans (AOP). See the links below for more descriptions of these plans.
Forest Management Plan (FMP)
A strategic plan for how the forest of the Forest Management Unit (FMU will be managed. Specific strategies for the defined the Unit are developed and they include the considerations identified by stakeholders. This plan is developed every 10 years and provides a 20-year outlook for where harvest and road construction activities will be focused.
Forest Harvest Plan (FHP)
Site specific plans detailing the cutblocks that will be harvested and the roads that will be constructed in an identified area. This is generally a 3-5 year plan for a defined area.
General Development Plans (GDP)
A more general plan which describes where roads, cutblocks and other activities will be conducted in the next 5 years. This plan is submitted every year.
Annual Operating Plans (AOP)
Operational plans for the activities that will be conducted in the next year. This plan is a listing of the blocks and roads which were approved within the individual Final Harvest Plans.
How Fast Are the Trees Growing?
Completed forest inventory and landbase determinations contribute to forest management planning by improving our understanding of how fast the trees are growing at the potential harvesting sites within the Unit. With this information in hand, crews will go out into the forest to measure the growth rate of the trees to be harvested. Trees may grow faster or slower depending on the site conditions. For example, pine trees grow faster on dry sites and slower on wet sites. They will also grow faster if they are on slopes that are south or west facing.
With the use of statistics, plots are established across the entire R10 Forest Management Unit area. Measurements of tree size, age and site condition are taken. Knowing how much volume the trees are growing is very important as it helps to determine the harvest level. Our goal is to harvest trees at a sustainable rate. It takes about 90 years for a tree to reach maturity. We project the growth rates of trees over a 200 year period, which is often called two full “rotations” of trees. Two full rotations means you could harvest the trees today, plant new trees, harvest those new trees 90-100 years in the future, again plant new trees and harvest the next set of trees 180-200 years in the future. This is how we determine whether harvest rates are sustainable well into the future.
Annual Allowable Cut (AAC)
Once stakeholder input has been received and the landbase has been classified then the Annual Allowable Cut is determined. It provides the calculation on how much timber can be sustainably harvested. In other words the AAC determines how much timber can be harvested every year so that the mill continues to operate and provide employment with little or no impact to other values such as recreation, water and wildlife.
Foresters use aerial photos and forest inventory information to categorize the Forest Management Agreement into areas that can be harvested from those that cannot. Growth measurements will also have been taken to determine how fast the trees are growing. The values, objectives, indicators and targets (VOIT’s) identified by stakeholders will also help set direction for forest management strategies. All of this information is analyzed to determine the amount of timber that can be sustainably harvested over a 200 year time horizon, called the Annual Allowable Cut (AAC).