Building Forestry Roads Comes Down to the Dirty Details

West Fraser’s woods teams build temporary and permanent forestry roads to access harvesting areas. Roadwork requires in-depth planning and starts within our forest management plan. These plans outline our long-term forest management activities, looking as much as 200 years into the future. The roads we intend to build support all the objectives we outline in the forest management plan while meeting complex government regulations, independent certification and many other important requirements.

You might be surprised to learn how much road West Fraser builds and maintains in Alberta – 5,400 kilometres or 3,355 miles approximately. That’s the equivalent distance of travelling from Los Angeles, CA to New York, NY and back! These roads are used to access the trees we harvest, as well as provide access for public recreation and other industries.

Building forestry roads in the areas in which we operate is a complex process. The number one detail that defines how we build our roads comes down to the quality of the soil.

Minimizing our soil disturbance is very important. Understanding soil conditions along a proposed road location will help to determine if there are potential issues of erosion or soil slumping, especially close to watercourses. These conditions could cause negative impacts to water quality, which affects both fish habitat and drinking water.

We also want to maintain healthy soil for when we decide to reclaim a forestry road down the line when we replant trees. Healthy soil nourishes the seedlings we plant and provides the best conditions for growth.

Roads come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Before we break ground on building a road, we know the exact requirements of what to implement by factoring in the type of road needed among other features.

Our planning teams use road engineer programs that show the best route selection to build our roads. We use this technology to identify factors for the safest areas where the roads could be built. We also address natural resource values such as animal requirements, habitat management, water, recreation, traditional cultural uses and visual impacts. The team will then walk through the selected route on foot to confirm their plan is feasible. 

Now, back to the dirty details: soil

It’s crucial to find out precisely what kinds of soils we’re dealing with before beginning our roadwork. Winter conditions, for instance, make some road building requirements easier because the road is likely to be frozen if all of the harvesting will take place during that season. If the ground is wet, structures like bridges may need to be built to avoid the impact of wear and tear on dirt roads.

We seasonally deactivate some roads to protect the soil by putting in control mechanisms that reduce soil deterioration and public traffic. Some of the control mechanisms include planting trees at a road entrance or removing bridges so vehicles cannot easily use or access the road. These methods also help to reduce illegal hunting or poaching that can be a problem for animals.

What does it mean to deactivate a road?

Deactivating is the process of permanently or temporarily closing a road. There are three common types of road deactivations. Temporary deactivation is a seasonal closure.

When we believe we will not need to revisit that area for another 20-30 years, it is considered a semi-permanent deactivation. We use similar control mechanisms as we would for a seasonal deactivation as mentioned above. We will also monitor the road for erosion and make any upgrades to the road to ensure it can handle our logging trucks and planting crews in the future.

Permanent deactivation removes the road for good, reclaiming the land by replanting the area to return to a natural, forested state. Most often, we remove the road after we’ve replanted the harvested area and completed 20 or so years of monitoring of the young trees we planted to ensure they are growing strong and healthy.

We also find that by returning the area back to its natural state, we may later decide that the area would be better accessed from a different route when we are ready to harvest again in 60 plus years.

In all these scenarios, West Fraser’s woods operations monitor our road network and the land to ensure we are limiting our disturbance. We check on roads we have removed and reclaimed for a full 20 years to monitor how the trees are growing and to ensure they are meeting requirements for the environment and wildlife.

Every aspect of our forest management work is to continue sustaining our renewable natural resource. Roadwork is no exception.