A lot of work and planning goes into the process of harvesting trees. West Fraser works with community members, businesses and organizations to manage forestland in the areas where we operate. In special cases, we help sustainably manage community forests. Community forests are areas of forestland that are managed by local government and community groups under a provincial community forest licence. For West Fraser, it is important to work with communities and provide education on responsible, sustainable forest management.
Little Prairie is a community forest located in Chetwynd, British Columbia. The forest is responsibly managed by three community partners: the District of Chetwynd, Saulteau First Nations and West Moberly First Nations.
In the early 2010’s, these three partners came across a difficult situation when the mountain pine beetle epidemic was in full force. The beetle epidemic in B.C. is responsible for the loss of half of the province's quality pine trees. Together, the Chetwynd community forest partners decided that they needed extra help to deal with large areas of forest that were badly affected by the beetle attack.
“An extreme situation like the beetle epidemic is difficult to manage. The community forest partners asked forestry businesses in the area to come up with a proposed plan for a mountain pine beetle salvage program. West Fraser's Chetwynd Forest Industries division won the bid because of our effective and collaborative approach,” says Janelle Dale, planning forester at Chetwynd Forest Industries mill. Janelle explains that West Fraser has been contracted to provide forest management services in this program since 2012. The main focus has been to take out the dead trees and salvage wood where mountain pine beetles have attacked. Tree seedlings are then planted in those areas to regrow a healthy, young forest. Although the plan seems simple, getting it right is all about balancing the important values of the community and the forest.
Janelle and the team at Chetwynd Forest Industries have worked directly with the Little Prairie community forest partners, the District of Chetwynd, Saulteau First Nations and West Moberly First Nations, to complete the beetle salvage program.
"If we left the dead and beetle-killed pine trees in the forest, it could create major fire risks for the community. We also had safety concerns about rotten trees falling over near recreation trails,” recounts Janelle. “It was critical for us to explain the process of our forestry activities to the community and make sure they understood what would be taking place. By cleaning up the forest and collecting as many dead trees as possible, we would be able to plant new seedlings to renew a healthy forest."
The community of Chetwynd was given updates and invited to public meetings to review the progress of the project. “This process has its challenges, but we were very transparent from the start and that helped us get the project underway with support from the community,” says Janelle.
“We began the project by identifying all of the dead pine in the community forest area by flying overhead in a helicopter. A number of flights took place, including one with a First Nations elder. After viewing the area by air, we went by foot to look at the tree quality and identify wildlife features or areas that could be culturally sensitive,” says Janelle. Gathering input from community members ensures we are not cutting in areas that are sacred or important for wildlife habitat. We also do on the ground assessments with other experts, like archaeologists. Archaeologists can ensure that we are protecting or giving extra attention to areas that are of important cultural or historical significance.
For instance, mineral licks, also known as moose licks, are important places for the community forest to protect. What is a moose lick you may ask? Janelle provides a picture of a moose lick to show an area that looks a little muddy with richly coloured dirt. “A moose lick is a place that holds natural minerals for animals to lick providing important nutrients to them,” Janelle describes. “Moose licks are gathering places for many animals and it’s important that our activities do not disrupt these types of natural features.”
Other areas that are culturally important may be excavated by archeologists. They look for artifacts that could be as small as a thumb nail or as large as an old truck. For the Little Prairie Community Forest, this process was always monitored by a First Nations representative from each group. At the same time, the Forest Practices Board (an independent watchdog for good forest and range practices on public lands) did their own air and land surveying. They did this to ensure our forest management decisions were being made in a way that would meet the objectives for multiple community values such as forestland, wildlife, habitats, and cultural features.
Once the planning was complete, roads were built, and cut blocks were mapped out to begin the harvesting of trees and planting of seedlings. Local contractors, including a First Nations contractor company, were hired to assist in the harvesting and planting. “Since late summer of 2013, we have been harvesting patches of trees and planting seedlings in their place. Now four years later, we are starting to see a healthy forest. These trees will grow to maturity. We’re getting very close to the end of our project,” says Janelle.
Five years from the start of the salvage project, the Little Prairie Community Forest received an excellent audit report from B.C.’s Forest Practices Board. “This project has been really good for us to show the quality of work we can do. We started this project with the goal to get more people aware of sustainable forestry. To represent what good forest practices and companies like West Fraser do. We want to show that the forest can work for the community and demonstrate the careful planning it takes to make that happen,” say Janelle.
Some fun community projects have also come from this salvage project. West Fraser is extending a trail in the community forest for recreational use. The project should be completed at the end of this summer. Three local elementary schools also had their students put together educational signs. These signs have been placed along the Little Prairie Community Forest trails to help identify species of birds, insects and plants.
“What makes me feel most accomplished by this project was after all this effort West Fraser, the District of Chetwynd, Saulteau First Nations, and West Moberly First Nations put into reestablishing the forest, we have built a great relationship together. We will continue to work on community initiatives in the future,” concludes Janelle.