New forest company shows off its operations

  • Aug. 24, 2012 6:00 a.m.

By Heidi Bevington-If you go out in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise: almost 100 people are now working for Taan Forest Products or its contractors, and more than 90 percent of them are from Haida Gwaii.Pride and excitement in this new business venture were evident during a tour of the operation last week hosted by General Manager Mike Richardson and Bill Dumont, a director of Haida Enterprise Corp, or HaiCo.About 20 islanders and visitors caught a glimpse of modern logging methods during a trip that encompassed the cool forest of the Golden Spruce Trail to the busy industry of Ferguson Bay’s log sort. Those of us on the tour learned about how the company is applying the principles of ecosystem based management to create sustainable work in sustainable forests here on Haida Gwaii.Before the tour began, Mr. Richardson explained that the annual allowable cut for the islands has been reduced to 929,000 cubic metres. Taan Forest Products anticipates it will have 350,000 cubic metres from TFL 60, although the final number will not be released until mid-October. The company also has access to 120,000 cubic metres from its Haida Forest License. The remainder of the annual allowable cut on the islands will be harvested by other companies.The tour began at the Golden Spruce Trail, where Mr. Dumont, a forester, answered the question, “how old is an old growth forest?” From the point of view of a forester, an old growth forest is one that is at least 250 years old. A sure clue that you are in old growth is the presence of “old man’s beard”, the characteristic lichen that drips from the limbs of old trees.Back in the days before World War II, trees were cut by hand with a two-man saw. To begin, the loggers would cut notches into the flare of the tree and stand precariously balanced on springboards, pulling a giant saw back and forth across the tree trunk until it fell. After the war, Canadian companies received German power saw patents as part of their war booty; the introduction of power saws transformed tree cutting, making it possible for a single logger to cut many more trees in a day, said Mr Dumont.Around the Golden Spruce Trail, you can see tree stumps with spring board notches, meaning that the area was logged early in the last century, said Mr. Dumont. But not all the old trees were logged, so it still represents old growth forest features. Elsewhere on the islands some old growth forest remains, but most of it is protected. The wood being harvested now is second growth, which is proving to be of good quality. Pessimists had predicted that second growth timber would be inferior and hard to mill because of wide growth rings. However, the second growth timber on Haida Gwaii is of very good quality and sought after by saw mills, said Mr. Dumont. The old growth trees, while majestic, are not always as merchantable. They have more rot and mistletoe, a parasite that attacks hemlock. And they are so huge that mills can’t always process them effectively. From the Golden Spruce Trail, the tour proceeded to a recently re-planted cut block. Every few feet, we could see plastic tubes that tree planters had laboriously dug into the ground to protect the seedlings. Someone asked why the companies don’t just build fences around the cut blocks to protect the cedar. Mr. Dumont explained that building and maintaining the fences has proved almost impossible because bears break them and then deer get in. Although the protectors are expensive, costing $150,000 annually, they are cheaper and more effective than a fence.Tree planting is the most labour intensive and expensive stage of forestry management, said Mr. Richardson. Companies are responsible for tending the young trees for 15 years, and they must set aside a considerable amount of cash to insure there is money to pay for tree planting even if the company goes bankrupt. Trees planted on Haida Gwaii are all grown from islands seeds at a nursery in Telkwa. None of our trees are genetically modified although there is a selective breeding program to select seeds from the strongest and tallest trees. As a consequence, log volumes are increasing by 10 to 25 percent across the province. Half a million trees are planted on the islands. Someone asked why we don’t have a nursery on Haida Gwaii, and Mr Dumont explained that although half a million trees might seem like a lot, it actually isn’t very much. A nursery must produce 10 million trees a year to be cost effective. The trees here are grown organically, meaning no herbicides or pesticides are sprayed on the seedlings at any time.The next stop was Gold 001, a 38-hectare cut block, of which only 22 hectares will actually be cut. The remaining area will be left untouched to protect monumental trees and ecological features like streams. The process of determining what will be cut begins with engineers and members of the Cultural Wood Program touring the whole area to determine what monumental timber needs to be protected, which direction the prevailing winds blow from and where the roads should be placed, said Mr Richardson. Large stands of monumental timber are simply set aside for protection. If a single monumental tree exists in a stand that is to be logged, it will be protected by a buffer of smaller trees, which are trimmed to prevent them from blowing down in the wind. Larger streams and rivers are protected by a forest buffer two tree lengths deep. Smaller streams are protected as well. Even though the tiny, high streams are not salmon bearing, if they become silty they will damage watersheds further down in the system, so it is important to protect them all, said Mr. Richardson. Finally, the tour ended with a visit to Ferguson Bay where Taan and the Skidegate Band have an exciting venture manufacturing power poles. All the wood for the Juskatla harvest area comes to this sort, where it is unloaded from the logging trucks, sorted and graded. Any logs that meet the requirements to be poles are set aside. The rest are scaled to determine their value and calculate the stumpage fee the company must pay to the crown, said Mr. Richardson.The pole peeling machinery was purchased from a manufacturer in Mississippi, said Mr. Dumont. They’ve had a bit of trouble with it because it was designed to handle less fibrous pine poles. The conveyor belt has been clogging up and will have to be modified. But in the first two months, the pole plant – which employs seven people – has been averaging 70 poles a day with a maximum production of 100. The company has $1.2 million in inventory, and it will ship its first barge load of poles south in the middle of September. Poles are an excellent product to manufacture because they are recession proof, said Mr. Dumont. Companies like BC Hydro need a steady supply of power poles to replace poles that are old or damaged. A typical log is worth $110, but a peeled pole is worth three times that much. A peeled 150-foot long pole can be worth $2,000 and demand for them is strong across North America. Taan Forest Products is a new business and like all such ventures has struggled with the challenges of getting started, but the future is looking bright for the young company. Mr. Richardson would like to do another tour, although he’s not sure when that might happen. Watch the HaiCo newsletter for more information if you are interested in heading out to the woods for a wonderful tour of modern logging.