View of a West Fraser logging area which has been replanted and the trees are well on their way to free growth.

View of a West Fraser logging area which has been replanted and the trees are well on their way to free growth.

West Fraser Williams Lake: Outlook 2014

Over the last few years forestry companies have been active in salvaging mountain pine beetle-killed timber.

By Matt Ketcham, Guy Burdikin, RPF and Travis Nystoruk

Over the last few years forestry companies have been active in salvaging mountain pine beetle-killed timber before the wood was too dead or rotten to be used to make lumber or plywood.

What is less well known is West Fraser is also actively renewing forests in the wake of the beetle so that we can have healthy, sustainable and vibrant forests in the future.

Our sawmill and plywood operations in Williams Lake are supported by a talented woods group responsible for regenerating new forests in the sites where forests were decimated by the mountain pine beetle.

It is the silviculture foresters’ responsibility to regenerate a diverse and resilient forest after harvesting activities have taken place and it is no small task.

In 2013 alone, West Fraser’s Williams Lake foresters oversaw the reforestation of more than four million trees on approximately 3,000 hectares. That is an area roughly equivalent to 6,000 soccer fields.

Reforesting is planned even before a tree is harvested because foresters want to start a new forest as soon as possible to minimize the delay in getting a new forest growing. West Fraser’s Williams Lake division maintains a seed inventory of 20 million potential seedlings. Our seed inventory is partially supplied by gathering cones during harvesting so that the seedlings planted are already adapted to and representative of the area where they will be planted.

Foresters have a few considerations they keep in mind to support the successful regeneration of a forest stand and we plant more than just pine trees.

Density is a crucial consideration — both the number of seedlings and the combination of species that will provide an optimal forest in the future that is resistant to anticipated pests (like the beetle) and will be adaptable to potential future climate impacts.

Reforestation starts with ‘mechanical site preparation” which includes scraping the ground, digging trenches and controlled burning to prepare the ground and facilitate seedling planting. Our regeneration strategy also incorporates natural regeneration and direct seeding that ‘injects’ seeds into the ground. Foresters will monitor reforested areas for several years to ensure these young trees are growing strong and healthy.

All of this work is part of a commitment to developing a long term, sustainable wood products business that positively contributes to the economy of Williams Lake. Recently named Manufacturer of the Year by the Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce, it has been a busy year for West Fraser’s sawmill and plywood plant.

The most externally visible investment is the significant upgrades to the Williams Lake sawmill, including the rebuilding of the planer and an on-going, comprehensive wood dust mitigation and control program. Rebuilding the planer is especially important so that the sawmill can push its limits and gain the most value out of the wood that flows through the building. The addition of a state-of-the-art automatic grading machine to scan and grade the quality of wood products being processed will also allow the mill to improve on the range of products it can manufacture.

West Fraser’s Williams Lake’s sawmill and plywood employees have undertaken a huge amount of work to continue to push forward on their wood dust programs. Among other activities, the mills have strengthened housekeeping protocols, increased employee education, training and made infrastructure improvements that enable more efficient containment and capture of dust at the source where it is created.

West Fraser is an active participant in the BC Forest Products Manufacturers Advisory Group that received B.C.’s highest safety honor — the BC Safety Authority’s Lieutenant Governor Safety Award for Excellence in Systems Safety.

The group was recognized for outstanding collaborative work with regulators, compliance and insurers to develop a wood dust audit standard, risk reduction and employee training.

West Fraser has committed to roll out the wood dust mitigation and control audit standard throughout our mills in 2014 and will be independently audited to this standard by the end of the year.