Residual Fibre Pilot Project Nears Harvesting Phase
VANCOUVER ISLAND – Shopping locally is the central philosophy of any successful, community-focused business – even if you happen to be a pulp mill. That’s just one of the many benefits of the Residual Fibre Pilot Project, a Vancouver Island Economic Alliance (VIEA) initiated and managed forestry-based resource extraction venture that will be entering its production phase this winter.
“For many years there have been concerns raised over the amount of wood that’s left out on the forest floor after harvesting has occurred. This project is intended to help find a workable answer to this concern,” explained Cindy Stern, the principle consultant involved in the project.
“VIEA accessed funding through the Rural Dividend Program (BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development) to carry out this two-year project with the objective of looking at what our opportunities were to mitigate residual wood fibre being left out on the forest floor, to improve the utilization for the fibre that’s available, to attract industry and investment onto the Island and other objectives.”
Located between Comox and the Qualicum area in the Rosewall Valley, on lands owned by the K’omox and Qualicum First Nations, the culmination of more than two years work will occur this winter and into early 2021 when the actual harvesting of the residual wood takes place. The purchaser of the harvest materials will be Nanaimo Forest Products, owners and operators of the Harmac Pacific pulp mill which produces pulp used by paper makers across the globe.
But due to sawmill closures and a general downturn in the provincial forestry sector Harmac, like other paper producers in the province, has to continually search for the raw fibre needed to produce its end product – in many cases having to import raw fibre from American producers. The Residual Fibre Pilot Project is potentially a proof-of-concept solution to this ongoing issue.
“We spent the first year of the project, last year, doing a great deal of research and pulling together a group of advisors and stakeholders who had an interest in this – a real cross section of some 20 organizations including the forest industry, First Nations, the milling industry, municipalities and others. This year we’ll be running the pilot project on two blocks where principal harvesting is occurring right now,” Stern explained.
For Harmac Pacific the securing of reliable sources of wood fibre to produce its paper is a perpetual concern. A reduction in the overall provincial forestry harvest has resulted in the closure of numerous sawmills and other wood processing plants across the province, making the mill’s search for adequate supplies increasingly important. By supporting the efforts of the Pilot Project, Harmac hopes to answer both its immediate need for raw materials, while encouraging the development of an entirely new type of forest industry.
“What people don’t realize is that pulp mills generally function by utilizing the waste chips that are spun off from other manufacturing plants, such as those producing finished lumber, rather than grinding up whole logs. Using what is essentially waste is both more economical and makes a more complete use of the available resource,” stated Cam Milne, Harmac Pacific’s Fibre Supply Manager.
“But due to sawmill closures there’s a desperate shortage of wood to run pulp mills like ours. To run these mills, you need fibre, and if you can’t find the residual fibre that’s spun off from all the primary manufacturers close to home you have to go elsewhere. We routinely have to access fibre from Alaska all the way down to Oregon. We access fibre from the Interior as far away as the Okanagan Valley and the Cariboo. Obviously finding a source that’s closer to our operation makes business sense, hence our involvement in the project.”
For Milne being able to acquire a fibre source locally, even at a higher cost per tonne, makes sound business sense as the effort will ultimately spur the type of regional development that will have a far-reaching economic impact.
“We would rather pay more for local Vancouver Island residual pulp log fibre vs residual sawmill fibre and avoid the higher transportation costs of more distant US fibre”.
While the VIEA Pilot Project involves a relatively small geographic area, and will produce only a portion of Harmac Pacific’s total needs, it’s hoped that’s its true value will be as serving as the model for similar undertakings in the future.
“Yes, we’re hoping this concept works in a lot of areas across Vancouver Island, but it’s not going to work everywhere. Some places it’s going to be too steep, or too remote to make it economically viable. A company may be willing to make the investment, but they’re not going to want to lose money to take it on,” said Graham Sakaki, who serves as a Research Assistant to Cindy Stern on this project.
“Where we’re piloting right now involves coastal Douglas Fir, which is different than what you would harvest in the Interior, so the model would be different as the residual material would be different. But certainly, the model, in general, will be the same wherever the plan would be put in place. That will be one of the long-term benefits of this project.”
For Bret Torok-Both, a Director with VIEA and Chair of its Wood Industries Committee, one of the Residual Fibre Pilot Project’s legacy values will be its role at having brought a diverse group of players together to create a plan that works to the benefit of all those involved. “All of the groups involved have been great to work with, the First Nations, the government and the industry representatives. We all win when we can bring different groups together to create a shared vision,” he said.
“There is now a viable sense of collaboration to increase the forestry market on Vancouver Island and getting the players together to figure out how to do that is what VIEA’s goal really was right from the beginning.”
And, an important side benefit to recovering residual fibre to help local manufacturing will be mitigating potential for forest fires as well as bringing an end to burning slash piles on logging sites.