Despite tough market conditions in the past few years, Bella Coola’s Community Forest is still trucking. The company, currently logging in Saloompt, also managed to finance the purchase of some new equipment this year, making the operation much more self-sufficient.
“One of the most exciting developments this year was the purchase of a mini-tower,” said Hans Granander, General Manager. “With assistance from the Williams Lake and District Credit Union, the company was able to finance the purchase by ‘Got Wood Contracting,’ owned by Wayne Bittner and Brent Cole. This was in addition to the purchase of a grapple skidder and log loader by Bettor Enterprises last year, and has allowed us to become more self-sufficient as we are no longer dependent on outside contractors for the necessary equipment.”
The operation in Saloompt has been underway for the past year, and the company is currently working up above the Lost Lake Forest Service Road. “The Community Forest tenure includes all of the Saloompt Valley, but only about seven percent of the total landbase is worth harvesting,” said Granander. “The majority of the watershed is not accessible because it is too steep, or it encompasses tracts of land which are not available for logging, such as critical grizzly bear and goshawk nesting habitat.”
Granander confirmed that, at present, the company is harvesting old growth timber out of Saloompt. “Most of the second growth in the Valley is not harvestable yet,” said Granander. “ We are required by the province to retain at least nine percent of the old growth, but we are retaining much more than that as most of the timber is not accessible or commercially viable.”
While the majority of the wood is sent out for processing and export to foreign markets in the US and Asia, the amount of timber sold locally is also steadily increasing.
“Without the export market we would not be able to afford the Community Forest operations. It’s an essential part of our business and we have to export at least 35 percent,” said Granander. “However, our philosophy has always been to sell as much locally as we can. As the supply has been more consistent, the amount of timber sold locally has been increasing steadily, which is great.”
The company’s Saloompt worksite is the first operation visible to the community, as all previous work took place up Nusatsum. In response to some questions regarding visual impacts, Granander explained that the Community Forest meets with an advisory group once or twice per year that reviews the proposed cutblocks from many perspectives, including tourism. They also hold a public open house once an year for people to review the plans.
“We present visual assessment models at these meetings for review,” said Granander. “So far, the responses have been favourable, and we’ve had no complaints about visuals. I think the small blocks in Saloompt blend in nicely with the surrounding terrain.”
The Community Forest also incorporates a mandate to employ locally, and at present is employing approximately 20 individuals in many different positions throughout the year. The company employs a road building, falling, yarding and loading crewes, two to four truck drivers, and several people at the dryland sort. “The jobs aren’t full-time but they pay well and require various skill sets,” said Granander.
On average, the company is harvesting about 15,000 – 20,000 cubic metres per year, which translates to about 500 truckloads. This is far cry from the heyday of logging in Bella Coola, when about 100,000 – 150,000 cubic metres were harvested every year for forty years.
“When Crown Zellerbach started logging heavily in the 1950’s, continuous clearcuts were the norm and the rules were totally different,” said Granander. “We are operating in a completely different era.”
Granander said the company has several other key initiatives in the works over the next couple of months, so watch the Coast Mountain News for updates.