West Fraser inks wood deal with province

Sundre Forest Products Inc. has secured its feedstock for the next two decades.

Sundre Forest Products Inc. has secured its feedstock for the next two decades.

The West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd. division, which operates the Sundre Forest Products sawmill, planer and wood-treating plant at Sundre, and the West Fraser LVL laminated veneer lumber plant at Rocky Mountain House, has entered into a new forest management agreement with the province. Covering more than 1.4 million acres of land west of Rocky, Caroline and Sundre, it will run from Sept. 1 to April of 2033.

The agreement replaces a similar one that had been in place since 1992. It entitles Sundre Forest Products “to establish, grow, harvest and remove timber on the forest management area,” and requires the company to pay the province a fixed fee plus timber dues, and follow sound forest management practices, including reforestation.

“We just are finishing this week a planting program that’s going to be about five million trees this summer,” said Tom Daniels, forestry superintendent with Sundre Forest Products.

Similar planting programs are conducted each year, he added.

Daniels said his company also recently made significant capital investments in its facilities, even though the 1992 forest management agreement was nearing its end.

“We had a good feeling that the renewal was going to go ahead,” he said, explaining that the province has supported renewals as long as forestry companies live up to their management obligations.

Under the new agreement, Sundre Forest Products must submit a detailed forest management plan for provincial approval by April 30, 2015, and another by April 30, 2025. Until 2015, the company will operate under its current plan.

“We’ve already started work on the one for 2015,” said Daniels. “Those plans take several years to put together.”

Sundre Forest Products recently did an aerial photography survey of its management area and is seeking input from interested groups and the general public.

“What does society want to see, what do the trappers want to see, what does the oil and gas industry want to see out there as well,” summed up Daniels. “So we’ll be engaging with all those folks to try to figure out how we can best do all that.”

A key consideration is the threat posed by mountain pine beetles — a pest that’s decimated British Columbia’s forests.

“We could be going from zero beetles to full-on beetles, just with one big flight coming out of British Columbia or out of Northern Alberta. We will have to then readjust our plans and figure out what it is we’re going to do to get at the beetles.”

That would likely involve harvesting older stands of trees, said Daniels.

“They tend to be the ones that are targeted by the beetles and they’re the ones that they have the best opportunity for living within.”

The Alberta Wilderness Association has complained that Sundre Forest Products’ forestry management agreement, and another involving Slave Lake Pulp Corp. in Northern Alberta, don’t give the province enough flexibility to address issues like watershed health and wildlife preservation. Association spokeswoman Carolyn Campbell said the agreements characterize the forest primarily as a source of timber.

She also said that the Sundre Forest Products agreement was reached without public input.

But Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development spokesperson Duncan MacDonnell said the government is able to withdraw sensitive land from the agreement’s coverage, and the public has input into the 10-year management plans.

Daniels said the forest management plans are probably more important when it comes to how the forests are harvested and maintained.

He pointed out that Sundre Forest Products has a long-term stake in the area.

“We could see ourselves being here forever basically, provided that we continue to meet the obligations of the agreement.”

With files from The Canadian Press.