If you’ve travelled along Highway 6 between Edgewood and Cherryville recently, you have probably seen a sizeable patch of trees cut down next to the road. Bundles of slender trees litter the blocks in what look like giant burn piles. And that’s what they are, at the moment.
So why are the trees being cut down, and what’s happening with the ones that are too small to be milled?
When I asked Murray Wilson, Tolko’s Woodlands Manager for Okanagan Forestry, if the trees had been cut down because they were infested with the infernal pine beetle ripping its way through western forests, he said not exactly.
“The levels of attack were pretty low compared to other areas,” he said, but the beetle’s advance was a motivator for harvesting the blocks. Most of the trees in the stands were lodgepole pine, which are a priority for harvesting because of the outbreak.
Although the Kootenays have more diverse forests, the rust-red of infected trees can be seen on mountainsides here too. The invading insects fly during the month of July, and by the next year, any trees taken over by the beetles are dead, Wilson told me.
“Once you see trees turn red,” said Wilson, “the beetles have already left the trees.” Infested trees are still deceptively green, and can be harvested at a higher value than “red attack” trees, he added. The final phase, “grey attack,” are trees destroyed by the beetle that have lost all their dead, red needles.
By harvesting stands which are predominantly lodgepole pine and either beetle-free or in the initial stages of an attack, the trees not only fetch a better price, but cutting them down can also minimize pine needle spread, said Wilson.
The pine beetles have been blamed for more than decreasing timber value. Beetle-infested wood has been fingered by some to be the cause of the fatal April 24 fire at the Lakeland sawmill in Prince George that claimed the lives of two men.
The Province is now saying that all mills will be inspected for excessive dust that can result from cutting some types of wood, including beetle-killed pine.
The Tolko cut along Highway 6 has become the subject of local discussion because it is right beside the highway, with no border of trees shielding travellers from the sight of the logging site.
Wilson said the decision to leave clumps of trees rather than strips lining the road was a practical one based on the geography and meteorological conditions.
“Often we leave corridors along highway, but this site was better served by leaving structure in the block,” he said. The aim for any logging operation is to try to mimic natural destruction, like forest fire, Wilson explained.
What is going to happen to all those little trees that were cut down and are still lying on the chopped block?
Unfortunately, small trees aren’t economic to ship, said Wilson, even to either of Tolko’s co-generation plants in Armstrong or Kelowna.
“We’d love to utilize it, but with the cost of transport, to plan and haul it to a plant, it’s not economic,” said Wilson.
“If someone had a use for it, we’d like to see the resource utilized as much as possible. We’d certainly be open to suggestions,” he offered.
As situation stands, the little trees will lie on site until they’re burned.
“Typically we burn in fall,” said the Tolko rep, adding that it would probably be some time in October or November when the venting index was right.