Residents of Nelson and users of the Great Northern Rail Trail will notice some unconventional activity in the forest just above the city this summer.
The forested mountainside above the rail trail and south of the cemetery, some of it visible from the city, will be selectively logged by Kalesnikoff Lumber Ltd.
Close on the loggers’ heels, crews contracted by the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) will be doing wildfire mitigation work in the logged areas: thinning and limbing and cleaning up or burning the excess logging residue to reduce the risk of wildfire.
Forests surrounding Nelson have been identified many times by experts as dangerously prone to wildfire. Most of that forest is Crown land licensed to timber companies.
Kalesnikoff has divided the logging plan into four cutblocks (see map) and the company’s Gerald Cordeiro says they intend to start with block two this spring, followed by blocks four, three, and one throughout the year.
Blocks one and two will involve closing the rail trail, for safety reasons, Cordeiro says. Some of the work will be done with cable logging because of the steep terrain.
The cutting plan – what to cut, what to leave – was designed by Cordeiro in conjunction with three local consultants: Greg Utzig, John Cathro and Erik Leslie as well as Joel Hamilton, the RDCK’s wildfire mitigation supervisor.
Cordeiro says the consultants decided what the logging should look like if the mountainside was to be made wildfire resilient and also visually acceptable in a populated landscape. Then he had to decide if their recommendations were feasible from a timber harvest point of view.
“We had a lot of the collaborative discussion,” Cordeiro says. “We did field visits, we looked at the data, we looked at [remote sensing data about vegetation height] and relied on the expertise of those people.”
This will mean that Kalesnikoff won’t be taking as many trees as it otherwise would.
“It’s a bit unusual,” Cordeiro says, “because you’re leaving so much timber on site, much more than your average for sure.”
He says the logging techniques will be conventional but “everything just gets more expensive, less efficient, the more trees that you leave behind. You’re having to dodge around those trees, there’s safety considerations, there’s operational considerations. Your machines might be covering the same amount of ground, but bringing out 30 per cent less timber.”
He said he is not sure if Kalesnikoff will make any money.
“When we look at the current value of timber, it’s pretty high. That being said, the current stumpage rates are really high. We know the logging costs will be high. But fortunately, it’s not super far from the mill, so the trucking is not super high. So there’s a lot of variables.”
When the RDCK moves in after the loggers are done, they will be doing three things: thinning the crown canopy so there is a patchwork of trees rather than a continuous fuel available to a fire; limbing trees to get rid of ladder fuels that allow a ground fire to climb trees; and cleaning up or burning surface debris to prevent dangerous accumulation on the ground.
The latter technique might involve some prescribed burning, which will mean smoke visible from the city.
Also, some material left on the ground might be removed and taken to a pulp mill to partially pay for the project, according to the RDCK’s Hamilton.
Otherwise the cost of the wildfire mitigation work will come from a grant from the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C., a group set up to administer provincial government wildfire mitigation funds.
Hamilton says this level of collaboration between a timber company and local government on Crown land is unique in the province and he sees it as a template for future work elsewhere.
Ken Byrne of FP Innovations, a non-profit research institute working with the RDCK and the province on the project, agrees. “What is very new is finding a space that is mutually beneficial for both the forest company, the community, the ecosystem and the forest.”