West Fraser celebrated its 300 millionth tree planted in the Hinton and Edson Forest Management areas.
The tree officially went into the ground on Aug. 7 with a ceremony to commemorate the significant achievement for the company.
Members of West Fraser and guests gathered at the Gregg Forestry Cabin where previous commemorative trees have been planted.
“In 1991, that was our first celebration like this, we planted the 50 millionth tree. We got a big rock with a plaque and planted a commemorative tree,” said Jed Begin, general manager of Hinton Wood Products.
Since then, they’ve also placed trees to celebrate the 100 millionth, 150 millionth, and 200 millionth trees.
“If you go out there you’ll see that all these rocks are placed in locations beside each other and all the trees planted around it. It’s quite a neat little walk in history,” said Begin.
Begin added that planting and celebrating these trees are a way to honour the company’s legacy and solidifies their commitment to sustainable forest management.
Over the past year, the company has planted around 11 million trees in the Hinton and Edson combined forest management area (FMA), and they’re well on their way to planting another 11 million throughout this year.
The FMA in Hinton first started in 1954 and their reforestation program began in 1961 when they put the first tree into the ground.
West Fraser plants primarily pine trees, but about 30 per cent are spruce trees.
“The pine are better suited for the upland sites where there is lots of exposure. The spruce do better in the shade and the boundaries of the blocks and wet areas,” Begin explained.
A cone collection program was also started, which allows seed to be gathered from trees suited and adapted to the regional climate.
“We collect those with our tree planters as we’re following the pine. Then we have the seed extracted and we send it to a nursery and they propagate the seedling,” said Begin.
Trees anywhere between 30 to 40 centimetres are sent back to West Fraser for planting in areas where they’ve harvested.
By legislative requirements, everything they harvest must be replanted within a certain timeframe.
Besides replanting trees, West Fraser also works on natural reforestation.
“A lot of our sites are pine and we’re able to rely on the forest regenerating itself because pine cones ultimately fall off as we’re harvesting them,” said Begin.
Workers from West Fraser drag heavy chains over the site for soil penetration, and the heat at ground level allows cones to open.
Once the cones open, they spill into the creases in the soil made by the chains.
“We get natural germination, so we don’t even have to plant the area,” added Begin.
Trees planted when the reforestation program started in 1961 are now nearly 60 years old, but Begin said they are not yet in an entire second rotation.
“We could harvest [those first trees] we planted for pulpwood, pulp log, but it still would be another 10 to 15 years before we’re in an entire second rotation,” he said.
At this point those trees would be about 15 or 16 metres tall and have a diametre around 10 to 12 centimetres, which is not quite big enough for saw log specifications, he added.
Typically, a complete rotation would take 80 to 90 years.
And despite the threat of the mountain pine beetle (MPB), Begin added that they plan to harvest the area for the long term.
“We’re in a good place and are definitely quite encouraged by some of the results from the mortality surveys this spring. Based on the cold weather we’ve had and the pine beetle mortality. We’re looking forward to verifying those results and looking for low numbers recorded this summer,” he said.
The MPB does affect West Fraser who create a forest management plan every ten years.
Part of the forest management plan is building a spatial harvest sequence that looks ten, twenty and fifty years into the future.
The first two decades of this sequence pinpoint which direction they will be moving to harvest.
The direction is consulted with first nations, archeology, trappers and public advisory groups, which makes deviating from that plan difficult.
“We’ve been able to collaborate with the government even though we’re still in our first decade, they’ve allowed us to move to our next period, the next ten years in order to go where we feel the beetle is present and where we will be most effective with our harvest,” said Begin.
The most effective way to control the beetle is by harvesting green trees with beetles in them, instead of red trees left behind by the beetle.
Trees are brought into the sawmills and debarked, which kills the beetle and stops their cycle. Fibre of green trees is also better, instead of red trees which are more dry, stated Begin.
“We’re always on the lookout, we do exploratory flights, but we have a pretty good idea how [MPB] moves,” he said.
Begin doesn’t expect to deviate more from their plans as they’ve changed their spatial harvest sequence based on where the beetle is now.
Most of Hinton and Edson’s FMA is within the inactive holding zone where the government won’t spend any money to cut and control the beetle.
“They leave it up to the forest industry to manage it, they focus all of their work in the leading edge where they will be the most effective with their individual control and burn program,” he added.