Lack of easy access to waste wood is driving one small Houston business to Burns Lake.
James Tompkins says in three years he’s had no trouble getting orders for his product—fenceposts made from the log tops that sawmills can’t use.
But without enough Houston loggers who can deliver tops to his yard on Morice River Road, Tompkins says he and his three-man crew will have to move to Burns Lake.
“I didn’t want to go because I’ve got a nice shop and everything here,” he said. “But I need the timber supply.”
Canfor, which runs Houston’s largest sawmill, did offer Tompkins access to their waste-wood piles on Gold Road.
But Tompkins said a business his size is too small to haul wood in by itself.
Instead, he offered loggers a premium—$50 per cubic metre of wood, compared to the $40 to $45 the mills are offering—if they could deliver to his yard.
Lately only Tahtsa Timber, a logging contractor based in Burns Lake, will do drop-offs, and Tompkins said it’s better if he relocates near their core operation.
It’s frustrating, Tompkins added, to leave Houston knowing that the wood he needs is piled up on forestry roads here, and will likely go up in smoke.
Klaus Possealt, owner of Tahtsa Timber, says it’s been difficult, but his waste-wood operation in Burns Lake is starting to grow.
“For the last two years, I’ve kept half a dozen guys busy here just with wood that came off of burn piles,” he said.
While quality wood goes for $30 to $45 per cubic metre at local sawmills, Posselt he can still get about half that—$18 to $25 per cubic metre—at the pellet plants near Burns Lake.
Based on those numbers, and the steady supply of beetle-killed pine in Burns Lake, Posselt sees more growth ahead.
“We intend to expand our enterprise, and other small enterprises like James’ can nest around it,” he said.
In June, Victoria announced two new forest tenures intended to help small businesses access more logging slash and other waste wood left by major forestry companies.
“These tenures will increase opportunities to turn slash piles and unwanted fibre into energy, wood pellets and other bio-products,” said Steve Thompson, Minister of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations.
“Improved use of logging leftovers and residual wood provides jobs and economic benefits for rural communities, especially those affected by the mountain pine beetle infestation.”
One of the new tenures gives operators access to a few cut blocks worth of waste wood, the other to a much larger area. Neither allows operators to log their own trees.
At Pinnacle Pellet, which has plants in Houston and Burns Lake, Vice President Craig Lodge, says it’s too early to judge how much the new tenures will help.
“I think the real question is wading through the fine print and determining how much volume will be made available under these tenures, and the timelines to make that happen,” he said.
At Tahtsa, Posselt said the new tenures add some security to existing business to business contracts, but no new volume.
Posselt would like B.C.’s forests ministry to stop requiring major forestry companies to quickly clear log piles off their tenures.
Instead, he said, the ministry should take ownership of the piles for four or five years, giving pellet plants and others time to collect them and make good on their value.
“What’s the rush on the minstry’s part to force people to burn these piles when they have the potential to create a lot of jobs, and a lot of tax revenue,” he said, noting that B.C.’s pellet industry has steady demand and all the sites, rail links, and power it needs to expand.
“No country in Europe would go out and burn these piles—and they’re buying our pellets,” he said.