Forest Management in British Columbia: A Primer for Independent Power Producers
Setting the Harvest Rate in BC’s Forests
British Columbia has about 60 million hectares of forestland. About 95 per cent of this is publicly owned and managed by government on behalf of all British Columbians.
British Columbia's Chief Forester is required by law to determine how much wood can be harvested sustainably in each of the province’s 70 management units. This sustainable harvest level is called the allowable annual cut, or AAC. After an AAC is determined, the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations apportions the cut to a variety of short and long–term tenures.
Provincially, the 70 management units include 37 timber supply areas (TSAs) and 33 tree farm licences (TFLs).
Provincial map of TSAs and TFLs
The Chief Forester reviews the timber supply in each management unit on a regular basis, normally every five years. Following that review, the Chief Forester may increase, reduce or leave the AAC unchanged. As a result of the mountain pine beetle, many AACs have been increased to allow for the sale of damaged pine before it degrades to the point of being uneconomic.
Because of government’s land use objectives and the need to maintain a sustainable timber supply in the future, not all dead pine will be available for harvest in the next 20 years. Some will protect water quality, some will be retained to meet visual quality objectives, biodiversity objectives and some have an advanced understory of trees that will form the next crop of trees 30–50 years from now.
As a result, of the roughly 1.1 billion m3 of mature pine in BC, less than 500 million m3 is available for near term harvest. At the current rates of harvest, the available pine will all be harvested in roughly 10 to 12 years. However, as the rate of degradation is highly variable, it is impossible to predict with any certainty how much of that 500 million m3 will be of interest to existing tenure holders and how quickly they will shift their harvest focus away from those stands.
The Tenure System
The tenure system allows government to transfer specific rights to private corporations, communities and individuals for the use of public forests. In return, they pay fees to government and in many cases are responsible for forest management activities.
Over a dozen forms of timber tenure have been developed to reflect forest uses, from Christmas tree permits to industrial scale timber harvesting and road building. This diversity in tenures supports the many different needs of society and of timber users, whether they are large or small operators, First Nations, communities or individuals.
Tenures vary in their duration. Many large timber harvesting tenures are replaceable, providing forest companies with a long–term supply of timber. Others, may have terms from a few weeks up to 20 years.
Tenure holders must comply with B.C. forest laws that govern sustainable timber harvesting activities, such as the Forest and Range Practices Act, the Wildfire Act, the Land Act, the Heritage Conservation Act and the Wildlife Act, and relevant federal laws such as the Fisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act.
A forest licence provides the right to harvest a given amount of timber in a timber supply area each year for the term of the licence and can be issued for up to 20 years. These licensees are responsible for operational planning, road building, fire hazard abatement, reforestation and stumpage payments.
Figure 1. Existing licensees have first rights to the timber.
In most cases, licensees operating within one timber supply area have negotiated separate operating areas to simplify planning and forest management operations. However, there are situations where operations may overlap.
A tree farm licence is a replaceable, area–based licence with a term of 25 years.
The third most common tenure in B.C. is a timber sales licence, which is issued to smaller corporations and individuals by BC Timber Sales through a competitive auction, and provides the holder with rights to harvest timber in a specified area. BC Timber Sales generally undertakes operational planning and road construction but in some cases those responsibilities are included in the tenure. Timber Sale Licences generally have a term of two years and are not replaceable.
It is important to remember that existing timber tenure holders, along with having the right to harvest timber, also have an obligation to meet government’s land use objectives, mitigate the fire hazard created by harvesting, maintain or deactivate roads, ensure the safety of persons involved in industrial operations and to reforest the land they have harvested from.
Many other forms of tenure exist but they represent a relatively small percentage of the total timber harvest. More information about B.C.’s timber tenure system is available at:
In those units which the Chief Forester has increased the AAC due to the mountain pine beetle epidemic, volume and term limited tenures have been and are being advertised, typically for terms of 2–15 years. As a result, the majority of this “uplift” AAC is already under tenure.
Not all of the MPB impacted management units have experienced a timber supply review since the beetle epidemic began. One should not conclude, however, that an AAC increase is certain as new reviews are undertaken. Each decision by the Chief Forester must stand on its own.
Mountain Pine Beetle Killed Timber: A Potential Sources of Biofuel
It takes one to five years for mountain pine beetles to move through a stand of trees. While many trees die in the first year of attack, others can survive for several years and occasionally even longer. As a result, many trees in one stand may have value as sawlogs while others from the same stand are no longer suitable for making lumber so they may be left standing, they may be harvested and used for making engineered wood products, chips for a pulp mill or pellets, etc. Where such markets do not exist, they may be piled near the road to be burned at a later date as there are contractual obligations to mitigate the fire hazard and reforest the harvest sites. It is this latter situation that may present a new, low cost biofuel source for independent power producers.
Figure 2. Severe checking associated with MPB. No value as a sawlog. Source: FERIC 2006.
Beetle killed pine trees tend to degrade quickly for the first two years after death and then degrade more slowly for the next several years until the tree finally succumbs to fire, wind or rot. The moisture content of these trees reaches equilibrium with the local climate within a few years of death and in doing so becomes a comparatively efficient source of energy.
Common Forms of Wood Residues and how to access them
Mill Residues. Mill residues come in several forms:
Hog fuel consisting of bark, and damaged pieces of wood;
Chips most of which are sold to pulp and paper mills;
Sawdust and shavings from the sawmill and planer mills, some of which are used for energy production or engineered wood products. Independent power producers will need to secure fibre supply arrangements with the mill owner or tenure holder to access this opportunity.
Roadside Accumulations In areas dominated by dead pine, licensees often find it worthwhile to pull the entire tree to the roadside so that they may recover the portion of the tree that can be used as furnish for the mills they supply (sawmills, plywood plants, engineered wood plants, pulp mills and more recently, pellet plants). Where the demand for low quality wood is less than the supply, large piles of residual or waste biomass may result. The residual or waste piles near the road present a fire hazard and occupy land that must be reforested. As above, the securing access to these piles is via fibre supply arrangements with the existing forest tenure holder.
Figure 3. Roadside biomass accumulations.
Standing Timber While some stands of dead pine are best left standing for social and ecological reasons, others could become a potential energy crop subject to the price of energy being high enough to cover the costs associated with holding a harvesting tenure (e.g.: planning, roads, logging, reforestation and stumpage). These costs may reach $50/m3 or more. Access to standing timber on Crown Land requires the independent power producers to hold a forest harvesting tenure or again, enter into a fibre supply agreement with an existing forest harvesting tenure holder.
Figure 4. MPB attacked pine forest.
Securing Tenure to Harvest Crown Timber
To gain authority to harvest standing timber on Crown Land, an independent power producer would have to be awarded a harvesting tenure. The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations follow a competitive process of advertising for bids to award such tenures.
The potential for securing a harvesting tenure on Crown land only exists in management units with unallocated AAC.
As of March 2007, only Lakes (Burns Lake) and Prince George TSAs have volumes of unallocated AAC while large accumulations of roadside biomass have been observed from 100 Mile House north to Prince George and west to Houston.
To find out more about the status of unallocated AAC in the area you are considering, please contact the Regional Executive Director at the appropriate Regional Office.
Figure 5. Pine sawlog with blue stain sapwood, but no serious cracks.