J.H. Huscroft woodlands manager Rick Hanson at a Dodge Creek cutblock.

J.H. Huscroft woodlands manager Rick Hanson at a Dodge Creek cutblock.

Creston Valley mill’s reforestation practices maintain industry, nature

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  • Feb. 25, 2015 8:00 a.m.

Reforestation sounds simple enough: Cut down a tree, plant a tree; cut down a tree, plant a tree — and on it goes.

But the reality is that the process is much more involved.

“It entails anything to do with the resource — that resource being timber, that resource being wildlife, that resource being water,” said Rick Hanson, woodlands manager for J.H. Huscroft Ltd. “I’ve spent more time dealing with other parts than planting trees.”

Planning for reforestation begins a few years before cutting actually takes place, starting with a silviculture prescription, which “outlines what to do to establish a free-to-grow stand on that cut block,” identifying and assessing the impact on archeology, wildlife and water.

Esthetics plays a role, as well — trees to be cut may be scattered throughout the cut block with great importance placed on maintaining natural sightlines.

“If you just put a square block on a hill, it doesn’t look very pretty,” Hanson said. “If you do it right, most people won’t know you’ve been there. It has minimal impact, if any, because it is going to regenerate.”

Provincial regulations state that cutting can’t exceed 40 hectares in a block, and that an adjacent portion can’t be logged until the replanted forest grows to 15 feet. It’s quite different than when Hanson got into the business over 40 years ago.

“When I first started, you could actually get up in the morning and go log a hillside,” he said.

Hanson grew up on the Prairies, and earned a forestry degree at the University of BC. As a forester, he spent 10 years on the Coast, 15 in the Northern Interior and 15 in Grand Forks before coming to the Huscroft mill three years ago.

He’s been in the industry long enough to have seen the government turn over reforestation to private companies in the mid-1970s, a move that made sense because one goal is to make sure the mill maintains a steady supply of logs.

“You do want to manage it so that it’s sustainable,” said Hanson.

J.H. Huscroft’s licence allows the mill to harvest over 75,000 cubic metres of timber each year, about the equivalent of 2,000 truckloads, and buys about 800 more from private companies, as well as the Creston Valley Forest Corporation and the Lower Kootenay Band. It also trades timber with other mills, passing along wood not used at the Erickson mill — cedar, for example, often goes to Salmo’s Porcupine Wood Products Ltd. — and bringing in a product better suited to its needs.

The mill is required to reforest a cut area within two years of harvesting, and monitor the new growth for 12-20 years, until it’s free to grow, no longer competing with other vegetation. Followup actions may include removing brush around the new trees — which also reduces forest fire risk — and monitoring wildlife activity.

If conditions are perfect, the forest might be ready to log about 50-60 years after replanting, but 80-100 years is normal.

“It’s definitely long-term farming,” said Hanson.

Different cut blocks are designated by their biogeoclimatic zones, which tell foresters what sort of diversity an area requires — even down to the seed used to grow new trees. Seeds are purchased from seed orchards and given to nurseries that grow the seedlings until they’re mature enough to be replanted.

“You have to ensure you’re planting the right trees in the right place,” said Hanson. “In order to do that, you have to make sure they’re grown from the right source.”

And every cut block is different, with any given area rarely populated by a single variety. So several different types of trees will be replanted to mimic the original selection as closely as possible.

“You don’t want to create a monoculture,” said Hanson.

The reforestation practices used by J.H. Huscroft are certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, which requires independent audits to prove compliance with sustainable management principles protecting water quality, biodiversity, wildlife habitat and at-risk species.

“There are lots of people who disagree with some parts of it, but the rules are in place,” said Hanson.

Those rules have helped much of the general public to recognize the good practices in the industry — clearcuts are a thing of the past — which are equally appreciated by those involved.

“Most of the guys I’ve worked with over the years I would call environmentalists,” Hanson said. “They’re just as appalled by bad practices.”

This is the third article in a series on Erickson’s J.H. Huscroft Ltd. sawmill. In part 1, Gwen Telling discussed her time with the business and industry, and in part 2, president Justin Storm and lumber sales manager Chris Schofer discussed the industry’s future.