The intense and highly destructive summer wildfire season of 2021 in British Columbia, Canada has left behind hundreds of thousands of hectares of charred landscape, destroyed homes, and significantly damaged infrastructure. Although the extent of the damage has yet to be fully assessed, estimates place the number of hectares burned at 900,000 hectares or 9,000 square kilometers.
The town of Merritt, B.C. has an economy that is highly reliant on the forest and forest products industry. Bruce Rose, Executive VP of the AP Group of Companies which owns and operates Aspen Planers, which is located in Merritt, believes the impact of timber loss could be both extreme and long lasting.
Rose added that “The difficulty is for us to go out and try to figure out really what the timber losses were. How deeply things have been burnt, how hot the fires were, is some of the timber just lightly scarred with fire? Or just on the ground at their roots where some of the fuel was? And what can still be extracted. The recovery value from the burned timber before it deteriorates, in some cases, with things like Douglas Fir for example, you need to get to it and get it out within a year or it just becomes valueless in terms of some of the uses that we would want it for, such as making plywood or making veneer and so forth.”
Depending on the severity of the burn, factors such as how hot the temperature reached as the fire moved through an area, if the fire spread through the canopy, whether flames penetrated the bark or how burned the bark itself is, trees in fire zones may still be harvestable, but there is often a timeframe before harvest loses viability.
Trees not usable in the production of lumber or panels can typically be sent to pulp mills. However, there product is white in color and trees that are blackened or contain charcoal are not suitable for there use. In that case, the only option to salvage value from the trees is to use them in biomass power generation, a process that takes place at the Merritt Green Energy Plant.
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Impact of timber loss could be long-lasting, says Aspen Planers Group VP