Forum seeks healthy forests and healthy communities

About 70 people attended the forum held in Clearwater, B.B.

By Keith McNeill

The Times

“Support your community.”

That was the first piece of advice Hans Wadlegger had for entrepreneurs looking to start their own business in the forest sector.

The president of Wadlegger Logging and Construction was speaking during a Healthy Forests/Healthy Communities forum held on Saturday, Apr. 5, in the Clearwater Legion.

About 70 people attended the event.

The Wadleggers’ sawmill burned down in 1987. It was not insured.

“When that fire happened, the community came out and helped,” he said. “Every time a community group comes into the office and asks for a donation, we remember that.”

Wadlegger’s second piece of advice was to diversify. The forest industry is cyclical, he said, and so a business needs alternative sources of income.

Hans’ father, Joe Wadlegger, came from Austria to Alberta in the 1960s.

He moved to Clearwater and logged for Clearwater Timber Products. In 1972 Wadlegger Logging and Construction was incorporated.

In the late 1970s the NDP government introduced a program to make more wood available for  small businesses. Joe Wadlegger thought this sounded like a good opportunity. He bid on a sale against CTP and promptly got fired.

Their company would like to see a strong and effective forests ministry, Hans Wadlegger said.

“We want to see those green uniforms out in the forest again,” he said.

Wadlegger was just one of about 20 speakers who talked during the day.

Others included Sam Phillips, general manager at Simpcw Resources.

The First Nations company is diversifying into other businesses besides forestry, he said. These include pipeline maintenance, tourism, and energy.

They have a woodlot plus two non-renewable forest licenses. They are also looking at a long-term tenure in the Taweel Lake area.

Kim Muddiman talked about the timber frame construction business she has started with her husband, Dan.

In contrast to some other businesses, getting enough wood has not been a limiting factor for Nest Timber Homes, Muddiman felt. Instead, their major challenge has been marketing.

Finding and keeping qualified workers also has been a priority.

District of Clearwater is looking for funding to build a bio-energy plant next to the former Dutch Lake School, Mayor John Harwood reported.

With the rising cost of propane, such a plant should pay for itself within a few years, he felt.

The mayor recalled that not so many years ago there were five sawmills in Blue River and one in Avola.

Now there is only one major sawmill left in the area – Canfor’s operation in Vavenby.

Chris Ortner gave an update on the Bridges II project he is working on.

The project is focusing on the McBride to Barriere corridor, plus an area in the West Kootenays, he said.

His initial finding has been that making use of wood that is otherwise going to waste will be a big part of the solution.

The value-added industry across the province has declined by 65 per cent over the past few years.

Difficulties in getting a local, affordable supply of logs has been a big factor.

“Everyone’s saying the same thing but nobody’s working together,” Ortner observed. He felt one solution might be holding lunch meetings where employers could meet and talk.

Thompson Rivers University faculty members Dr. John Karakatsoulis and Dr. Tom Dickinson talked about education and training opportunities.

Karakatsoulis is the chair of TRU’s natural resource sciences department. The program prepares students for careers in forestry and related fields, he said.

Several students who took part in the program are now working in the oil-sands industry on rehabilitation.

TRU and its predecessor, Cariboo College, have a long history in the Clearwater/Wells Gray area, Dickinson said.

He gave as an example a training program held last year at Clearwater Secondary School that gave about a dozen students an entry into a carpentry apprenticeship, plus built six small cabins for the university’s education and research center near Wells Gray Park.

A recent donation of $250,000 means a proposed expansion of the education and research center will go ahead this year, he said.

World famous wildlife artist Robert Bateman turned the sod to start the project last fall.