A forest full of opportunities

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Webster’s dictionary defines, a forest as a thick growth of trees and underbrush covering an extensive tract of land.

The forest industry, including woodlot licenses, typically focuses on the trees – or, more specifically, logs and conventional wood products. But what about the products that can be produced from trees, other than timber, or from the underbrush? Forests contain a wide range of natural products that, when harvested and utilized, are often referred to as non-timber forest products (NTFP).

There are many examples found among the more than 860 woodlot licenses around the province. A woodlot license outside Quesnel taps birch and alder trees for producing syrup and fudge, while a woodlot near Campbell River taps big leaf sugar maple trees. A Chilliwack nursery selling only natural plants finds its vine maple and salmonberry shoots from the neighboring woodlot license. A woodlot on the Island is used as a source for bows for making wreaths and salal for floral decorating.

These are but a few examples. Beyond syrup, birch trees can be a source of toffee, marinades, ice cream toppings, sauces, basketry, weaving, paper from bark, bowls, platters, cutlery, serving utensils, twig furniture, canoes, paddles, shoe insoles, sleds, snowshoes, oils for cosmetics, medicines, sweeteners (xylitol), and the list goes on.

One example of a forest managed for more than timber is Woodlot License #494 located outside Kaslo, BC. The Kootenay Agroforestry Society holds this woodlot license and Peter McCallister manages the multitude of resources in addition to trees. He harvests and processes culinary and medicinal mushrooms for sale and teaches workshops on behalf of the society about “ alternative foods” and non-timber forest resources. Peter refers to the many NTFPs as GFTFs – “ gifts from the forest.”

“We’ve grown a lot of food on underutilized wood,” McAllister said. “Mainly on deciduous species.” Woodlots provide many other foods in addition to berries. Pine mushrooms, for example, are harvested and sold to buyers in Japan. Popular shiitake mushrooms are gathered and then dried using a method that causes them to secrete maximum amounts of precious vitamin D.

McAllister said the society’s workshops have introduced such subjects and skills as dyeing natural fabrics with lichens; pine needle and cedar basket weaving; culinary and medicinal mushroom growing; native plants, yew bow making, edible and poisonous mushroom identification.

Opportunities abound for the many NTFPs that have yet to be developed. The Centre for Livelihoods and Ecology (CLE) at Royal Roads University is working to provide information

to better understand the potential of these species. Working in partnership with First Nations, industry, communities and all

levels of governments, the CLE (formerly the Centre for Non-Timber Resources) is improving the contribution of natural products and services to sustaining livelihoods and forest ecosystems. More information is available at the Centre for Livelihoods and Ecology at Royal Roads University: royalroads.ca/cle.