Union calls for an end to wasteful burning of slash piles

B.C.’s forest industry burns timber on the forest floor that could be used to create energy

The practice of slash burning huge piles of trimmings and discard log ends is being questioned by a forest union official.

The practice of slash burning huge piles of trimmings and discard log ends is being questioned by a forest union official.

By Cam Fortems

Kamloops This Week

A forest union official is crying foul at burning of slash piles, like those seen in the past month in the region, that could be used for products or to create energy.

Under the watch of government, B.C.’s forest industry continues to burn timber on the forest floor that could be used to create energy, a senior executive with Unifor has charged.

The slash burning of huge piles of trimmings and discard log ends also pollutes the valley’s air, according to a report compiled by a Kamloops medical group.

Rene Pellerin, an executive with Unifor Local 10-B and its former president, said members touring in the bush are collecting for him examples of woodwaste about to go up in smoke.

“Eastern [Canada] mills are just appalled at what we’re doing here,” Pellerin said.

“They’re starving for timber. They can’t run while we just burn this stuff.”

He highlighted two examples found this month, two smaller piles near Knouff Lake and a massive burn pile in the Monte Lake area.

Pellerin said both appear to contain potentially valuable wood resources that could, at least, be burned in a co-generation plant, including at the Domtar pulp mill in Kamloops.

“This is BTUs [heat energy] just going up in the air,” Pellerin said.

B.C.’s Forest and Range Practices Act governs what fibre can be left behind on the forest floor once logging is complete.

Rick Sommer, district forest manager in Kamloops, said companies are not breaking rules when they burn slash. He said the piles “don’t look significantly different from the piles I’ve seen over the past several weeks.”

There are rules in place allowing companies to burn only when weather conditions are favourable for venting.

The Kamloops Forest District, which oversees Crown timber in a 100-kilometre radius of the city, is part of a research project to determine if there are ways to utilize more of the fibre, including separating piles based on size and quality.

Potential uses include energy, creating wood pellets for export or solid wood products for larger and better quality pieces. A study will be completed this winter and presented at a symposium in Kamloops in the spring.

“We’re beginning to see some products in there folks can use,” Sommer said.

Burning slash piles were identified as the culprit behind poor air quality in the Thompson Valley in November 2014, according to a report published by Kamloops Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

Dr. Jill Calder, who represents the group, said the report “debunked” the idea that woodstoves cause sometimes poor air quality in the fall.

Calder said it was circulated to provincial ministries, but no noticeable change has occurred.

“They’re burning due to the risk of forest fire — I get that,” she said. “[But] it’s a waste of fuel. It’s a pollution source. Maybe we can do something more innovative.”

Pellerin said he’s pushing the issue at the national level of the union, which first took aim at slash burning more than seven years ago.

Sommer said the province recently introduced a new fibre-action utilization plan to get lower-quality fibre into the hands of the bioenergy sector, as well as for pulp and paper.