Furthering Aspen as a Commercial Species in BC
is a pioneering company making exclusive use of high-quality aspen.
By Jim Stirling
Copyright 1996. Contact publisher for permission to use.
A gradually increasing number of forest companies in the region
are using aspen as the sole furnish or as a mix in their wood processing plants. But the
aspen is not a conifer. "What you've learned about conifers, leave it at home when it
comes to aspen,'' recommends Rob Hall, woodlands superintendent for the Canadian Chopstick
Manufacturing Co. Ltd. in Fort Nelson, BC.
Managing forests for aspen requires a different attitude and
philosophy that incorporates techniques recognizing the species' specific biological and
regeneration characteristics, he believes.
CCMC is a pioneering company making exclusive use of high-quality
aspen for the manufacture of disposable chopsticks. "We have to be innovative because
of the nature of the aspen and the uniqueness of the operation," adds Frank Senko,
CCMC's woodlands manager.
The operational experience of forest management techniques
dedicated to aspen is limited in northeastern BC, unlike in other parts of western Canada.
The tree types and conditions there mean companies like CCMC and the provincial forest
service are on a learning curve. But it really sticks in the corporate craw when aspen is
given little credence as a viable commercial species. Understandable, for the aspen is
essential to CCMC's survival.
The company has a deciduous forest licence to harvest 69,384 m3
of aspen annually in the Fort Nelson TSA, the largest supply block in BC. Its charter
harvesting areas are in the Fort Nelson and Liard River drainages. Less than 10 per cent
of the company's volume is in spruce and cottonwood.
The resource is distributed throughout valley bottoms to upland
regions in amoeba-shaped areas ranging from two to 2,000 hectares in size. Only the
highest-quality aspen Ð about 30 per cent Ð can provide the clean, bright, unblemished
chopsticks mandated by the Japanese market. Finding a fair and reasonably priced market
for the remaining residue aspen is an ongoing challenge.
"It takes a lot of field work to try to identify
chopstick-grade aspen. You can get a feel but you don't know for sure until you cut it
down,''explains Hall. CCMC's cruisers use destructive sampling methods to determine the
recoverable volume of chopstick-grade material in a given aspen stand. And while it's not
always possible, the company tries to avoid areas where the indicated grade volume is 90
cubic metres/ hectare and less. "It's our belief soil moisture contributes to the
degree of stain and rot in a clonal species like aspen,'' continues Hall. Aspen in higher
elevations seem less prone to stain and rot.
CCMC has conducted yeoman silvicultural trial work and planting
with aspen. The company grew its first aspen from seed on a trial basis in 1990 and
continues to garner good-quality seed from the best clones. Survival rate in aspen from
CCMC's own seed has climbed to a 95 per-cent rate in the last two years. The company
planted 150,000 aspen in 1995 and 140,000 in 1996. Site preparation is not usually
required. The aspen respond best to an open planting site.