LOGGING By Design
By Tony Kryzanowski
As our path to the sensitive Sherman-area cutblock crossed that of two mature and endangered Alberta woodland caribou one with a rack would rival a bull elk it became obvious we were on our way to a special place. Currently being logged by Weyerhaeuser Canada with aesthetics and recreational use in mind, the Sherman area, on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, lived up to our expectations.
Weyerhaeusers timber harvest planner and harvesting supervisor Norm Garberg explains the companys eight-year journey to their present-day practices. Today they are permitted to log amongst horseback, snowmobile and all-terrain vehicle trails, not to mention with-in the protected environment of the woodland caribou and various other wildlife species. It is obvious that Garberg has a unique appreciation for the role his company has played to maintain the balance in Sherman.
In 1989 Weyerhaeuser was given permission to log the area 150 kilometres southwest of Grande Prairie using traditional logging methods. They decided to shelve those plans, however, because of a concern they and the government had about preserving woodland caribou habit at in the region. Weyerhaeuser launched a number of studies concerning caribou habitat, and realized that a different logging approach was required.
In 1994 Weyerhaeuser once again listed Sherman as a harvesting priority. The actual Sherman area comprises parts of six different townships, all with a long history of recreational use in the area. As Garberg explains, Weyerhaeuser was not compelled to notify anyone except the usual government authorities of the companys plans to harvest wood in Sherman, since the area was already part of their Forest Management Agreement (FMA). But they made a conscious choice to seek out other stake holders and to modify their logging approach. Since that time, the Sherman public consultation method has become part of their approach to seeking public input on other potentially sensitive areas prior to actual harvesting.
From a logging standpoint, the Sherman area presents rather adverse conditions, with slopes as high as 55 per cent. The wood basket of mainly spruce and pine varies in size from six to one tree per metre.
It took Weyerhaeuser a year to construct their harvesting plan, which began with extensive public input.
"We actually sought out many groups and went to their meetings," says Garberg. "We had an open house, and a trailer set up down there for a full summer that was manned on weekends. We invited people to come in and look at our plans and give us input."
Garberg adds that the public consultation process "was something that really opened my eyes ."He says that he and colleague Brian Reid discovered members of the public who really do care what a forest company does. They may not always come forward on their own, but if their opinion is sought, they provide input that companies normally might not hear.
"We made a commitment when we started the public consultation process that we would try to meet people on their own ground," says Garberg. "This sets you up on a more personal level where you actually get to know some of these people. "Today, he picks up the phone regularly to talk to the local snowmobile club president, to a trapper, or to the outfitter who takes 100 to 150 clients on horseback trips annually into the Sherman area. His purpose is to explain the companys harvesting plans, while asking for their continued input.
In addition to the concerted effort to gather public input, Weyerhaeuser hired the areas main outfitter for three days to take them on a horseback tour to point out any unique features they may have missed in the planning process. The result was a few important changes to their plan.
"For example, he pointed out a sheep meadow that we didnt even know existed," says Garberg. "Because he alerted us to the recreational use, and just the uniqueness of it as a summer range for sheep we actually put a full kilometre buffer around the area to protect it and to keep people from accessing it with quads and vehicles."
As part of the planning process, they also adopted an aesthetic design approach, which in itself was a learning experience for Weyerhaeuser. Advances in computer software have really helped develop this area. Using a program called VistaPro, they generate three-dimensional models of what the cutblocks will look like once they are cut but in advance of the cutting allowing them to make changes if they are unhappy with the result. This model is then reviewed by the Alberta governments Lands and Forests Service for their input.
While the aesthetic design approach is new to Weyerhaeuser in Grande Prairie, it is used extensively in the United States where logging practices come under much greater public scrutiny. While VistaPro is an easy-to-use, off-the-shelf software program, there are much larger and more elaborate aesthetic forestry programs available.
"As we got into aesthetic designing, we learned more and more about it," says Garberg. "We learned what people like to see and what we dont like to see. The thing you have to be careful of with aesthetic designing is that it is like art. What looks good to one person might not look good to another.
"There is no right or wrong, there are no text books, and there is no government policy that says this is how you design aesthetically."
The approach is to simply draw up a design and share it with a lot of people, getting both their input and their agreement on a general plan.
Once Weyerhaeuser began logging the Sherman area in the fall of 1995, they pursued four strategies in terms of modified logging practices. The first is a technique called partial cutting. By using feller bunchers and clam bunk skidders, they use a course treatment of cutting one pass through the bush, then leaving a pass standing, then cutting another pass.
"If you dogleg the trails and orient them the right way, from a distance it looks like the timber has not even been touched, yet you have removed 50 per cent of the timber," says Garberg.
To skid logs to roadside, their logging contractor, South Cariboo Enterprises, is using a TransGesco clambunk skidder, which can skid much longer distances than conventional skidders, has superior flotation, and leaves minimal environmental impact from ruts because of its hydrostatic undercarriage and independent bogie system.
"We wanted to minimize the amount of roads out there," says Garberg, "because we feel that building roads not only has the greatest environmental impact, it also has the biggest aesthetic impact."
The reduced number of required roads are constructed near the bottom of cutblocks, to make them less visible.
Logging trucks transporting logs from Sherman use the central tire inflation (CTI) system, giving truckers the option to inflate and deflate their truck tires. Deflating tires to as low as 30 pounds psi results in better flotation, better traction and less damage to the environment (a feature story on CTI can be found in this issue of LSJ).
"What this allows us to do is pull steeper grades," says Garberg. "When you pull steeper grades, that means you can get away with a lot fewer switch backs, therefore fewer roads and less noticeable scars on the landscape."
Finally, Weyerhaeuser has employed horse logging on road corridors where recreational users may travel, for an even more refined harvesting treatment. They remove 50 per cent of timber on road corridors this way, back 100 to 150 metres from the road.
"Basically, the width of the horse is as wide as the skid trails," says Garberg. "People drive by now and a lot of times they dont even know that weve logged there." The only disadvantage to horse logging is the need for more roads because horses can only skid short distances. Weyerhaeuser is considering the use of a small cable skidder as another method to create openings and pockets within road corridor cutblocks to address this concern. This will allow for intensive aesthetic management of these areas, and will minimize the need for more roads.
While the process leading to successful timber harvesting in Sherman has required a huge effort from Weyerhaeuser, it has yielded entirely positive results from other stakeholders.
"So far, nothing but positive things have come out of it," says Garberg. "Weve accomplished what we wanted. The feedback that weve solicited and received from users of the area has been really positive. They enjoy the increased access we have given them. They enjoy the fact that what we are doing out there is being done tastefully, with minimal impact. It hasnt really affected their recreational use at all."
Weyerhaeuser already has plans to use a similar approach of aesthetic designing and public consultation in two other areas of their FMA.
Garberg credits the companys decision to actively solicit public input prior to harvesting as the key to their success in harvesting timber from the Sherman area in a manner that both the company and the public can live with.
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