PacBio kicks off Bobtail fire biomass recovery project

By Pacific BioEnergy Corp. | June 04, 2020

On May 1, Pacific BioEnergy Corp. (PacBio) achieved another milestone by planting its first seedling in the Bobtail fire area west of Prince George. During the next two months, tree-planters working for Freya Logging and Strategic Natural Resource Consultants, both based in Prince George, will plant 1.1 million seedlings in the area. This is the first tree planting project for PacBio which began its wood pellet operations in 1994.

In 2015, the Bobtail area west of Prince George was hit by a major wildfire which burned an area covering 25,533 hectares. The extent of the fire damage prevented salvage by the traditional forest industry.

In 2019, PacBio reached agreement with one of the major licensees in the area to salvage some of the burned fibre utilizing their bioenergy license. PacBio proceeded to complete forest development planning and harvest unit layout while taking into account all the resource values that are present such as wildlife habitat, visual quality objectives, fisheries and archeological resources.

The project also adheres to the BC Chief Forester’s Guidance and retains the entirety of Riparian Management Areas. PacBio was also able to achieve major connectivity retention in the area that respects the Moose Objectives contained in the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council’s Environmental Stewardship Initiative.

Upon completing harvest unit planning, PacBio applied for and received a cutting permit from the Ministry of Forests. PacBio hired local contractors to harvest the burned fibre and truck it to the company’s PG plant to make wood pellets. Had this harvesting not occurred, the fibre would have remained on site and decayed in the forest releasing greenhouse gases for many years.

Through tree planting and utilizing this fibre, PacBio has effectively changed this area of the Bobtail fire from a carbon source to a carbon sink while at the same time restoring the forest ecosystem and reforesting the site for the benefit of future generations.

However, an unexpected twist occurred in mid-March, as the ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic started to become apparent and PacBio realized that the traditional labour model used by the planting industry would be highly affected. PacBio believed that running a planting camp with transient workers from across the country would not be a good model for success. PacBio thought local labour would be a much better solution to the challenges that Covid-19 presented.

PacBio looked to its current pool of contractors that were impacted by the Covid-19 downturn and two of our contractors stepped up and said they had experienced staff and resources necessary to fill the void. As a result, PacBio has Strategic Natural Resource Consultants (SNRC), our layout contractor, and Freya Logging, our harvesting contractor, planting trees and employing local labour.

PacBio Planning Forester Aiden Wiechula said, “The one million seedlings we plan to plant will cover an area of about 800 hectares. Additionally, PacBio plans to direct-seed 200 hectares this year and plant the remaining area next year. The project will employ about twenty local residents, most of whom would not be working due to Covid-19 impacts. This project represents welcome economic opportunity for our two contractors and their employees and a great start to renewing the Bobtail forests that were devastated by wildfire in 2015.”

Alex Forrester, Regional Manager for SNRC, said “This project is directly employing nine personnel in the field, who would otherwise be laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic and sectoral slowdown, and two more in the office to help with planning and logistics.”

Freya Logging owner Liam Parfitt, stated “Working with PacBio at the Bobtail burn represents a huge and exciting chance to allow Freya logging to innovate around the low grade, dead, blowdown timber in order to make the recovery process cost effective with wood that was already dead. Even more exciting is the chance to finish the process by being stump to dump and back to the stump by being involved in the tree planting.”
The project, fully funded by PacBio, will recover biomass fibre from over 2,250 hectares of heavily damaged pine beetle killed burnt stands. PacBio’s Woodlands Manager, Joe Kenny, stated “Harvesting in the Bobtail fire area represents the first time in BC where there has been large-scale use of a bioenergy forest license to harvest fibre that would have otherwise been left to decay.”

PacBio CEO John Stirling stated, “After five days, the planters have restocked the area with almost 63,000 seedlings distributed over 57 hectares. PacBio has led the wood pellet industry in development of innovative fibre supply strategies including grinding and trucking harvest residuals which would have been ‘piled and burned’. Harvest residuals include low-grade, beetle-killed, and deciduous logs that the sawmills and pulp and paper mills can’t use. Our ability to access this material has allowed us to supplement our fibre supply and keep our PG plant operating. It has also enabled us to help advance reforestation of this area that was devastated by the 2015 wildfire. In addition to the fibre supply and Carbon benefits, we are pleased to support local employment in these challenging times.”

PacBio expects planting to wrap up around June 30.