BC wood pellet firm PacBio transforms wildfire-hit area

On 1 May, Pacific BioEnergy (PacBio) planted its first seedling in the Bobtail fire area west of Prince George, British Columbia.

In 2015, the Bobtail area 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 an agreement with one of the major licensees in the area to salvage some of the burned fibre utilising its bioenergy licence. The firm completed forest development planning and harvest layout while taking into account all the resource values such as wildlife habitat, visual quality objectives, fisheries and archaeological resources.

Upon completing harvest planning, the company 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 wood pellet plant. Had this not happened, the fibre would have decayed in the forest, releasing greenhouse gases for many years, according to the company.

Now, as the company has utilised the fibre and started planting new trees, the Bobtail fire area has been transformed from a carbon source to a carbon sink, while restoring the forest ecosystem. Over the next two months, tree planters working for Freya Logging and Strategic Natural Resource Consultants, both based in the area, will plant 1.1 million seedlings. This is the first tree planting project for PacBio, which started its wood pellet operations in 1994.

“The one million seedlings we plan to plant will cover an area of about 800 hectares,” said PacBio’s planning forester, Aiden Wiechula. “Additionally, PacBio plans to direct-seed 200 hectares this year and plant the remaining area next year. The project will employ about 20 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.”

Freya Logging owner Liam Parfitt commented: “Working with PacBio at the Bobtail burn represents a huge and exciting change to allow Freya logging to innovate around the low grade, dead, blowdown timber to make the recovery process cost-effective with wood that was already dead. Even more exciting is the change to finish the process by being stump to dump and back to stump by being involved in tree planting.”

After just five days, tree planters had restocked the area with almost 63,000 seedlings distributed over 57 hectares, according to PacBio’s CEO, John Stirling. He said: “PacBio has led the wood pellet industry in development of innovative fibre supply strategies including grinding and trucking harvest residuals that 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 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.”

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