Three months after wildfires started burning in the Slave Lake Forest Area, forest product companies are still working to figure out the full effect of the fires.

The companies run four mills in the Mitsue Industrial Area. Together, the companies have a regional forest management plan which covers the majority of the Slave Lake Forest Area.

From January 1 to August 23, the Slave Lake Forest Area had 131 wildfires, which burnt 429,009.02 hectares (ha), says a Slave Lake Forest Area Wildfire update. As of Aug. 23, most of these wildfires were extinguished, with 12 active: 10 under control and two held.

Vanderwell Contractors Ltd. harvests coniferous trees for lumber. Mike Haire is the Woodlands Manager for Vanderwell Contractors.

“We finally have a decent plan,” he says. Vanderwell will harvest 50 per cent fire salvage and 50 per cent regular harvest.

Over the last months, his team has spent a lot of time looking at trees.

“We will take severely burnt if it still has good bark,” says Haire.

In the Saulteaux wildfires, west of Smith they found trees to salvage. However, in the Swan Hills it was a different story.

“The severity of the burn is very high,” says Haire. “It’s shocking how much. For lumber and plywood, you have one shot at it (harvesting burnt trees). We weren’t able to find enough.”

Lightning started three of the four Grizzly wildfires in the Swan Hills on May 4. It started the fourth on June 7. The combined area of these fires is 190,958 ha.

Spring fires sometimes burn so hot and long that the trees are no longer usable, says Haire.

“All our major fires have been spring fires,” he adds. “What’s unusual was in the province there were so many large fires at the same time.”

Fire is a natural process. Trees which are too burnt to harvest will be left in the forest, which will regrow at its own pace. Any area harvested for salvage or regular harvest will be replanted by the company.

About 90 per cent of the Vanderwell harvest was scheduled to be harvested in the next 10 years, says Haire. West of Smith, Vanderwell will harvest all of the trees it planned to harvest in the next 10 years, because they are burnt but salvageable.

This isn’t more trees than normal, just in a smaller area.

The same thing happened in 2019, says Haire.

That year, the McMillan Fire burnt 222,837.20 ha in the Marten Hills.

The unburnt trees will be from the Marten Hills.

The trees will be harvested starting in October, with some areas waiting until the frost is in the ground.

The other two forest companies harvest deciduous trees.

Sherman Horsman, Tolko harvesting superintendent, says, “Tolko is currently assessing the impacts of the wildfires in our operating areas. We are planning salvage operations in the areas affected by wildfires, and we hope to commence logging early this fall. 

“Tolko will work with local communities, stakeholders, other resource users and the Alberta Government to salvage as much as is economically viable while maintaining non-timber values on the landscape.”

In a statement to The Leader, West Fraser says, “The overall impact of this year’s wildfires on timber supply will not be known until later in the fall. However, we can tell you that our plan is to focus our efforts to salvage the areas that have been burnt.

“Our approach will be through consultation with local communities, and following our stewardship principles, to use the resource while still economically viable and return the area to productive forest lands as quickly as we can.”

by Pearl Lorentzen

This item copyrighted by / Lakeside Leaader   Slave Lake, Alberta

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