The Forestry Public Advisory Council consists of the local forest product companies and representatives from agencies and industries connected with the forest industry. It meets a couple of times a year.
The forest harvest season runs from mid-July through the winter. Logs are hauled year-round from collection points in the forest to the woods. In the summer, road-accessible cutblocks are harvested and in the winter ones deeper in the woods are harvested once the frost is in the ground.
Slave Lake Veneer
West Fraser runs Slave Lake Veneer in Mitsue. This uses coniferous (pine and spruce) trees, turning them into plywood veneer.
In May, West Fraser assumed it would be mostly harvesting burnt wood this year and next because of the high number of hectares burnt. However, the fires were so hot that the many of the trees are not usable. Instead, this year it will be harvesting 80 to 85 per cent burnt.
The trees will be harvested in Utikuma fire on Hwy. 88 at km 88, near Driftpile Cree Nation, and in the Marten Hills on km 11 on the Marten Hills Road. The company is also looking at the Kimiwan fire (west of Peavine Métis Settlement) and the Grizzly fires in the Swan Hills.
Slave Lake Pulp
Meghan Payne, executive director of the Lesser Slave Watershed Council asked if the sale of Slave Lake Pulp affected the Regional Forest Management Plan.
The answer was no. All West Fraser forest obligations transfer over to Millar Western, which will be managing the mill for the new owner. The management transfer happens in January.
Vanderwell mill in Mitsue turns coniferous trees (pine and spruce) into lumber.
Since the wildfires in the area were very hot, a lot of coniferous burned too hot to be harvested, said Mike Haire, Vanderwell woodlands manager. Therefore, the plan is to harvest “a mix of fire kill and green.”
In the summer, harvest started in the area burnt by the Saulteaux fires west of Smith. Harvest by House Mountain started the last week in October. In the winter, harvesters will start on the less-accessible locations by km 26 on the Marten Hills Road.
Tolko runs OSB mills in Mitsue and High Prairie. They uses deciduous trees (aspen and poplar), which didn’t burn as much as the coniferous trees. Therefore, Tolko will do 100 per cent fire salvage this year and some (likely not 100 per cent) next year.
Some of this is in the Utikuma fire area, north of Utikuma Lake. Some is also on East Prairie Métis Settlement. This area was burnt by SWF063, which is one of four Grizzly wildfires in the Swan Hills. Tolko is waiting on approvals for access to the Kimiwan fire west of Peavine Métis Settlement.
The High Prairie mill has been closed since on May 20, 2022. No staff have been laid off; they’ve been working to rebuild. It should be operational in January 2024. Some wood from Slave Lake has been taken to High Prairie to start the mill.
The 2023 wildfire season had the most hectares burnt in Alberta in recorded history. Across the province, over 2.2 million hectares (ha) burnt. The previous record was 1981 with 1.3 ha.
Most of the fire guards have been reclaimed, said Leah Lovequist, Wildfire Information Officer. However, 133 km will be done over the winter as they are not accessible in the summer. These are 114 km (SWF063), five km (Carrot Lake), and 10 km (Nipisi).
Most of remaining wildfires in the area will remain on the books throughout the winter. Fire season ended on October 31, but people still need to be careful when burning. Drought conditions remain throughout the winter and winter burns can burn deep into the ground and start a wildfire once the snow has melted.
Mountain pine beetle
Mountain pine beetle kills pine trees. Alberta Forestry, Parks and Tourism has a program to monitor and control (cut down and burn) infested trees. Across Alberta the numbers have decreased in recent years.
A total aerial search is done by plane for red trees. Then closer surveys are done by helicopter of the area around the red trees.
In the Slave Lake Forest Area the summer of 2022, 395 locations were checked by helicopter, which spotted 482 trees. Not all of these were because of pine beetles. In the winter, 370 sites checked on the ground, with 181 trees controlled. Of these sites, most had only one to three infested trees and most were newly attacked.
Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory
The Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory (LSLBO) is a non-profit which does bird research and provides education on birds in the Slave Lake Forest Area. The forest companies are involved in the MAPS program, which is Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship. This looks at nesting birds.
Lesser Slave Watershed Council
The LSWC is a non-profit that has various projects in the Lesser Slave Lake watershed, which includes most of Big Lakes County and the M.D. of Lesser Slave River. These include water quality monitoring, environmental education, and working with the provincial government on issues pertaining to water. There is space for two forestry representatives on the board. Nicole St. Jean is continuing in this role. The other moved away, so there’s a position available.
Vanderwell, Tolko, and West Fraser have funded LSWC through the FRIP (Forest Resource Improvement Program). Vanderwell gave $200,000 ($40,000 per year) for water quality monitoring from 2023 to 2027. To support the education programs, Vanderwell, Tolko, and West Fraser have given a $135,000 grant for 2022-25.
by Pearl Lorentzen