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Understanding impacts: A look at the forestry industry in Revelstoke

As the blockade protesting the harvest of old growth forest continues the industry calls for clarity
Revelstoke’s Downie Timber employs more than 300 people. (File Photo)

Shannon and Tyler van Goor’s company, T-Van Contracting, was doing road work up the Bigmouth FSR when Old Growth Revylution’s blockade went up at the beginning of July.

For two days her workers were unable to access their machinery.

“When I calculate it out, it ended up costing our small business and our family around $11,000 to take our equipment out and to park it,”she said.

T-Van is one Revelstoke’s many forest industry companies.

Though operations in the backcountry are on hold due to fire risk, van Goor said blockading creates a major safety issue as well.

“These roads are the only points of entry and exit for our workers and equipment,” she said. “We are in extremely remote locations and many times during the summer our equipment needs to be mobilized to be used with BC Wildfire.”

One of Revelstoke’s big employers, Downie Timber, were also impacted by the blockade, having planned to log in the Bigmouth this summer.

Nick Arkle, CEO of Gorman Bros. who own Downie Timber, said while the company has an annual cut allowance of 180,000 cubic metres in the Revelstoke area, it will cut only around 120,000 cubic metres of that due to deferrals already in place.

“Any time there is something that stops us from going in and harvesting, or another constraint is put on the land base, it just makes it difficult to harvest the volume that we should be harvesting,” Arkle said.

As of Aug. 4, there were 280 full- time employees working for Downie Timber. Seasonally, that might increase to 300.

Arkle said Downie also works with 32 contractors in Revelstoke.

Of the logs processed by Downie Timber, 25 per cent of them are harvested in the Revelstoke area.

The logs go through on two different lines: large and small. Arkle said approximately 60 per cent of the trees they process are cedar and of that around 15 per cent are on the large log line.

Arkle said one of the conversations that needs to be had between industry, protestors and the province is what exactly “old growth” is.

Some documents define it as 140 years old, others 250-plus. According to Arkle, if they couldn’t harvest 140- year-old trees, that “ties up most of the province.”

“Do we need to stop all harvesting of old growth? If that is the case then that is pretty serious,” he said. “Do we mean, trying to find a balanced approach where some areas, because of their special nature, need to be preserved?

“Then, if that is the case, let’s find out what those areas are, let’s understand the impacts and then we can all collectively make a decision.”

Another player in the forestry industry in town is the Revelstoke Community Forestry Corporation.

Though the company only directly employs five people, Mike Copperthwaite, general manager, said they pay $6 million to employees and contractors annually. The corporation also pays dividends to the city – at the moment the legacy fund is worth around $1.6 million – as well as making donations to various community projects such as the new playground coming to Begbie View Elementary.

“If the definition was ‘old growth is 140 year old trees’ then RCFC wouldn’t have anything to log,” he said. “I’m not trying to be an alarmist, that’s just the reality of the forest landbase that we have right now.”

Copperthwaite said he doesn’t believe age is the best criteria when deciding which forests to protect.

His interpretation of the Old Growth Report is that it calls for deferred logging in high risk ecosystems rather than stopping old growth logging entirely.

READ MORE: City-owned forestry business has allowable cut renewed

Downie Timber has said it will defer logging in the Bigmouth area while RCFC is making models to consider whether or not they can differently manage stands of 250- to 300-year-old trees in its license area. The results of those models should be available this week, Copperthwaite said.

Meanwhile the blockaders north of Revelstoke continue to stop road building and logging at Bigmouth and Nagle Creek as well as Encampment Creek Forest Service Road.

According to an Aug. 12 news release from the group, they had “peaceful conversations” with BC Hydro, Downie Timber, silviculture workers and road building contractors in the previous 48 hours.

“We attempt to slow the rate of logging while logging companies rush to log as much as the can before the before the end of September. That is when the B.C. government appointed technical review panel will present the B.C. legislature with the locations of at risk old growth ecosystems to prioritize them for deferral,” the group said.