COCHRANE— An agreement struck between Crowsnest Forest Products Ltd., affiliated with Spray Lake Sawmills, marks the first new Forest Management Agreement in 12-years in Alberta.
The 20-year term agreement is aiming to see up to $32 million in increased payments to the province in the form of timber dues, holding and protection charge payments and $225 million to Alberta’s GDP.
Ed Kulscar Vice President, Woodlands, Spray Lake Sawmills, applauded the government’s new Forest Management Agreement because it will provide secure access to wood fibre.
“It gives us extra security,” Kulscar said. “That extra security gives us the confidence to continue investing not only in the forest but in the company here at the mill, in our employees and in the surrounding communities.”
The area featured in the new agreement is Forest Management Unit C5 located west of Lethbridge, excluding the Castle Provincial Park, encompassing about 3,511 square kilometres of public land.
Forest Management Agreements are the most secure type of forest tenure and are designed to provide companies with rights to establish, grow, harvest and remove timber on Crown land using sustainable forest management practices. Legal obligations are attached to the agreement, including the development of forest management plans. These plans provide sustainable forest management, protecting biodiversity, increasing forest resilience and reducing the risk of wildfires and mountain pine beetle outbreaks.
Under the agreement, the amount of wood the company can harvest does not increase, instead, it provides them with secure and sustainable fibre access for the next 20 years. The development of a forest management plan is designed to honour environmental commitments including reforestation through the requirement to plant two trees for every tree felled.
The current forest management plan for the area is in effect until 2026. Future plans for the area will be prepared by Crowsnest Forest Products Ltd.
Before the new agreement, a 20-year quotas contract was in place in the C5 forest management unit, Kulscar said. The quotas were volume based giving the sawmill the rights to a percentage of the annual harvested volume in the area. Under the new Forest Management Agreement, the tenure has become land-based providing security allowing more investment in the area.
With the striking of a new agreement Spray Lake Sawmills now has the responsibility for developing the next forest management plan for the C5 forest management unit.
Environmental stewardship has been a major component in both the quota and new models, Kulscar said, and the responsibilities remain largely the same for the sawmill. He added the forests in C5 are certified by a third party to an international forest management standard— This certification will be maintained.
“We’ll be undertaking an update of the forest inventory, using the latest in technology to get a real good handle on how much forest is out there and what’s the composition of that forest and then we’ll be developing a forest management plan that will update all that information,” Kulscar said. “Through that process, there will be consultation with the public, the stakeholders through that forest management process there is also consultation with First Nations as well— The idea is to come up with a new updated plan using the best information.”
With the approval of the Forest Management Agreement, Spray Lake Sawmills will be completing a major mill upgrade.
Kulscar said some of the machinery has already been delivered and installations will begin at the end of August.
The capital project at the sawmill is anticipated to cost around $3.8 million and marks the first major project of this size since around 1999.
Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie said the resources required to maintain and meet quotas can take hundreds of thousands of dollars and companies can be vulnerable to facing changes in their quota numbers— Under the new Forest Management Agreement, this is no longer a worry.
“It provides security. You have a 20-year forest management agreement in place that would require compensation if there is any reversal or changes to that fibre source,” Guthrie said. “That allows mills and Spray Lake to invest and know they have the security to invest within their mills and the people that they have for the future.”
He noted the mill employs more than 200 direct employees and 200 contractors.
“The mill is already investing millions of dollars into the future,” Guthrie said. “I’m very happy for the town and for Spray Lakes and all the employees and management there. It’s a great achievement.”
Banff-Kananaskis MLA Miranda Rosin described the Forest Management Agreement as “great news for all of Kananaskis.”
The agreement is exciting, she said, as it will aid the province’s economy and provide hundreds of jobs while ensuring forests are being better managed.
In Kananaskis, about 30 per cent of the region has been identified as available mixed-use and can be logged, but only one per cent of the 30 per cent can be accessed by the companies.
“Even with that small amount having our forests be well managed, whether that be from pine beetles or through the growth and planting of new trees rather than old-growth which is subject to burn, is really great for the safety of our communities but as well as for the environment,” Rosin said.
As a major employer in town and corporate citizen when Spray Lake Sawmills finds success it is mirrored back on the town said Mayor Jeff Genung.
The sawmill is always giving back to the community, he said, citing the numerous events and organizations sponsored by the company including the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre.
Spray Lake Sawmills is one of the most technologically advanced companies in the community and it has been amazing to see how they are investing in innovative and sustainable forestry, Genung said.
“They’ve changed, they’ve adapted, they’ve grown with the economy, technology advancements,” Genung said.