British Columbia

Trees slash burned for B.C. mega-energy projects

BC Hydro is warning people living northwestern B.C. of smoke haze as hundreds of kilometres of timber is cut and burned to make way for the Northwest Transmission Line, a practise that makes no sense, say critics.
A slash pile on Highway 37, the Ningunsaw Pass, in northwest B.C. (Contributed by: Scott McMillan)

BC Hydro is warning people living northwestern B.C. of smoke haze in that area as they cut down and burn hundreds of kilometres of timber to make way for the Northwest Transmission Line.

The utility's transmission line project connects an existing substation near Terrace, B.C. and a new substation to be built further north, near Bob Quinn Lake, in 2014.

"In clearing the right of way there's a lot of woody debris that has to be disposed of. And we do have approval... to dispose of that by burning," said BC Hydro spokesperson Lesley Wood.

Wood said she didn't know the total volume of the wood being burned, only that it is considerable.

'It's a misuse of a public resource'—Independent MLA Bob Simpson

"When you considering that you're clearing a right of way up to 80 meters worth of clearing for 340 kilometers — it's a lot," she said.

Cleared wood not 'economically viable'

Wood says it isn't economically viable to use the trees for biofuel or firewood, but says the Nisga'a nation, one of the groups contracted to do the cut and burn, may try to sell some of the timber. 

This map shows the Northwest Transmission Line being built from the Skeena Substation, near Terrace, to a soon to be built substation at Bob Quinn Lake. (BC Hydro)

Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson says the clearing is likely one of the biggest timber cuts in B.C. in 2012.

"This order of magnitude of slash and burn is certainly going to increase B.C.'s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. When is this province going to get involved in bioenergy, biodigesting in a bigger way so we never have these circumstances?" said Simpson.

"It's a misuse of a public resource."

Sharon Glover, the CEO of B.C. Professional Foresters, said there's no need to be burning the timber — that some of it is bound to be salvageable.

"To say that the forest , 'We'll just burn it because it's not our problem, it's in our way,' we need to think differently. If you just burn it you're saying that timber has no use to anyone. And we just don't buy it.

"We suspect in the mix of that timber that some of it is going to be merchantable, usable as saw logs, and other timber might be used for bioenergy, shipped to pellet plants or shipped to biomass projects."

Oil and gas industry also slash burning trees

Glover says she's also seen the oil and gas industry burn viable timber in northeast B.C.

She says regulations were changed in the past decade that no longer required the energy sector from factoring so-called waste wood into their development costs.

"You can't look at these energy projects and say, 'Well, it's simply it's not economical for us to truck these logs'," she said.

"If you are going to remove permanently, from the timber land base, large tracks of timber, you've got to include the costs of shipping that timber elsewhere so that the people of B.C. get value from the timber that's removed. " 

She adds the practise makes little sense in the current forestry climate where communities devastated by the mountain pine beetle epidemic are looking to log wood from areas currently under conservation. 

"Why would you burn it in one area and have a shortage in another?" she wonders.   

With files from the CBC's Betsy Trumpener