Meet the Mayor
April 15, 2015
Chetwynd’s close and intimate association with our forests goes back to the time before Chetwynd was. First inhabitants drew their sustenance primarily from harvesting the animals native to the forests. Later migrants to the area built their log cabins and cleared small plots for gardens and hay fields. Then others, seeing an economic opportunity, brought primitive sawmills to the valley and earned their meager incomes by the sweat of their brows. Some prospered.
Fast forward to the present. Chetwynd is in a continuing close and intimate relationship with the surrounding forests and hundreds of our families earn respectable livings, pay their mortgages, take vacations, and send their offspring to post secondary education on the strength of our forest-based economy.
I spent two days recently at the annual Council of Forest Industries convention in Prince George. Approximately 600 attendees were given the latest in market trends, challenges, and innovative developments in the industry. Our recent ancestors, innovative risk takers as they were, would have to strain their credulity to recognize what happens to the tree once the machines get into the forest. Yes, and even I am in awe of the uses found in the tree of which we never dreamed a generation ago.
We thought of boards, sawdust, and slabs. Haul the boards to the planer; burn the slabs in the bush; leave the sawdust pile when the mill moves to the next stand.
It can’t be that way anymore. We have to utilize the whole tree to make our operations viable. Example: up to the present West Fraser Mills in Chetwynd has been burning tons of wood waste every day in the beehive burner. Within a few weeks that wood waste will be waste no longer; it will be converted to electrical power. The beehive burner will be demolished – the last of its kind in the area and the new revenue source will help to make sawmilling more sustainable in a very competitive lumber market.
Another example of the industry’s attempts to remain competitive is Canfor’s building a lignin plant at Hinton, Alberta. Lignin is a complex substance that forms the bulk of the woody structure of the trees. By reducing the waste material to lignin, a hitherto untapped revenue source is made available. Lignin production on a commercial scale is something only dreamed of in the last decade.
Architects, chemists, and economists are busily developing other ways to make the tree more than wood and bark. (It’s much more than wood and bark in the first place. We are simply attempting to discover more of the secrets the Creator hid beneath the bark.) But it’s a long process to move from discovery of previously unknown features through extracting them and making them commercially viable to actually gaining market niches for the products.
In the meantime, lumber remains the backbone of the industry and Chetwynd remains well positioned to prosper as a result of firm regional fiber supplies and stable markets and prices.
Merlin Nichols, Mayor