Salvaging of P.E.I. woodlots slow going in months post-Fiona

Woodlots across P.E.I. lost a large percentage of their trees in post-tropical storm Fiona.   (Shane Hennessey/CBC  - image credit)
Woodlots across P.E.I. lost a large percentage of their trees in post-tropical storm Fiona. (Shane Hennessey/CBC - image credit)

The phone hasn't stopped ringing for forestry contractor Matt Hughes as woodlot owners across P.E.I. try to salvage what they can in the wake of post-tropical storm Fiona.

"The work is nonstop, and I'd say we have a few years ahead of ourselves just for cleaning up," said Hughes, who owns Timberjack's Sawmill & Logging, based in Kelly's Cross, P.E.I.

"It's difficult because there could be some very high-value wood that has obviously lost value due to the inefficiencies of harvesting, as well as a lot of broken-down or broken trees."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

"It's unfortunate for land owners that have lost a lot of value of timber."

Hughes was part of the province's Emergency Forestry Task Force that made eleven recommendations, including salvage incentives, based on the amount of damage, ranging from $250 to $850 a hectare.

'Very little standing'

One of the biggest challenges has been getting into the woodlots to clear out the downed wood, said Hughes.

"You almost have to fight the trees to break your way in to process the trees with the equipment," Hughes said.

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

"We're on our fourth large job since the hurricane hit, and I would say every one of them are over 85 to 90 per cent blowdown. There's very little standing."

There have been some additional challenges, said Hughes, including the weather, the high cost of diesel and plummeting lumber prices.

"We're just about to face our third price decrease since Dec. 1, so that's a bit disheartening," Hughes said. "We're just going to keep on cutting, but it's definitely putting a hit in our overall income from these cuts."

We have a very short period of time before a lot of the softwood begins to lose its value.
—Matt Hughes, Timberjack's Sawmill and Logging

There is also some urgency to cleaning up the downed trees, Hughes said.

"We have a very short period of time before a lot of the softwood begins to lose its value," said Hughes.

Stud wood, a particular wood grade used to frame walls in construction, is sold by weight, and as the wood dries out it loses some of that weight, said Hughes.

"Some sites are not going to be cut and that's fine ... unfortunately, those will just have to kind of decay. But the unfortunate thing is whenever you don't clean up that blowdown, it's basically impossible for any replanting."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Hughes said the landowners that he is talking to all plan to replant.

"It's like any crop, it takes time. None of these things happen overnight," Hughes said.

"We're dealing with forest years here, not human years."

Offset losses

The manager of field services for the forests, fish and wildlife division of the provincial Department of Environment, Energy and Climate Action said more than 100 people have signed up for the Forest Enhancement Program since Fiona, as a way to access the salvage incentives.

Mike Montigny's department has earmarked $400,000 for incentives, and an additional $500,000 more for forest enhancement in the next fiscal year.

"We've received hundreds of phone calls from land owners. They see a lot of damage in certain parts," Montigny said.

"A lot of folks are concerned. They don't know what to do. So the forest enhancement program is a good vehicle for us to incentivize sustainable forest management."

The salvage incentives will also help offset some of the losses to land owners, now that prices are plunging, Montigny said.

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

"Some of these trees that have blown down have not reached their economic potential," he said.

"Markets are getting flooded right now. We're seeing a lot of wood hitting the markets. Prices are being reduced, and so what they were expecting to see on that economic return is not there."

Forestry staff are working on the analysis now of the damage caused by Fiona, said Montigny, and they hope to have those numbers in a few weeks.