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From Ancient Trees to Christmas Trees - 2017 Tour in Port Alberni

On August 23, 2017, 18 eager school teachers came together from a range of schools across the Lower Mainland and Southern Vancouver Island—their common thread was a desire to learn more about the forest sector in British Columbia. Hosted by Festival of Forestry tour guides Michel Vallee and Ryan Dvorak, they were ready for three days of forest-immersion.

This year’s tour was based in Port Alberni—a hub for forestry on Southern Vancouver Island. Port Alberni is a deep port city which lies within the Alberni Valley at the head of the Alberni Inlet, Vancouver Island’s longest inlet. On the West side of Vancouver Island there is a long history of timber harvesting, and many of today’s forests are third growth stands (meaning they’ve been replanted two times in the history of logging).

The tour kicked off in the MacMillan Provincial Park at Cathedral Grove, here the teachers were dwarfed by 800-year-old towering Douglas-firs. This beautiful land was donated to the Province of BC by the iconic lumber baron and forester, HR MacMillan, in 1944 and has been a popular site for tourists and locals alike ever since.

From old-growth to commercial forests—the next stop was a Christmas Tree farm run by the Alberni District Secondary School and home to the Project Based Learning program. Ryan Dvorak is the forestry instructor at the school, and is in charge of the farm. Here students learn about the planning cycle of forestry, from harvest to planting, and all points in between. The tour then moved on to a Crown woodlot managed by Dave McBride of Greenmax resources where a variety of forest management techniques and practices were discussed. This stop was followed by a visit to Island Timberlands’ private lands where teachers were treated to a good discussion on some of the similarities, differences, and legislative practices as they relate to Crown versus Private lands. The teachers also got to learn how logs are processed, sorted and sold, and issues around land management, silviculture, ecosystem management and First Nations values were also addressed.

The next day was a whirlwind tour of the west coast forests of Vancouver Island. Guided by Erin Badesso as the lead with Western Forest Products and Ken Epps of Island Timberlands, the teachers where given a Masters level class in forest management, harvesting, and the complexity of the forest industry on the BC coast. Western pulled out all the stops and treated the teachers to an amazing show, including an up close and personal view of hand-falling old growth timber. It was a long and bumpy day but the excitement was palpable and the teachers had many excellent questions.

Along the way, special guests joined the group to share their expertise and answer questions. They included Makenzie Leine, forester and communications director from Island Timberlands, Warren Lauder, manager of Hupacasath First Nation forestry, Ken Epps of Island Timberlands, and Rhonda Morris, the district manager for the South Island Natural Resources District.

Continuing the story of forest management, the following day, stops included a tour of the Western Forest Products Alberni Pacific Division milling operations and dryland sort. Here they got a full spectrum look at how logs are managed after harvest and converted into products for market. They toured a large sawmill, where the latest technology is used to process logs into lumber, extracting the highest value and volume of wood from each log. After lunch, they visited the Hupacasath First Nation and learned about their forestry operations and connection to the land.

With new friends and a wealth of new information about forestry, the teachers traveled home to prep for their coming school year. We hope they find a few more trees in their lessons plans this year!

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