Home builder desperate for wood

Forest industry entrepreneur Scott Holness lives in the epicentre of the devastation caused by mountain pine beetle.

Based in Kamloops, Holness operates a production facility for Haven Timberhomes out of Lac La Hache - a region that is completely dependent on lodgepole pine that is becoming less valuable day by day as it dries and degrades.

Yet for the vast amount of red, dead and grey timber all around, Holness can't get enough wood to supply the building blocks for a unique housing product. And, what's more upsetting, is much of the wood he could use to construct the innovative homes marketed for First Nations communities is being ground up and burned or used for pulp.

"They don't want to separate it," he said of timber licence holders. "They want to mow through it with grinders."

Holness is a representative and part owner of Haven Timberhomes. The company has developed a timber house comprised of stacked wood. Holness said it has the beauty of a traditional log home but is cheaper than a stick frame home.

The company is aiming for a niche in the First Nations housing market, selling the home's durability, efficiency and ease of construction along with its wood tradition.

To build the homes, the company needs logs of a grade somewhere between a higher value sawlog used for lumber and degraded timber good only for bio-energy or pulp.

Chris Ortner, a consulting forester and former chair of Venture Kamloops, said the value-added forest industry has suffered as the B.C. Liberals reshaped the forest industry.

Most of the industry, including in Kamloops, has disappeared. Local economic development officials at one time tried to build an industry cluster here. But companies disappeared one by one as they could not get steady access to timber.

Ortner said little has changed.

"You don't hear about the value-added industry anymore. It doesn't exist."

The B.C. Liberal government has promoted bio-energy and changed rules to ensure material is chipped in the forest and shipped out to create power rather than burned in the woods.

But Ortner said entrepreneurs like Haven Timberhomes are caught in the middle. Efficiencies needed in the forest industry, whether in sawmills, pulp or bio-energy mean companies don't sort logs to pick out the middle grade.

Ther eare high grade sawlogs for lumber, or low-end material for pulp or bioenergy, with nothing in between.

"There's such a small percentage of sawlogs in some (beetle kill) stands. It's more efficient to use it all as pulp... . It's piled on the side of the road and goes to chipping facilities."

Haven Timberhomes just shipped six homes worth of material to Fort Ware, a remote First Nations community in the north. It is also building a sixplex for a native community in the Chilcotin.

But Holness said he can't keep people working without access to timber. He has recently advertised to log buyers across B.C. looking for fibre without success.

"We're expecting we could do as many as 50 homes in the next 12 months."

He said the operation is too small to bid on its own timber licence and lacks the expertise. And without enough suitable logs, the company cannot fill those orders.

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