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Squamish's rich forestry heritage has seen its ups and downs

Squamish at the head of the Howe Sound has long been known for its breathtaking scenery, recreational pursuits and for its vast timber resources.

Squamish at the head of the Howe Sound has long been known for its breathtaking scenery, recreational pursuits and for its vast timber resources.

Isolated from the rest of the coast and only accessible by water and rail until 1958, it's not surprising that Squamish's growth has been characterized by the spirit of independence.

And this spirit can be found most notably in the logging history that played such a pivotal role in the area's development.

Today, the community's economy is no longer so closely linked to forestry due to a shift in focus toward residential construction to accommodate Squamish's rapid population growth and the tourism industry bent on capitalizing on the area's reformed image as the outdoor recreation capital of Canada.

But there remains evidence of the legacy Squamish Days Loggers Sports attempts to honour and remind people of every year.

The logging tradition in Squamish combines stories of struggles against the elements and the vagaries of the economy. It also includes stories of overcoming hardships through determination and tenacity.

As founding resident and former co-owner of Harnor Logging Ltd. Bill Manson said in an archived interview: "There was a lot of toughness in those people."

A flurry of logging activity began at the head of the Howe Sound in the late 1800s. Archival material at the Squamish Public Library indicate one of the region's first logging operations set up camp in the upper Squamish Valley as early as the mid-1800s.

In 1939, the Keeley Lumber Company claimed its first stand in the Mud Creek area. That same year, the company changed its name to Empire Mills. It was this company that introduced truck logging to the area.

The advent of truck logging was a turning point in B.C.'s forest industry. It now became economically feasible to increase inventory by 50 per cent.

In an archived interview with The Chief, founding resident and former logger Ed Altosh recalled the effect the truck logging had on Squamish during the years of the Second World War as a number of small, independent companies began to flourish.

"And right after the war, the price of logs and lumber went right up, so a lot of them did real well. There were big tracts of timber in the upper Squamish, almost any direction you wanted to look at."

In 1945, power saws had taken over from the physically demanding cross saws. By 1957, MacMillan-Bloedel had bought out Squamish Valley Timber Co. To celebrate the province's centennial and the area's logging history, the first Loggers Sports Day was held in 1958.

A few decades later, the province began realizing unregulated timber removal had taken its toll, devastating areas for fish and wildlife for generations to come.

In the early 1970s, there was an emerging movement to integrate land management. Many managers of fish, wildlife and forestry began taking field trips together, and it was agreed there was an obvious need to create legislation that would address all aspects of forest use.

The Forest Practices Code of B.C. Act was passed in 1995 with several key points, including imposing reseeding measures, restricting cut block sizes and road construction in sensitive areas, protecting water supplies and restoring damaged ecology, to name a few.

Not surprisingly, environmental measures conflicted with tree harvesting and caused the available logging forestry land base to dwindle.

So locals organized the Soo Coalition and flew bright yellow ribbons from antennae to display their increasing frustration and with a goal of lobbying government "to ensure the forest land base... is managed for maximum productivity in a manner that provides community stability, a sound economy and a healthy environment."

Also at odds with the environmental movement of the day were portions of Empire Logging's operation in Tree Forest Licence 38 (TFL 38), which first began being harvested in 1961.

In 1993 the government reduced the company's allowable cuts by 25 per cent, leading to some bitterness among those in the industry.

But even then, Dave Miller, then-southern area manager for Empire's parent company Weldwood, was the first to admit past logging practices were plain bad.

"We needed a good kick in the ass, we raped the bloody land," he said.

However the modern logging practices were heavily involved with the environmental considerations outlined in the Forest Practices Code, he said, and should no longer be equated with the bad old days.

Despite the logging industry's frustration at what they felt were draconian measures, environmental protestors didn't feel the government was doing enough, so they came to intervene in an event that created a media sensation and was dubbed, War in the Woods.

In the summers of 1998 and 1999, the Elaho Valley was the scene of dramatic protest as environmentalists and loggers squared off in a battle over the future of the very landscape.

The following decade saw a flurry of issues harming the industry, such as the strong Canadian dollar, a weak lumber market, the high coastal cost structure, the provincial government take-back of forestry lands and the ongoing softwood lumber dispute resulting from the American argument that tariffs on Canadian lumber must be impose to counterbalance what was viewed as Canada's subsidized industry.

By the end 2004, hundreds of local jobs had been lost, and more losses were to come as International Forest Products (Interfor) moved to stem financial losses in its local Empire Logging division logging operation after it lost $3.6 million in 2003 and $2.2 million that year.

In 2006, Interfor sold its 218,000 hectares of land northwest of Squamish to the Squamish Nation for $6.5 million.

The shift in ownership would not lead to lay-offs, said Chief Bill Williams, since the band would partner with local logging outfit CRB Logging to form Northwest Squamish Logging.

Today, logging still occurs sporadically in the TFL, but the days of watching truckloads full of felled trees travelling down Highway 99 are gone -some believe for good.

There still exist important local employers relying on forestry, such as AJ Forest Products, a specialty mill producing custom cedar timbers and poles.

And a new era in forestry may be just around the corner -and it's getting kudos from local environmental watchdogs.

Triack Resources recycles plant processes wood waste into a viable energy source, and is already helping with energy demanding companies like Howe Sound Pulp and Paper.

Owner Dave McRae said Triack accepts all sorts of materials including wood waste like tree branches, or old lumber as well as asphalt shingles and a few other materials. The wood waste is broken down into smaller pieces and sent through a grinder, which breaks the wood bits down into the requested size.

Some wood waste is recycled into mulch, which McRae said local landscapers are eager to purchase, while other wood waste is broken up into chips or pellets and used to stoke boiler fires in nearby pulp mills.

It seems Squamish is destined to retain its forestry heritage, and only time will tell what the future holds.

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