Canadian Biomass Magazine

Slash burning is wasteful

January 6, 2015
By Gordon Murray

Jan 6, 2015 - The football gag has been featured many times in Charles M. Schultz's comic strip Peanuts. The characters in the gag are Charlie Brown and Lucy van Pelt. Lucy tells Charlie Brown that she will hold a football while he kicks it. Charlie Brown runs up to kick the ball, but at the very last second before he can kick it, Lucy removes the ball and Charlie Brown flies into the air, before falling down and hurting himself.

This gag is an apt metaphor for the relationship between BC’s primary forest industry – mainly sawmills – who control the forest (Lucy) and pellet producers (Charlie Brown) who are trying to operate an industry based on salvaging wood waste from that forest. In this case, the gag is the sawmill telling the pellet producer that he will be allowed to salvage waste-wood slash piles to make pellets, and then at the last minute, setting the piles on fire before the pellet producer can recover them. And like the situation with Charlie Brown and Lucy, it happens again and again.

The fact is, not only does slash burning frustrate pellet producers and eliminate jobs, it is harmful to our environment. According to the BC Government’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report 2012, forest management (a.k.a. slash burning) emitted 39 million tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHG’s) in 2010. This is nearly as much as the Alberta oils sands emitted in the same year (48 million tonnes according to Environment Canada’s report: Canada’s Emission Trends 2012).

Consider also the health effects of slash burning, especially on children and the elderly. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, uncontrolled wood smoke contains fine particles, which can affect both the lungs and the heart. The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. Small particles can get deep into the lungs and into the bloodstream. Adverse health effects include:

• Respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing, and difficulty breathing;

• Diminished lung function;

• Bronchitis;

• Asthma;

• Arrhythmia;

• Heart attacks; and

• Premature death in people with heart or lung disease.

BC’s Minister of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNR), Steve Thomson, has recognized that much of the fibre that is burned in the province could be used by the bio-energy industry. He is determined to find ways to make this happen. He has directed his ministry to provide him with policy recommendations by March 31, 2015. To this end, senior MFLNR staff have been coordinating regular meetings with industry – including primary tenure holders and users of low quality fibre – in an attempt to find solutions that all parties can agree to.

Slash burning remains a contentious issue. Primary tenure holders wish to maintain the ability to continue the practice, while those of us who wish to make use of the wood waste would like to see the practice banned.

Wood pellet producers are encouraged by Minister Thomson’s initiative. He has already put in place two new forms of tenure – the supplemental forest licence and the forestry licence to cut. As these tenures are still new, we have not yet seen them implemented, but we remain optimistic.

Nevertheless, slash burning remains a sore point. So far, the MFLNR has encouraged primary tenure holders and pellet producers to reach an agreement on this topic, but that has proven difficult. One thing is certain: the willful wasting of useable wood fibre by primary tenure holders is no longer acceptable.

Gordon Murray is executive director of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada. He encourages all those who want to support and benefit from the growth of the Canadian wood pellet industry to join. Gordon welcomes all comments and can be contacted by telephone at 250-837-8821 or by e-mail at

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