Townsend Lumber FSC certified

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Dave Townsend knelt beside a pile of 2,000 ash logs 10 feet high and 220 long, representing an estimated 130,000 board feet of sawn hardwood.

Some were a couple of feet or more in diameter, like those Townsend Lumber has harvested for decades. Others however were well below that standard, cut standing dead in what essentially was a salvage operation. And in their midst, Townsend was able to sum up the massively-devastating effects of the Emerald Ash Borer with one finger and a single sentence.

“No water, no more photosynthesis, no more nothing – it just strangles,” Townsend said, indicating trails through what formerly was formerly sapwood in a healthy ash tree.

Tearing a section of bark off one log, Townsend traced interlocking sawdust trails crisscrossing the exposed surface.

“It’s the by-product of them eating the tree,” he explained, adding the borer’s effects are going to be felt even more harshly, given ash is the dominant species in most bush areas throughout Southern Ontario. “This is going to be devastating to the woodlots.”

It’s safe to say Townsend knows a thing or two about lumber, given he has been around it since age 10 when his dad Robert started Townsend Lumber in 1959 as a winter business extension to tobacco farming.

“That’s all I’ve ever done – lumber and logging and grading lumber,” said Dave.

There have been significant changes in the company’s 55-year history since it started up in Glen Meyer with around a dozen employees. A destructive fire there initiated a move to its current location southeast of Tillsonburg on Jackson Sideroad just off Highway #3 in 1984, but even that proximity to town manages to hide the sprawling size and scope of its contemporary operation.

Home to a variety of wood-related operational equipment (including sawmills, kilns, flooring and trim manufacturing lines) with a current production of between 10,000,000 and 11,000,000 board feet annually. It also has roughly 5,000,000 board feet of lumber in round logs, yard and air-drying sawn materials, and retail inventory onsite, representing 29 different species ranging from ash through walnut, red elm, hickory, aspen, hackberry, willow and locust.

Townsend Lumber has expanded to four sawmills, two (main and pallet) in Tillsonburg, a third operational near Kitchener and a fourth inactive in the Langton area; along with flooring (Breezewood) retail outlets in Tillsonburg, near Kitchener and Orillia. All told, combined operations employ around 156 (including around 130 in Tillsonburg) says Sales Associate/Business Analyst/FSC Program Manager Zach Buchner, in addition to sub-contracted log crews.

“Now it’s a pretty massive company, it’s big, big business.”

The logs at the bottom of the pyramid are sourced in what effectively was the company’s backyard, the five surrounding counties in Robert Townsend’s day. Today they are cut in the main from Niagara to the Detroit River to Orangeville in the north. Dave points to the fact Norfolk was the first county to implement tree-cutting by-laws, and also site to the first reforestry farm (St. Williams) in Canada in conjunction to the fact Townsend Lumber has always embraced a sustainable approach as good business.

“It’s the only thing that ensures a long-term timber base.”

But recently, the company moved to make the approach ‘official’, seeking Forest Stewardship Council Canada (FSC) certification. The process is a five-step one, beginning with contacting a certification body, constructing an application form and agreement, completing an onsite audit, certification approval, and finally, an annual audit. Putting together Townsend Lumber’s package took roughly two months said Buchner, prior to an audit by the Rainforest Alliance in January, 2014 and certification on February 25.

In laymen’s terms, said Buchner, FSC certification is an internationally-recognized standard of responsible forestry.

He cited the example of a woodlot, where decades ago, the approach would have been to harvest all appropriate logs. Today, practices require leaving smaller trees for growth as well as some larger for seeding, a sustainable approach which also has economic benefits over the long haul.

“You’ll end up with a bush lot that is worth as much as it is now or more 20 years later.”

There are criteria for a FSC certification, including exclusion of harvesting or purchasing logs from designated ‘high-risk’ areas known for unsustainable practices.

“Because they are considered uncontrolled,” said Buchner, “versus controlled where there are forest management standards in place.”

Other requirements include not being from a clear cut, and having trees approved for harvest by a forestry technician using approved practices. For example, butternut trees are considered endangered, and can only be cut as standing dead; and flowering dogwoods are protected, and adequate shade for them to flourish must be left around them.

“It’s not just about diameter cut,” said Buchner. “It’s about protecting the habitat and environment of the forest.”

Additionally, in some areas of Quebec, caribou and their habitat including trees are also protected.

“It’s all-encompassing,” said Buchner.

FSC certification does create an increase in paperwork to track and document where and when logs were harvested and related costs. But there are also offsetting benefits, including opening up new markets.

“It definitely does,” said Buchner, citing both European and Canadian government clients as two major avenues of opportunity. It is also beneficial, he added, in marketing hardwood flooring, for example, to a contemporary environmentally-conscious consumer.

Beyond all that, certification fits in the company’s core value statement, as well as the related financial sustainability of a family business which originated with Robert Townsend, welcomed Dave and has moved to a third generation with Laura and Andrew.

“It’s local industry, it’s local jobs, it’s good for the industry and good for the environment,” Buchner summed up. “It’s (FSC certification) definitely more effort, but it’s well worth it.”




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