Under the iconic and enormous cross-cut saw arch and down the dirt road, Shilo Freer feeds behemoth aspen beams through the 80-year-old mill at Son Ranch, in the middle of a clearing surrounded by glowing yellow leaves.
Forty-eight down and 82 12-by-12s to go – enough to eventually stretch from the Hwy 3 bridge over the Kettle to Gallery 2 in Grand Forks, all for a mine project near Princeton.
“I always had options,” Freer said of his career choices, taking a break from the mill. “But this is the best one.”
The Freer family has owned Son Ranch for three decades and their nearby woodlot for just about as long. Earlier this month, Son Ranch Timber Co. was rewarded for their forestry stewardship with the Minister’s Award for Innovation and Excellence in Woodland Management for the southern region of the province.
“Their commitment to forest health, reforestation, public education and promotion of manufactured British Columbia wood products supports the woodlot licence program’s core principles of sustainability, good stewardship, social licence and public trust,” said Doug Donaldson, the minister responsible for forestry, in a press release.
B.C. boasts 855 active woodlots, which are licensed area-based tenures that can be managed by individuals, groups or First Nations. Licence holders are given the rights to manage Crown timber within the woodlot licence area but must also manage any private land contribution according to provincial forestry legislation as well, meaning that the agreement restrains some of the more cavalier logging practices sometimes exercised on strictly private properties.
The Freer family operates what Freer described as a “roots-to-roof family thing.” Together the family manages their woodlots (the acquired a second one last year), along with much of the milling and moulding process for their timber.
“I think this is what the future of forestry should be. Value added, using and doing more with less and making it worth more in the end.
While they’re selectively harvesting massive aspens right now, Freer said that they’ve never had to make a concerted effort to replant their woodlot.
“We’ve actually never really had to because we don’t decimate the forest floor so much,” he said. “There’s so much natural regeneration that it just grows back.”
As a result, their woodlots boast a variety of cedar, aspen, pine, fir, which in turn helps protects the forest and the business from failure.
“We’re pretty lucky having the variety that we do,” said Freer. “Bugs can’t kill all one thing at one time, like what happened up north where it just wiped out the whole forest when the pine beetle got all the pine.”
“It’s about being good stewards,” Freer said about successfully and sustainably operating the family business.
“Their operation is an excellent example of stewardship through selection logging, maximization of harvested fibre through added value wood products and contribution to the local economy through tourism,” said Jeff Beale, president of the Federation of British Columbia Woodlot Associations, in a release.
“The Freer’s passion for their woodlot, the woodlot program and contributions to local forestry are evident by just one look at the chainsaw collection and museum that Ross has put together.”
Not all of the 1,000-plus chainsaws that Ross Freer has are on display in the timber-frame building built by Shilo out of trees scorched in the 2015 Rock Creek fire, but there are more than enough to draw tourists from B.C. and abroad to learn more about logging in the Boundary.
The Freers were also given $2,500 as part of the minister’s award, as did Moutain View Silviculture Ltd. (Smithers, B.C.) for the northern award and Kevco Timber Ltd. (northern Vancouver Island) for the coast area minister’s award.