It’s Wednesday afternoon and Daniel Clunies-Ross is stationed behind a table full of levers ready to bring the gears and saws at the Dimok Timber mill to life.
He pulls levers expertly and watches as the homemade machinery brings logs up a conveyer belt to be cut into saleable lengths of timber.
It’s noisy and jolting. The air is thick with sawdust, but Clunies-Ross doesn’t seem to notice; this is a family business and he has years of experience under his belt.
It’s a slow autumn day at Dimok, which is located about 20 kilometres outside Haines Junction, and it has been that way for a while, said Clunies-Ross the company’s co-owner.
Today the mill doesn’t have pressing orders; it’s just trying to keep a few people busy.
“We’re doing what we can,” he said.
The company is currently logging spruce-beetle affected forests in the Haines Junction area, but only has a small permit.
Dimok sells wood directly out of its lumberyard and takes special orders.
“Some people who are building their own places and are willing to use rough lumber will buy it here,” said Clunies-Ross, who built his own house from the company’s stock.
Dimok is running its new moulding machine that can take a raw cut board and turn it into a piece of flooring.
The new machine is the first step in what the family hopes is a long series of upgrades to the operation.
But first it needs the resources to make it happen — a long-term consistent supply of wood.
“You can’t develop a wood business without a wood supply, that is the single biggest issue in the Yukon for anybody that wants to be in the forest industry,” said Dimok CEO John Clunies-Ross, Daniel’s father.
“Eventually, you close the business down, you can’t operate without wood.”
So the company has been looking into ways to get access to the resource.
In June, the Champagne/Aishihik First Nations partnered with the Yukon government to open one million cubic metres of timber in the First Nations’ traditional territory for harvest over a 10-year period.
In June, they launched a campaign to tell companies about the opportunity to use Yukon’s beetle-killed spruce, and solicit applications.
Dimok submitted a plan by which the company would harvest 520,000 cubic metres over 10 years and create 53 jobs in the Haines Junction area.
Now the company is waiting to see whether its application will be permitted.
Although the spruce-beetle infestation may have freed up some wood for harvest, its quality is not always the best, said Daniel.
Of the wood harvested from the beetle-infested areas — loggers only bother bringing about 50 per cent to the mill to salvage.
“A lot of it is dry and dead,” said Daniel, pointing out long deep cracks in a cut length of spruce.
Some have a red rash with white spots — a sure sign of the beetle.
Today the company produces things like boards and dimension lumber.
Eventually Dimok plans to sell everything at the mill as a finished product, said John.
The company plans to expand its operation and start producing siding, moulding, paneling, flooring, and sell manufactured log home packages.
And when the company can provide a steady, consistent product then it may look into agreements with retail chains, like Home Hardware.
Dimok has been running in Canyon Creek for about five years, but it’s not the first business the Clunies-Ross family has operated.
The family’s first company went bankrupt when Ottawa cut off the Yukon’s wood supply.
The plant shut down completely, said Daniel.
“It was insanity.”
But since devolution, the territory has made those natural resources available.
“It’s been like night and day — the federal government just didn’t seem to care about the forest industry.
“(The Yukon Party) said they would open up natural resources and, so far, they have. We just hope the next government does too,” said Daniel.
“I guess the reality is that resources have become available,” added John. “The process is still being developed.
“My sense is that over the next few years there will be more opportunities to have more access to a stable wood supply.”
Under the government and Champagne/Aishihik’s request for harvest proposals, Dimok and two other businesses have been asked for more detailed harvest plans.
Renewgen Systems Inc. of Vancouver has proposed to use 280,000 cubic metres over 10 years to produce wood charcoal.
And the Swedish-based renewable energy firm Rindi Energy, partnered with Altek Power Corp. of Kelowna, BC, to put forward a proposal to use logging and sawmill residue from Dimok and Renewgen to pursue a Whitehorse-district heating project.