There is untapped logging and biomass potential in Watson Lake that the Yukon government needs to consider, according to a logger from that community.
“There’s no industry,” said Bill Whimp. “If we had an industry like that, we would have a community again. Our kids have no future here.”
He said Watson Lake used to be a boomtown before sawmills were shuttered. That’s why he’s calling on the government to establish a 20-year timber harvest plan, which includes biomass, the hope being that the eye of an investor will be caught.
There’s upwards of a million cubic metres of burnt wood that can be used for biomass, Whimp said, adding that, when paired with his trade, it makes good business sense.
“Looking at the whole picture is cleaning up these burns so we got a forest growing back and not a forest that grows over all the windfall and potentially burns in another 30 years from now.
“Still keeping control of wood in the Yukon, so we don’t have Smithers loggers coming up,” he continued. “We have enough people in our community to do it.”
Lisa Walker, director of the Yukon government’s forest management branch, said there are timber harvest plans in the community already, and loggers can apply for additional volumes. She noted policies that dictate when wood can be harvested and consultation with First Nations.
A maximum volume of 120,000 cubic metres can be harvested, Walker said, but it usually comes in as less than this. Whimp wants a local economy that pulls 250,000 cubic metres.
“That would be lovely,” she said, referring to bringing in a mill. “We understand that region of Yukon has the best trees, just because where they’re geographically located. We’re working with First Nations to make those long-term visions the reality because forestry planning is not done in isolation.”
Walker said roughly 90 per cent of harvesting in the territory is related to biomass.
Asked whether it could be scaled up, she said it’s a possibility.
“We’re really on the cusp of all of these conversations.”
A panel tasked with informing the government on its plan to reduce emissions released a report recently that warns against increased thermal generation.
The Yukon government released a draft plan in November that seeks to axe greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. Central to it is ensuring that 93 per cent of power is derived from renewable energy sources while balancing demand due to a growing population.
The panel is an offshoot of this work. It visited Whitehorse, Watson Lake and Haines Junction shortly after the plan was released in order to collect information from Yukoners and stakeholders. Whimp said he submitted comments when the panel visited his community.
Harnessing biomass is an issue the panel suggests needs more movement on, adding that oil and propane heating contributes the second highest amount of greenhouse gases (16 per cent).
“Both cord wood and wood pellets cost significantly less than conventional heating sources, including electricity,” the report says. “Pairing biomass with electric heating could be incentivized to improve seasonal load, with electric heating during spring/fall, and biomass heating in winter months.”
Roughly 25 per cent of homes use wood as a heat source. This could be scaled up, the report says, “to convert half of the 69 per cent of homes that heat with oil to biomass.”
Contact Julien Gignac at