Log truck carrying load of roundwood through a Mercer Celgar work site

One Step Closer to Achieving Full-cycle Utilization with Mercer Celgar’s Charlene Strelaeff

A challenge that Mercer has seen over the years is one of full-cycle utilization: from tree to truck, how can we get the most out of our natural resources to ensure that we are using them sustainably and producing as little waste as possible? At Mercer Celgar, this is a challenge that Charlene Strelaeff takes to heart.

Traditionally, in British Columbia, the policies and regulations around the forest industry are primarily sawlog-oriented. They’re geared towards the solid wood sector with less focus on the secondary sectors, such as pulp and paper, pellets, and production. These industries have developed over time and as a result, BC’s timber supplies have begun to reduce, most notably in the central interior of the province. Fibre shortages are demanding that BC mills start shifting their practices to utilize fibre that may not make the grade for sawmills and would traditionally be left at the landing. These would be deemed as low-grade fibre and include top logs, long butts, and crooked wood. Historically a lot of this fibre would be left in the woods to be burned in slash piles every fall, a practice regulated by the province to reduce potential fire hazards in the coming spring/summer months. 

In 2013, Mercer Celgar took on a program where we focused hard on improving utilization. With policies and regulations as they were, it was common in the industry for just 20% of the pulpwood to make it out of the bush and to the mill. With this new program, MC’s goal was to get 90% of the pulpwood out of the bush. And with Charlene coming on board, she caught right on to the program.

Charlene is well known in the industry in BC as an advocate for conservation in a working forest environment. Her approach to forestry is from a science-based viewpoint and she believes that science gives advocacy for forests a stronger base as well as a stronger ability to manage our forests responsibly. Her advocacy has led her to involvement with FSC and the development of a controlled wood risk assessment, which further led to involvement with FPAC. Her involvement in these larger parties and being part of a greater dialogue in the industry provided a platform for Charlene’s advocacy for forest conservation. Mercer Celgar admires Charlene’s ability to communicate effectively and convince others, with her science-based view, what are good approaches to take in forest management and conservation. Her ability to communicate on what can be a polarizing subject in a non-polarizing way made her a perfect fit for the utilization program.

Charlene’s conservation belief is that we need to do better on the land base and make more out of what we are cutting to reduce waste as much as possible. There’s a lot of benefit in utilizing the resource to the best of our abilities and a lot of loss in leaving it behind. Her strong beliefs and her ability to communicate effectively has rallied others to take on those same beliefs and has assisted greatly with Mercer Celgar’s utilization program. 

When she originally joined Mercer Celgar, Charlene had taken on the role of supervisor of an operation to salvage debris piles from primary harvesting operations. From there the operation evolved into the program we have today where Charlene acts as a log buyer for the mill. She has worked to develop different ways of purchasing wood so that we are encouraging greater utilization from our suppliers, visiting them on the landing and showing what they are wasting and how they can bring it in. She’s not afraid to challenge them on the type of equipment that they are using in her effort to bring more fibre out of the bush, encouraging them to buy-in and learn how to increase utilization. For Charlene, it’s a matter of using a diversity of tools rather than a simple purchasing approach.

In 2021, Mercer Celgar embarked on a new project to actively increase fibre utilization in the Kootenay-Boundary Forest Region – thanks to $3M in funding from the Forest Enhancement Society of BC (FESBC), that project will come to fruition. The funding, with its implementation currently being managed by Charlene, facilitates the recovery of fibre that would otherwise be burned on-site, avoiding increased burning and the immediate release of carbon into the atmosphere.

Charlene’s communication has gone beyond suppliers and to our provincial representatives to encourage them to adjust their policies so that we are not limited in the amount of fibre that can come into our operations. Her experience with parties such as FSC and FPAC, along with her advocacy for forest conservation, has made her a great proponent for change within BC’s forest industry. Thanks to Charlene, we’ve come a long way in succeeding in our goal of bringing 90% of the fibre out of the bush to the mill, with practices that others are working to emulate. It was a challenge that she was glad to take on and because of it, we are now considered one of the better companies in the province in regards to fibre utilization. Not only has her great work given Mercer Celgar provincial recognition, but her work in the industry earned her the 2020 Women in Forestry Award from FPAC, recognizing her contributions nationally. Congratulations again, Charlene, for your achievement and thank you for everything that you continue to do.