By: Andrea Arnold

Although Liam Parfitt no longer lives full time in the Robson Valley, it was this location that came to mind when he started exploring the idea of carbon vaults.

“I love the valley,” he said. “My heart is there. I would love to see another type of industry grow and the economy grow.”

Parfitt has some big ideas, but understands that small steps need to be taken first.

“There are big companies like airlines out there with really deep pockets that want to invest in projects that will allow them to offset their carbon emissions by purchasing carbon credits from wood buried in carbon vaults,” said Parfitt.

A carbon vault, in this case, would be a large hole in the ground, 10 feet deep, where trees would be preserved, not releasing carbon into the air as they decompose.

“We would be taking carbon out of the biological cycle and putting it into the geological cycle,” said Parfitt. “Making coal that none of us will be around to harvest.”

The ground around McBride is perfect for this venture as it is thick muddy clay. Parfitt says it is the perfect environment for a vault. Another reason the McBride area could be profitable is that hay fields could be used as vaults providing many possible sites across the valley.

“Low-value crops can be grown over top of the vaults,” said Parfitt. “The vaults have to be continually monitored, and that involves some soil disruption but hay is easy to establish and has shallow roots.”

Parfitt wants to use a parcel of his own local land for a trial vault. He would lease it for 1000 years to Jeyoowe Biodiversity and Carbon Management Inc, a company that he owns a small part of, but is mostly owned by a group of First Nations.

He has talked to McBride Community Forest Corporation about purchasing some of the trees that were burned last May in the Teare Creek fire. Specifically, about 1000 cubic metres of burnt aspen that pose a future safety risk around the recreation trails.

“As those trees fall due to wind or just time, they become more of a hazard to people trying to use the space for recreational purposes,” said Parfitt. “They will become firewood on the ground, dry fuel, that will burn hotter and more dangerous if a second fire were to start in the area.”

The Teare Creek fire burned 1,100 hectares or 11km2 and Parfitt guesses there are about 100,000 cords of charred wood standing on the mountainside.

As this wood breaks down, by either natural decomposition or by another fire, it will result in huge carbon emissions.

Parfitt says that by removing one cubic metre of wood from the natural decomposition process, 1 tonne of carbon dioxide is prevented from release into the atmosphere.

Although the stark contrast between the black, burned trunks and the new-fallen snow is pretty, the possibility of these trees blowing down in a windstorm (as seen in the photo on the right) increases as time passes. Some of the burned aspen line the road that is regularly used for recreational purposes, and are prime candidates for Parfitt’s proposal./ ANDREA ARNOLD

Parfitt hopes that by focusing first on removing burned aspen from areas that have been affected by wildfire, significant blowdown debris can be prevented, providing better habitat for ungulates and allowing for low shrubs and berries to thrive.

He says that this charred wood is not usable for pulp, and not financially feasible for pellets.

“I want to see more moose, and less smoke,” he said.

He was first struck by the idea as he was at work a few years ago digging up old logging roads. He came across logs that had been buried into the road to provide strength and structure.

“I dug them up, and they were in perfect condition,” he said.

The concept of removing timber that is not useful for many, if any, products goes beyond burned wood. Parfitt would like to see the same selective logging concept implemented in young densely forested areas around the valley, in other words clear-cuts from the past.

From his own experiences elsewhere, he has seen action like this result in bigger healthier trees and an increase in biodiversity both in the vegetation as well as the animal population in the area. Bigger trees also grow bigger roots and have more branches resulting in better CO2 storage because large trees take longer to rot. He used the example of thinning out a carrot garden.

“You thin them so that the ones remaining get more nutrients, more water and better access to sun,” he said. “It is the same concept. In the dense young forest, rain, snow and sun does not reach the forest floor like it should. By removing some trees, you are providing a way for the snow and rain to reach the ground and be absorbed. Snow penetrates the canopy into the ground slowly as some shade is still remaining.”

He also said that by thinning the trees, crown fires (fires that travel through the tops of trees) are less likely to travel as quickly through areas allowing the firefighting to be more effective and safer as thinned stands are mostly ground fires.

Also, if the carbon vault possibility grew into an industry, it would also provide a profit-generating way to dispose of low value logs during logging activity.

Although Parfitt has a logging company, he would like to see reliable local companies get on board and do the logging. The tricky terrain where some of the burned wood is located is not a roadblock in this venture as he would like to see the focus on the accessible benches, allowing for safe logging access.

Looking at the big picture, he sees this as an opportunity for McBride to branch into a new industry, creating more jobs, while mitigating fire risk and improving the biodiversity in the area.