Flagship Initiatives

Steep Slopes Initiative

Steep terrain is an important fibre pool in western Canada, and is the source of more than a quarter of the annual allowable cut in BC. However, timber harvesting on steep terrain presents several challenges related to safety, costs, investment in equipment, timber supply, regulatory compliance, environmental impacts, availability of skilled labour, and planning.

In response to demand from its members, FPInnovations is taking a lead role in building a steep-slope operations research and development plan called the Steep-Slope Initiative. FPInnovations’ 5-year Steep-Slope Initiative will engage forest industry members, equipment manufacturers and distributors, regulators, and other stakeholders in finding solutions to the steep-slope operations challenges.

FPInnovations’ STEEP Initiative is centered on three goals:

Improve Worker Safety

Improved worker safety is the cornerstone of any new steep slope harvesting technology. Statistics show that steep slopes harvesting is one of the leading sources of workplace injuries and fatalities, with hand-falling being particularly dangerous. Our goal is to increase the protection of workers on steep slopes and reduce lost time claims to 50% of the 2014 baseline.

Increase Operating Margin

Harvesting, road building and trucking challenges on steep slopes go hand-in-hand with higher costs compared to harvesting on gentler terrain. The STEEP Initiative aims to increase operating margins by $5/m3 through a combination of lower harvesting costs and increased timber value. Higher margins could save the industry approximately $90 million per year (e.g. 18 million m3 x $5/m3), strengthening mills, securing local jobs and stimulating economic development in forest-dependent communities.

Increase Access to Currently Unavailable Fibre

Better steep slope harvesting technologies will reduce the cost to access timber on steep slopes and sustain terrain stability, water quality, and regeneration success. Reduced costs and new technology that reduces environmental impacts may increase access to up to 2 million m3 of timber that is currently unavailable. Preserving ecosystem integrity will also support the social licence for the industry to operate on steep slopes by meeting or exceeding high regulatory standards.

Current Projects

Click on each title below for project details

Evaluation of Steep Slope Harvesting Technology

The focus of this project will be on winch-assist equipment. There are 9 brands of equipment that are now arriving, or are planned to arrive in BC. The ClimbMax, Remote Operated Bulldozer (ROB), and Haas winch systems are currently operating in BC. The EMS Tractionline, Herzog/Alpine, HSM, T-Mar Logchamp 150, Summit and FFE machines are expected to arrive in the next year. It is anticipated that other new innovative equipment may become available and additional priority assessments may develop. Innovative cable harvesting systems such as grapple cameras and Yoaders (loaders adapted to yarding) may also become priorities for assessment. Implementation of new winch assist technology involves a learning curve with various challenges in adapting to BC conditions. New practices in planning, layout and operating have to be developed. The aim is to conduct equipment and environmental assessments with repeated site visits over a number of months with steps for continuous improvement feedback to operators, contractors and company staff. Preliminary findings will be shared and benchmarking of operating practices will be monitored to illustrate the ramping-up process associated with implementing new techniques and provide timely learning. The project will target frequent communication across various platforms to address the priority need for information on this new technology. A technology watch will monitor international and domestic developments of suitable steep slope harvesting technologies.

  • Assess newly-introduced winch-assist equipment according to performance, availability, environmental compatibility and safety.
  • Develop best-operating procedures for winch-assist systems.
  • Evaluate other new steep-slope specific technology as they become available.

Analysis of Fibre Supply From Steep Slopes in B.C.

In some timber supply areas, the high costs of harvesting on steep terrain have resulted in a portion of the timber harvest land base (THLB) being underutilized. This effectively creates an unsustainable cut level in the portion of the profile that is not on steep terrain. Cost-effective harvesting methods are needed on steep terrain to provide a sustainable cut over the timber profile. Furthermore, additional fibre can be obtained by using currently uneconomical timber in the THLB and marginal wood outside the THLB. This fibre is needed to mitigate mid-term timber supply constraints created by the mountain pine beetle.

  • Evaluate the impact of new harvesting technology in improving access to economically available fibre.

Environmental Impact of Ground-Based Steep-Slope Operations

As new ground-based harvesting is applied on steeper slopes, there is concern that ground disturbance, erosion, and slope instability will increase. Planning methods to assess hazards and avoid potential impacts, and methods for minimizing or mitigating impacts are needed. Environmental concerns should be monitored and methodologies for measuring impacts developed.

The working group on environmental impacts established in 16-17 will continue to monitor environmental issues and develop methodologies for measuring site disturbance on steep slopes. The group will also monitor ground-based harvesting activities on steep slopes to quantify and describe the soil disturbance associated with each set of conditions (soils, moisture, slopes, equipment, etc.). Results will be used to provide feedback to contractors to help them achieve site-specific levels of disturbance, and the lessons learned will be compiled in a best management practices document.

  • Ensure sustainability by minimizing environmental impacts.
  • Develop best management practices documents for steep-slope harvesting to minimize ground disturbance.

Road Construction on Steep Slopes


Road construction on steep slopes is difficult and more expensive than conventional road building because of slope instability and proximity to bedrock, the presence of larger cuts and fills and wetter conditions, and slopes often being in remote locations. Special techniques and technologies are needed to contain road costs while creating sustainable and safe access roads.

FPInnovations is targeting a 5% reduction in the development costs of steep roads, which could result in $5 million in savings in road construction per year. Better control of flyrock during blasting activities improves safety, wood quality, and ballasting productivity (e.g., typical cost of flyrock damage is $35/m3). Stabilizing steep road surfaces can reduce cycle times (estimated savings of $16 500 per year per truck) and maintenance costs, increase user safety through all-weather traction control, and reduce dry-weather dust. Low-cost, self-maintaining stream crossings for low-volume roads on steep slopes will make these roads more economical to build, use, and rehabilitate, and will make the crossings more resistant to intense storms, which are predicted for many areas of B.C. as a response to climate change.

  • Document techniques used to reduce cuts and fills during road building on steep slopes.li>
  • Perform field trial(s) of steep-grade road surfaces stabilized with polymers and other products.
  • Design ford crossings in collaboration with regulators and industry.

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Dzhamal Amishev