At Lopez Contracting we pride ourselves on our network of partnered businesses, prioritizing those that are local, ethical, and family run. We’re ingratiate into a community of suppliers, sub-trades, partnered businesses and otherwise. At the nub of our philosophy is a vision of an empowered and interconnected network. Our network is more independent, and hence more distanced from the adverse fluctuations in the supply chain. As such, we're better equipped at avoiding inflated material costs, especially so for our lumber.
We especially prioritize family-owned businesses like ours and believe the human connection in our network makes for a more intimate, bespoke, and client-centric approach. We believe this charm of small businesses is something larger corporations cannot offer, and we’re proud of our collaborative communication style.
To this end, we are hereby introducing a new series to our blogs, highlight one of our partnered small businesses, showcasing their history, process, and company ethics. And what better place to start than Oceanwest Tree Service! Ryan Smith, the founder and co-owner of Oceanwest Tree Service, has been providing arborist services in Southern Vancouver Island for over 14 years. Ryan operates a small business of intimate work and intimate connections, as Ryan puts it; “Everyone is like family, we’ve known each other for 8-18 years. If we can’t have fun doing it, we’re not doing it right.”
The industry that Ryan operates in is a tight knit one, “Smaller arborists help each other out, it’s a strong community”. The profession of an arborist is one that requires an in-depth knowledge of forestry, wood, ecology, civic regulations, and best practices. Consequently, Oceanwest Tree Service practices with a resolute ethical code, which begins at the felling contracts. Ryan and his team strictly do not participate in any unnecessary and ecologically damaging felling, especially so old growth.
“We never fall old growth, we stay away from that. I don’t like it. Besides,” Ryan explained, “Old growth is impractical and unusable for the work we engage in. The bark is just too thick and fractures when you fall it. It wouldn’t even fit on a local sawmill. Our max is 42”. The only old growth we cut is if it crosses a trail or if there are other pressing infrastructure issues.”
As Ryan touched on, many of the felling contracts Oceanwest engages in are issued by municipalities out of necessity. These necessities include hazardous trees, such as those displaced by storms, or dead trees (“the minute a tree is dead it’s a hazard” as Ryan elaborated). Trees are also consciously felled to contain diseases (such as the current spread of powder worm, which is killing western red cedars from top down). In fact, Ryan’s also rescued quite a few cats in his day, “I got bit once and had a get a tetanus shot.” He joked, “I’d recommend wearing a sweater.”
Similarly, Oceanwest is partnered with Fire Smart BC and the CRD in various initiatives such as chipping and strategic cuts, which engage in local communities to prevent forest fires. This ties into the work Oceanwest does with homeowners. Some clients have tree work on their property and get a free fire assessment towards rebates from fire smart. Homeowners also have the option to bring woody debris to the local fire station and Ryan does weekly chipping, including pod chipping. The chipping from these sessions is turned into compost, going directly back to the ecology in a sustainable way.
Since recent logging moratoriums on old growth came into effect in BC, timber prices have risen drastically. Consequently, lumber prices, which are only loosely associated, have actually been decreasing. This is in large part due to private contractors conducting well managed selective land harvests, employing also the local mills. In the case of Oceanwest, this means contracts for clearing hazards, and consequently lots of prime Vancouver Island lumber. The dead cedars which Ryan’s team have been falling, in particular, are being charged down as low as $250-400 a cubic meter as of late 2022.
Another beautiful byproduct of Oceanwest’s practice is high-end Oak lumber, especially so from specialty rigs for selective urban forestry harvesting conducted in Esquimalt, which would otherwise be processed by larger felling companies into firewood. Whilst many companies dealing with lumber are also quick to stamp on an export stamp and ship these astounding local beauties overseas, at Oceanwest this lumber is re-circulated back into the local economy. That’s where Lopez Contracting comes in, Ryan delivers beautiful pieces right to our doorstep, and from there they are destined to become a finished product celebrating the Island’s natural beauty and our community.
Not only this, many of these pieces are also slabbed/milled locally through Madrone Construction, a fellow local small business which regularly collaborates with Oceanwest and Lopez for custom dimension milling (spiel coming soon!). Selected private harvesting is hence a procedure that benefits all parties involved, “Depending on the level of clean up a client wants, they pay a reduced rate, so most of the wood gets kept, a real win-win.” Ryan explained. Private selective harvest is also informed by a thorough ethical review, with each proposed cut going through all the loops of experts and authorities, such as the provincial arborist and forestry departments. “Gary oak, for example, can take 4 months to get permitted before we can fall it, depending on the municipality. We only fall trees which we are legally allowed to.” Ryan explained.
Urban selective harvesting is typically conducted within private homes. As Ryan expressed, “the homeowners just have to sign-off, sit back, and watch the show.” And what a show it is! There are a few trades as enjoyable and educational to watch as selective harvesting, “We educate our clients to minimize destruction to forest ecologies, as well as share some special techniques that mitigate any collateral damage in the felling process.” Some of these techniques include zip lining 8-foot chunks from the top of the tree right to the trunk. If that sounds fun to you, you’re absolutely right, and though it might be fun to watch, the real entertainment is for the arborist lopping at the top of the tree, Ryan put it perfectly, “When you start having fun with what you do, there’s laughing everyday”.
Oceanwest can supply various species to a discerning client or business such as ours, and regularly is able to fulfill our highly custom orders, “when your work area is 40 acres of prime forest, finding the perfect tree is pretty easy. If we don’t have what a client is looking for, we can find it quick.” To that end, Ryan has been so kind to provide some insider knowledge into various local species, their availability, and common uses. Who knows, perhaps you may be able to find the perfect wood species for your dream project below!
- Maple: A staple of our rainforest climate, Maple comes curly, spalted, figured, or quilted. On the island, Maple is often used for mantels, tables, and other furnishings showcasing high character. Here at our shop we use maple for charcuterie boards.
- Yellow Cedar: Whilst once replete on Vancouver Island, Yellow Cedar is now used mostly for tongue-and-groove boards, especially so for making boats.
- Western Red Cedar: By and large most local cedars are red. Western Red Cedar is iconic of the west coast, and is used especially for outdoor structures such as pergolas, as well as mouldings. Typically they are not used for making anything really weight bearing.
- Plum: Plums are more of a household tree, and are commonly found in Victoria’s backyards. Rich in colour, the character of plum can be accentuated by how it’s grown or cut.
- Cherry: A prized hardwood, especially for furniture, cherry trees are often found in Victoria’s backyards.
- Dogwood: Dogwood is a tree native to Vancouver Island, and can often be found in or around households.
- Arbutus: Native to Vancouver Island, Arbutus is a protected species, but sometimes must be harvested for hazardous conditions. Arbutus grows largely in rocky environments, and can take a long time to grow, dry, and cure.
- Sequoia: Emblematic of the west coast, especially so Northern California, the towering Sequoia can sometimes make a rare appearance on the Island as well. They are especially ornamental here.
- Douglas Fir: The native Douglas Firs can be found nearly everywhere and are used for all manner of constructions. Their non-knotty sections are often used for moulding and framing.
- Oak: White Oaks are rare to find and are more ornamental. The native and protected Gary Oaks, on the other hand, are great for anything custom, and are often used for smaller and more bespoke pieces, especially as it’s hard to acquire pieces longer than 8-10’. As such, Oak is more so used for service desks, panellings, custom doors, moldings, etc. Oak pieces can also be ripped into strips and breaded together with biscuit joints. Oceanwest is especially proficient in permitting and legally acquiring Oak pieces ethically.
- Western Yew: Thriving in wetter areas, western Yew is used for all manner of bespoke commissions, however, their shavings can be toxic to ingest, and therefore it is generally not recommended for kitchenware such as butcher blocks, charcuterie boards, or bowls. Yew continues to be used to make archery bows, with which it has a centuries long association.
- Black Locust Wood: Black Lotus Wood is exceedingly rare and selective here on Vancouver Island, it’s largely used for ornamental purposes.
- Spruce: Another species emblematic of Vancouver Island, spruce is commonly used for framing, and it’s often commonly exported or made into cookies
- Pine: Pine is more common up island, especially grown in interior and hotter climates like the Alberni valley.
- Eucalpytus: More of a household tree, Eucalyptus grows largely in Victoria’s backyards. Beautifully coloured with tinges of green, they can be slow to grow.
- Lombardy Poplar: Lombary Poplar grows best in wetter climates, and are usually used for pulp.
- Monkey puzzle tree: Originally from South America, the Monkey Puzzle Tree is especially suited to grow in Victoria where it stands apart from other local trees due to its quirky structure and ornamental look. These trees can especially be seen in backyards. Come fall time, these trees make perfect nesting grounds for all manner of spiders!