A Kamloops man has had a large cache of firewood seized by the government, leaving area residents scrambling to find new suppliers as winter approaches.
Rick Farr, 63, told Kamloops This Week that crews out collecting water samples at his Napier Lake property south of the city in early August stumbled upon his firewood supply and began questioning him about it.
“They come in and say, ‘Boy, you’ve got a lot of wood in here. What are you doing?’” he said.
Farr answered plainly and told them he was selling firewood, sourced from up in the mountains from piles left by loggers and anything fallen or left on the ground.
“I said, ‘What? It’s just firewood,’” he recalled.
Farr has been providing firewood to hundreds of people in rural communities in and around Kamloops for 15 years and is well-known as a reliable supplier.
He said he had been storing and seasoning the seized wood for about two years and had amassed “well over” 500 cords, which he said would have sold for more than $100,000.
“That was my retirement,” he said.
The loss is significant for Farr, who has been distraught since his wood was seized.
“I’m so sick right now. I can’t eat. I can’t think right. I’m just walking around my house. I’m so pissed off, especially when it didn’t have to happen,” he said.
Farr, 63, said he was planning on selling the remainder of the wood and soon retire, giving his body a break from working seven days a week serving his customers, as he has done for the past 15 years.
Now he’s worried he won’t be able to secure another means of income.
“It’s just stupid. I like what I do and it was simple,” he said.
“I built it out of nothing and now it’s taken away and I could possibly lose my house. They took my whole livelihood away.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development confirmed to KTW it had seized “a large volume of timber, some processed into firewood, from two locations in the Kamloops area,” but declined to comment further or answer questions related to the seizure.
Farr said he was not given a reason for the seizure and said he was threatened with fines and even jail time if he continued selling wood.
In B.C., residents are allowed to cut firewood on Crown land for personal use with a Free Use Permit for Firewood.
But the wood taken cannot be sold.
The province does offer permits under the Small Scale Salvage Program, but Farr’s past experience with the program was not favourable and kept him from trying again.
“About 10 years ago, I went to forestry and told them I wanted to take wood from the logging piles. There’s a tonne of wood there and they were just going to burn it,” he said.
Farr engaged with the ministry for a month while trying to secure the permit.
When it was finally approved and his paperwork secured, Farr said he returned to the wood waste piles, only to find the charred remains of what would have been his harvest.
“I told them, what a waste of my time, a waste of your time, a waste of everybody’s time,” he said.
Farr’s lawyer, Daniel McNamee, said he was told by the ministry that the issue is that the wood was not marked or scaled by Farr or the person who removed it.
“It’s not exactly clear to me really why they have chosen to seize it all,” McNamee said.
McNamee said he questions the fairness of the wood being seized over a scaling and marking issue, if that is the case, and also questioned the timing of the seizure.
“It’s also sort of surprising that the ministry would do this given all the forestry issues and the issues with mills closing down,” he said.
“People have difficulty finding work and now they’re clamping down on someone who is on the fringes of the industry. He’s not in the forestry industry, he’s a guy who is cutting and preparing firewood for people.”
McNamee said for Farr’s case to be properly litigated, the expenses would not be proportionate with the firewood at stake, so he’s trying to reach a compromise with the ministry that might include Farr paying stumpage fees for what was taken and Farr being in compliance in the future.
“It’s not like I’ve been met with a really tough response, I’m optimistic he’ll be met with a reasonable response because Mr. Farr wants to take a reasonable approach and remedy any of his non-compliance issues,” McNamee said.
“He wants to get on with this, essentially to come into compliance with any regulation that he must, get any permits that he must and pay any stumpage fee for any of this firewood that might have been due if it was taken from Crown land. And he doesn’t even know if that’s the case.”
He noted the seizure is a government action and that Farr does have Charter rights to protect him against government action, including Section 8 of the Charter against unreasonable search and seizure.
Farr once worked in the nightclub business in Langley, but after meeting his wife, left the Lower Mainland and met her request to live near a lake. He was drawn to this area, in part, because his father lived in Merritt and the two used to fish nearby lakes.
“I moved the kids up. I moved everyone up and, unfortunately, my wife passed away, so I raised her kids,” he said.
Raising the kids on his own in the early 2000s, Farr said he was initially looking for a job he could do while keeping up day-to-day school activities.
“I used to go out and get wood for my place on Napier Lake and had neighbours ask if they could buy some off of me,” he said.
Farr obliged and took his wood-collecting habits to a more professional level, with his business growing and spreading beyond his immediate neighbours.
Last year, he had more than 200 customers.
“I have a lot of good regular customers — a lot of them are elderly,” he said. “Pinantan, Paul Lake, Knutsford … People are getting older and they just can’t go out in the bush and get it themselves,” he said.
The shutdown has had an effect on Farr’s customers — more and more of whom are calling him each day as the weather turns and wood stoves beg for fuel.
“I had a guy call me yesterday,” Farr said. “He’s 80 years old. I’ve been supplying him with wood for the last 10 years. I had to tell him, ‘I’m sorry. They seized all my wood. They took it.’ And now he’s lost and doesn’t know what to do.”
The shutdown of Farr’s service has led to a number of inquiries as to where new wood will be found.
Some customers are getting anxious about the coming cold.
“I’ve been looking in the newspaper and nobody has firewood anywhere,” Marie Neef told KTW.
Neef lives in Westsyde with her elderly parents.
Her 87-year-old mother has dementia and her father is 85. The couple has been buying wood from Farr for about 15 years.
Neef moved in with her parents to provide needed care and is now scrambling to find a firewood supplier that can deliver wood to them for the winter.
“Rick gives a discount for seniors. He’s always been totally awesome that way. And when he comes, he doesn’t just dump it and leave because he knows my mom and dad and has for a long time. It’s almost like he’s family,” she said.
Neef called the seizure “totally and completely unfair.”
“There are so many people up here who rely on firewood to keep warm in the winter. They’re going to be killing old people. I’m very angry. I’m very upset,” she said.
Gregg Lindros lives in Lac Le Jeune, where he and several of his neighbours have been buying wood from Farr for years.
“A long time ago, I used to cut up the wood myself, but I’m not doing that,” he said. “I’m 64 — and a lot of people up here are my age or older and we rely on guys like Rick to bring us wood.”
Lindros said he is now turning to neighbours and local bulletin boards to find a new supplier.
“There’s a lot of people who live out in the country, so you take away a basic necessity and that’s a big deal,” he said.
“It also just strikes me that if there was a wrongdoing, don’t just shut the little guy down like that,” Lindros said.
“Surely there could have been a process where there was a warning. To all of the sudden roll in and say, ‘We’re taking all the wood’ — that doesn’t seem right to me.”