Telkwa’s mayor is spearheading an effort to get forestry information flowing again to northern communities.
Mayor Brad Layton says ever since the Omineca Beetle Action Coalition (OBAC) dissolved in 2017 when provincial funding dried up, municipalities have been operating in the dark.
“Since then, we don’t get any information unless we track somebody down and get them to come and speak to us,” Layton said. “I’m hoping that with my meeting with [Stikine MLA Doug] Donaldson that we can institute something at least for our regional level here. The reason OBAC worked so well was these ADMs (assistant deputy ministers) that would come and to explain where the government was going would have all the mayors from Vavenby through to Smithers in a room so basically one trip covered a big area. Now, if we wanted the same thing, they’d basically have to come to every council.”
The mayor, who also sits as chair of the forestry committee for the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN), is not trying to re-establish the coalition, he said, but is hoping the Province will be amenable to reporting to the regional district so towns can proactively plan for developments in the sector.
He noted that mayors from Fort St. James through Smithers sit on the RDBN board so information sharing at that level would be efficient and welcomed.
Donaldson told The Interior News that as a former municipal councillor himself, he feels Layton’s pain.
“I can appreciate when people come directly to their local elected officials, they’re expecting them to know what the most current information is and unless that flow is happening from senior bureaucrats in the forest ministry, then the local officials don’t have the information on hand and people tend to fill in with the worst-case scenario,” he said.
Donaldson said he is working on Layton’s request for better information sharing.
“I’m going to look at ways of improving that,” he said. “We have an assistant deputy minister of forests who’s based in Smithers for the whole North, I’ve talked to him about that. He can go, and will be going, to make presentations directly to the regional district.”
Although the province has declared the pine beetle epidemic over, Layton says the aftermath continues.
“They’re still kicking around, but there just isn’t as much feed around for them to be a big problem anymore, but we’re going to see the impact of them for many years to come,” he said.
Furthermore, he noted, spruce beetles are now starting to raise concerns.
The latest report from the provincial government, based on surveys conducted in the fall of 2017, indicated 370,000 hectares of forest in the Omineca region are infested, the largest outbreak of the beetles in recorded history. The report said there has not been an increase in the annual allowable cut, but that harvesters are strategically targeting certain stands of spruce to control the outbreak and recover the economic value of the timber over the long-term.
Donaldson also noted that the Province recently released its new policy for rebuilding the coastal forest industry and a similar review for Interior forestry revitalization will be starting in April.