Weak timber supplies worry local politicians

Timber and job loss estimates in confidential ministry report sharpened debate on rules to ease impact of the mountain pine beetle.

Timber and job loss estimates found in a confidential ministry report are sharpening the debate on whether Victoria should relax forestry rules to ease the impact of the mountain pine beetle.

The Bulkley timber-supply area was left out of the report, which focused on four timber areas with a higher share of pine trees: the Lakes, Prince George, Quesnel and Williams Lake.

It estimates that without opening up protected areas and harvesting low-volume stands, up to 12,000 forestry jobs will disappear from that region.

Changing the rules could save up to 3,500 jobs, the report says, but that job-saving potential is much lower in the Lakes and Quesnel areas than in Prince George and Williams Lake.

On April 16, Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach joined four other northwest mayors in signing a letter to Premier Christy Clark saying they need a more detailed understanding of the available timber supply before they can support the changes.

While expressing sympathy for the situation prompting the changes, the destruction of Burns Lake’s only sawmill and chief employer, the mayors said, “We want to ensure these remedies do not have a negative impact on the survival of our own community.”

Since the Hampton Affiliates sawmill was destroyed by an explosion and fire in January, a provincial recovery team led by forestry consultant and former “beetle boss” Bob Clark has worked on a plan to secure enough timber to allow Hampton to rebuild the mill.

The plan isn’t expected until May 1, but MLAs on the recovery team have toured several northern B.C.  towns to float its key proposals.

Among the more controversial changes are plans to cut into future forestry reserves and relax logging restrictions in scenic areas, wildlife  corridors, and old-growth areas.

Doug Donaldson, NDP MLA for Stikine, noted the confidential draft memo to the B.C. Liberal cabinet was quickly taken off the internet Tuesday after it was brought up in question period by independent Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson.

“It really brings up the issue of transparency,” Donaldson said.

He adding that while B.C. Liberal members of the Burns Lake recovery team said they are discussing timber options with northern communities, the confidential memo said Hampton Affiliates needs its answer by April 30 if it’s to rebuild the mill.

Along with municipalities, Donaldson said the government should have already started  consulting First Nations, including the Wet’suwet’en, about the proposed changes to forestry rules.

“They have hereditary territory in the areas being considering for these increased cutting options,” he said.

“On the consultation front, if you don’t start early, you’re setting yourself up for unnecessary delays, for sure.”

Finally, Donaldson said the B.C. Liberals have under-funded forest inventories so long there is no longer enough solid data to make long-term decisions on timber supply.

Citing a February report by the Auditor-General criticizing B.C.’s lack of timber objectives, Donaldson said it’s clear that under the B.C. Liberal’s watch, the forests ministry now has an incomplete timber inventory, understaffing, and inaccurate projections regarding forest growth and yield.

“If you don’t have those three things in place, it’s really hard to look at options around timber allocation because you don’t actually know what’s out on the land base.”