A meeting focused on the forest industry held in Williams Lake Thursday was the first of several scheduled for the region.
Mike Pedersen, who is the engagement lead for the Interior Forest Sector Renewal discussion process announced by forests minister Doug Donaldson Thursday, said it’s time communities in the region begin talking about the future of the industry.
There will be a meeting in Anahim Lake on July 23, 100 Mile House on July 24, Quesnel on July 30 and again in Williams Lake on Aug. 14.
“We’ve been sitting down the last five years pretty regularly with local governments, Indigenous governments, and industry to talk about this in earnest,” Pedersen said.
“We knew once the mountain pine beetle had finished we would have to do something, and now we’re dealing with the loss of the trees we had from the fires in 2017 and 2018. Then with market prices, shrinking fibre supply, industry is starting to make decisions on how their infrastructure is going to look like in the future.”
During the meeting in Williams Lake, participants broke out into small group discussions around forest tenure and fibre supply, manufacturing capacity and fibre utilization, climate change and forest carbon, wood products innovation, reconciliation with Indigenous communities and fibre and sustainability of timber and non-timber values.
Pedersen said there is also a discussion paper online and the opportunity for anyone from the public to provide feedback until Oct. 11, 2019.
Around 40 representatives from local government, Tolko, West Fraser, Alkali Resource Management, Williams Lake Community Forest and the Council of Forest Industries attended the three-hour session that was facilitated by the Fraser Basin Council at the Pioneer Complex.
Pedersen said the situation the forestry industry is in has been manifesting itself over time.
“”We are here and for me, there is no more powerful calling for me right now than to be in this role and begin to work with these communities — Indigenous and non-Indigenous — and figure this out,” he said. “I want to understand what industry needs to be competitive, how communities would see themselves supporting the forest industry, as well as the ideas around what they think a competitive forest industry should look like.”
At the end of the meeting, Cariboo Regional District director John Massier, representing the Bowron, Barlow Creek- Barkerville areas, said he was glad representatives like himself had been invited.
“I think too often we think of communities as the Williams Lakes, 100 Mile Houses Quesnels and Wells, but we don’t realize two thirds of the people live in unincorporated communities and some of those unincorporated communities have 6,00o or 7,000 people living in them,” Massier said.
Murray Wilson, manager of stewardship and tenures with Tolko, suggested there should be an explanation of timber pricing shared at the meetings.
“It has such a significant impact on everything and should be explained,” he said.
Gord Chipman, manager of Alkali Resource Management, said he felt that three hours was an insufficient amount of time for something as important as forestry.
“To have only three hours here and some other satellite meetings over the next couple of months, doesn’t quite capture it. I don’t want to do another land-use management plan, but at the same time there are some really big issues,” Chipman said. “I want to be involved in the conversation a lot more than three hours.”
Kevin Sytsma, woodlands forestry manager with Tolko Industries, said the issues in Williams Lake and west of the Williams Lake are unique.
“You are obviously going across a broad area of the Interior, so how do the concerns here drive considerations or recommendations for policy change or things that may not apply down south?” he asked.
Pedersen said they will be tracking the regional input.
“We want to know what the Cariboo is going to be saying about the issues they are dealing with. I appreciate geography. I appreciate the landscape people are working in and we want to be able to have that reflected in the conversations and when we summarize.”
CRD director Al Richmond said it will be important for the ministry to communicate back to participants.
“We need to know what was suggested,” Richmond said. “And it would be nice to see the other meetings summarized so we know what’s going on.”