The future of the forest industry questioned

Bob Simpson is calling on the provincial government to begin discussing the future of forestry.

Independent MLA Bob Simpson is calling on the provincial government to begin discussing the future of forestry in communities that are dependent on the forest industry.

It’s not a new request, he says, but one that’s been intensified after Simpson read a confidential draft of a mid-term timber supply report prepared for the minister and deputy minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, dated Feb. 29, 2012.

The report was placed on the ministry’s website and then removed, Simpson says.

The report states there is about 10 years of timber supply, but that most of the timber is pine that has been dead for five to 10 years. Under current lumber market conditions, it is uneconomical to harvest dead pine located at long-haul distances from the mills. And that licensees have indicated that the economic supply of dead pine varies from 1.5 years in the Quesnel Timber Supply Area (TSA) to about five years in the Prince George TSA.

“That’s the critical factor. What’s happened is we have all these timber supply assessments and allowable cut reviews and Williams Lake’s just going through its TSA assessment and they’re hoping to have a new AAC in the fall,” Simpson says, adding that all that does is look at timber that’s available for harvesting.

“It doesn’t put this lens on it, which is that you may have that timber available for harvesting, but in the current economic conditions can the mills afford to go get it? No, they can’t.”

In the Williams Lake area, Simpson is hearing that the timber supply is going to run out in two or three years, or at the most within five years.

The report, Simpson explains, is from a larger technical study that was done by ministry and industry foresters that was given to government in November 2011.

“I have two agendas in this. The government since August for Quesnel and since November for Williams Lake has known that we do not have a lot of time left before we are going to start to see significant mill closures if current market conditions continue and if current land-use plans are maintained.”

At question period on April 17, Simpson stood up and asked when the conversation is going to begin with communities about what this looks like.

“In the report the government is saying there may be an opportunity to save some jobs and to get more commercially viable timber to mills if we are willing to log in areas that are currently set aside for other values. But that’s a conversation that the government’s admitted as of yesterday that they have to consult with the public on this,” Simpson says.

Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Minister Pat Bell said there will be consultation, and work is continuing to determine whether the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake can be rebuilt and supplied following an explosion and fire that destroyed it in January.

The report discusses options including the relaxing of cutting restrictions on view corridors and old-growth areas, as well as shifting available timber supply from the Prince George and Williams Lake areas to the Quesnel and Burns Lake area.

— With files from Tom Fletcher