COLUMNS: Time for a facilitator to speed up the salvage of burned timber

One of the most important issues arising from last year’s wildfires was to salvage the burned timber.

COLUMNS: Time for a facilitator to speed up the salvage of burned timber

In a recent interview Premier John Horgan said one of the most important forest issue arising from last year’s wildfires was to salvage the burned timber as soon as possible.

In recent discussions with some industry people they were a little frustrated with what they thought was a slow response by government in getting the process started for the timely harvesting of the burned timber on crown land associated with the replaceable forest licences. Their concern is that the majority of salvage done by mid December was from private land. One of the major issues on salvage of crown land was apparently the silviculture responsibility along with a stumpage rate that recognizes additional costs of harvesting and milling burnt timber. After contacting the Public Affairs Office of the Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development (i.e. MOF in my days) I received the following information: “Layout and development of fire salvage permits takes time. Cutting permits for wildfire salvage are being reviewed and issued as they are submitted to the Ministry of Forests

• Approximately 200,000 cubic metres of burnt salvage timber cutting permits have been issued and at least 32,000 cubic metres (640 truckloads) have been scaled in Williams Lake.

• An exemption to mule deer winter range has been provided to allow clear-cut logging in designated areas within fire boundaries.

• The ministry is encouraged as harvesting of burnt timber is occurring across the Cariboo region.”

No details were given regarding the breakdown of where the salvage had taken place. In fairness to both industry and the government there are millions of dollars at stake in terms of profits for companies and revenues back to the crown but millions of dollars can also be lost on both sides with a delayed decision. Industry should expect to pay reasonable stumpage during these times of record lumber prices but some sort of sliding scale could be considered when the value of the burned logs deteriorate. Unreasonably low salvage rates for good fir logs and too much relaxation of silviculture responsibilities would be yet more reasons for the U.S. to use dumping accusations against us in the ongoing softwood lumber discussions.

The silviculture issues are more complex and far reaching for both industry and the government. A sliding scale approach similar to stumpage could also be considered since there are a variety of burn intensities and maybe a more flexible approach is needed. The apparent impasse looks familiar to many collective agreements with both sides losing the longer the settlement takes.

In my opinion we should be looking at a government appointed facilitator with powers necessary to encourage a fair decision. An ideal facilitator would have industry experience but also a good understanding of government rules and regulations which limit the government representatives to the point where they need new direction from their political masters. I would also like to acknowledge a number of people who have provided some comments and specific options for some issues which I hope to discuss in more detail in subsequent articles.