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FRENCH CONNECTION: Lack of trees leads to layoffs

I wonder how different the Cariboo Chilcotin would be if CCBAC’s original plan to diversify occurred?
As a former reporter and editor at the Tribune, Diana French carries on sharing her ideas through her weekly column. (Photo submitted)

The lack of access to available trees is one reason given for the recent layoffs at West Fraser Mills. That should be no surprise. We’ve been running out of “available” trees for years. Since 2020, some 35 Interior B.C. sawmills have closed permanently.

We’ve always felled trees faster than they can replace themselves, plus we lose them to wildfires, development and natural causes, but it took the Mountain Pine Beetle attack earlier this century to make us realize forestry isn’t all that sustainable.

In 2005, forward-looking community leaders (including former Williams Lake Mayor Rick Gibson and Donna Barnett) formed the Cariboo Chilcotin Beetle Action Committee (CCBAC) to mitigate the expected ecological, social and economic effects of the beetle invasion and to ensure a stable future for the area. Stable communities need jobs in all sectors, and CCBAC intended to provide start-up funds for businesses and industries that were interested in doing something different.

The CCBAC board was composed of a representative from each local area municipal council, First Nations, Cariboo Regional District, plus one representative from the lumber industry and one from the conservation sector. The committee was well-funded by different levels of government.

Things started well. CCBAC appointed knowledgeable people to committees to determine what enterprises would flourish in this area. They came up with plans for ten sectors, ranging from agriculture and tourism to arts, culture and heritage.

When logging the beetle kill saved the lumber companies and jobs, CCBAC’s focus changed. Over the years it gave grants to many worthy community projects, like the TRU agricultural program, but it fell short on finding new industries/businesses to provide permanent well-paying jobs. In 2018 a newer CCBAC board dissolved itself.

I wonder how different the Cariboo Chilcotin would be if CCBAC’s original plan to diversify had happened?

Diana French is a freelance columnist for the Tribune. She is a former Tribune editor, retired teacher, historian and book author

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