Salvage logging in the Baker Creek watershed west of Quesnel

Salvage logging in the Baker Creek watershed west of Quesnel

B.C. braces for timber supply slump

Time is running out for commercial harvesting of beetle-killed trees in the Interior.

VICTORIA – Beetle-killed pine trees across the B.C. Interior will start to become uneconomical to log in the next two to five years, resulting a steep drop in timber supply and employment, according to a technical report prepared for the forests ministry.

Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson found a confidential draft version of the report that was mistakenly made public on the ministry’s website. It estimates that without opening up protected areas and harvesting lower-volume stands, as many as half of the forest industry jobs in the Cariboo and northern region will disappear.

The draft report reviews the sharp increase in the annual allowable cut in the affected region, and the “drastic” decline that would occur without changes. The Lakes timber supply area around Burns Lake would see a 67 per cent drop, and the Quesnel area would see its allowable cut reduced by 51 per cent. The beetle impact is less in the Prince George and Williams Lake areas, which would drop 32 per cent without changing rules.

In the legislature Tuesday, Simpson called on the government to announce what changes it will make to ease the impact of the timber supply loss.

“In those technical appraisals it points out that in my area, in Quesnel, we have one and a half years of commercial timber left, and we may see 1,600 jobs lost if mitigation measures are not taken,” Simpson said. “But those mitigation measures are highly controversial and will completely change the face of forestry in this province, and yet the same report isn’t sure if this government wants to consult.”

Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Minister Pat Bell said there will be consultation, and work is continuing to determine whether the Babine Forest Products mill 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.