Houston council members, foresters and a mill worker told a touring committee of B.C. MLAs on Monday what they think of changes the province might make to forestry rules.
Facing a pine beetle epidemic that may wipe out some 12,000 forestry jobs in the B.C. interior, the committee may suggest relaxing some environmental regulations and making other industry changes to lessen the blow.
Most of the five Houston speakers supported some of the proposals, notably a plan to relax logging rules that protect scenic areas.
Other ideas drew strong criticism.
Mayor Holmberg said he is “vehemently opposed” to the idea of merging the three timber supply areas serving sawmills in Houston, Smithers, and Burns Lake.
“We’re really opposed to robbing Peter to pay Paul, and that’s what we see with this thought process,” said Holmberg.
John Rustad, BC Liberal MLA for Nechako-Lakes and the committee chair, said that merger idea hasn’t really been on the table so far, but added that it’s too early to say whether the committee will consider it or not.
A recent report by B.C.’s forests ministry estimates that merging the Bulkley, Morice, and Lakes District timber areas would boost supply by just 0.8 per cent, largely because the trees in each area are of a similar age.
Mayor Holmberg raised other concerns, saying the province needs to improve its forest inventory and consult First Nations if it plans to five forest companies like Canfor and West Fraser areas of forest to manage rather than volumes of forest to cut.
Looking ahead, Holmberg said it’s impossible to avoid mill closures.
“Government should not interfere with the market process,” he said, noting that the future does look good for the mills that survive the timber shortage.
Jonathan Van Barneveld, a District councillor and forester in training, noted that while the Morice will likely see a drop from 2.1 to 1.5 million cubic metres of timber, that’s not as steep as in other areas.
“I think the timber supply in Houston is actually fairly positive in terms of our species mix between pine, spruce and balsam,” he said.
But Van Barneveld did raise one issue that may be unique to the Morice—its land use plan, which would protect old-growth stands and fishery-sensitive areas from logging, hasn’t been fully implemented yet.
If it goes ahead, he said, Houston forestry companies would likely face new restrictions on where they can log.
The timber committee also heard from Mike Dunbar, a long-time woodlands manager working in Morice area.
Dunbar advised the committee not to roll back environmental standards, and suggested that it work with First Nations to restart logging in the Kispiox area, which may offer some 300,000 cubic metres of timber a year.
Forester Carl Vandermark echoed Dunbar’s concerns about environmental protection, and also suggested the committee look to Alberta’s more flexible tenure system, which allows forestry companies to focus their replanting efforts on faster-growing areas.
Finally, the committee heard from mill worker Terry Park, who suggested the province move to stop raw log exports from B.C.
“It’s hard for us, sitting around our lunch table and talking about this,” he said. “We’re sending raw material out. We’re buying it back as a finished product. We’re losing a lot of value.”
B.C. special committee on timber supply will finish touring the 15 B.C. towns most affected by the mountain pine beetle before reporting its recommendations on August 15.
Asked what was driving the committee’s short schedule, Rustad said the question of whether there is enough timber to rebuild recently destroyed mills in Burns Lake and Prince George is a factor, but not the only one.
“Everybody thought there was another two to 10 years to go before we had to answer this question, and suddenly we need the answer today,” he said.
Members of the public have until July 20 to submit comments on the proposals.
Visit www.leg.bc.ca/timbercommittee/ to make a comment or read transcripts of the committee meetings.