Northern timber supply reduction less than it appears

The B.C. government’s decision to reduce the annual allowable timber harvest in the Prince George region by a third isn’t as drastic as it appears, Forests Minister Doug Donaldson says.

The allowable harvest level has been unusually high to allow for salvage harvest of beetle-killed timber in the vast northern region, which includes Prince George, Vanderhoof, Fort St. James, Fraser Lake and other small communities.

In an interview with Black Press, Donaldson noted that the true impact of the reduction is only eight per cent. The allowable cut was set at 12.5 million cubic metres in 2011, but the average harvest in the past five years has been only 9.1 million.

“I think most licensees knew that there was an uplift due to the pine beetle salvage situation, so the chief forester has made her determination,” Donaldson said. “That’s a statutory decision-making authority that she has to take that into account, not only the sustainability of the cut but the social and economic factors as well.”

It typically takes up to a year for the ministry to determine what licensees get what share of the allowable harvest, and Donaldson said he will consult with licence holders, communities and first nations during that time.

After evaluating forest stands, fire and insect impact and the need to preserve habitat for a declining moose population, Chief Forester Diane Nicholls set a further reduction to take place after five years, down to 7.35 million cubic metres.

There was sawmill consolidation in the B.C. Interior earlier in the beetle epidemic, the largest recorded for B.C. In March 2014, Canfor closed its mill in Quesnel and West Fraser closed its mill in Houston, trading timber harvest permits in those areas to support remaining mills.

Donaldson declined to comment on the possibility of further closures. The Prince George timber supply area currently supports 13 lumber mills, three pulp mills, one utility mill, four pellet operations, two cogeneration plants and a bioenergy facility.

The higher cut until 2022 allows for further salvage logging of fire- and beetle-damaged trees.

The Prince George region extends from near the Alberta border in the southeast to Tweedsmuir Provincial Park in the southwest and Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Park in the northwest, an area of almost 80,000 square kilometres.

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