MLA for Nechako Lakes John Rustad. (Black Press file photo)

Province hears forestry concerns in Houston

Rustad says he hopes concerns won’t be taken for granted

While John Rustad, MLA for Nechako Lakes, said he was glad to see provincial staff in Houston engaging in discussions about the forest products industry last week, he said he was disappointed by some aspects of the engagement.

Provincial representatives held an invite-only meeting in Houston on July 29 as part of a series of engagement sessions in the Interior to gather feedback on a new approach to the forest sector.

A total of 12 people — including Houston Mayor Shane Brienen, local forestry consultants and representatives from industry and the Federation of BC Woodlot Associations — attended the meeting.

Rustad said the questions posed by ministry staff during the meeting were “fairly broad”, and that the province is not providing a clear direction when it comes to the forest products industry.

Jeremy Uppenborn, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, said the most important part of the meeting was the conversation itself, and that participants can think about the policy areas discussed during the meeting and place them at https://engage.gov.bc.ca/interiorforestrenewal.

Engagement will close on Oct. 11, 2019, at which point a ‘What we heard’ report will be generated, said Uppenborn, adding the feedback collected will help government determine the next steps in forest policy changes.

Rustad said he hopes the suggestions from participants won’t be taken for granted.

Topics discussed during the meeting included fibre supply, manufacturing capacity, climate change, wood products innovation, and reconciliation with Aboriginal nations.

The forest products industry in Houston will remain front and centre with next year’s planned reduction of the annual allowable cut (AAC) for the Morice Timber Supply Area (TSA).

Currently at 1.9 million cubic metres a year, set in 2015, the AAC is set to drop to 1.6 million cubic metres as of mid-March 2020, a 16 per cent reduction.

Canfor’s sawmill in Houston, which employs approximately 385 workers, reopened on July 29 after a four-week shutdown, which the company said was due to poor markets and the high cost of fibre.

Houston and District Chamber of Commerce President Darrin Super said in July the temporary closure affected the entire business community.

“It’s an industry that our town thrives on and is successful and vibrant because of it. The mill is the main artery in Houston, and [if] you let that bleed out, the rest will eventually follow.”

— With files from Rod Link

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