Or CLICK to download a pdf of this article
Life after the beetle
The journey has begun on what the future of the B.C. Cariboo—home to some of the most forest industry-dependent communities in the entire province—could look like in the post-mountain pine beetle era, and it will be of higher interest now with the recent announced closures of a Canfor sawmill and West Fraser sawmill in the B.C. Interior.
By Jim Stirling
A journey has begun in British Columbia’s Cariboo country that could help identify and chart the regional forest industry’s direction beyond the beetle era—and the recent announced closures of the Canfor mill in Quesnel and the West Fraser mill in Houston in the B.C. Interior are making the journey that much more urgent (please see Russ Taylor’s column on the mill closures on page 29).
In the Cariboo, part of the process includes updating and re-examining the Cariboo-Chilcotin Land Use Plan and some of its assumptions and conclusions to see if additional timber volumes can be made available. It’s a sensitive issue: the land use plan is already a lengthy product of compromise and sacrifice. This new exercise asks more, assisted—hopefully—by more accurate and updated resource data and an understanding of the mountain pine beetle’s havoc upon the overall landscape.
Part of the equation includes seeking and responding to feedback and opinions from First Nations, communities and natural resource stakeholders in the Quesnel, Williams Lake and 100 Mile House Timber Supply Areas about possible ways to alleviate the timber supply falldown. From that feedback, the provincial government will decide if a “science-based review” of a particular suggestion is warranted. If the government decides it is warranted, a review process will follow with an opportunity for further response from First Nations, communities and natural resource stakeholders before any final government decision is taken.
The Cariboo initiative follows the B.C. Liberal government’s all party Special Committee on Timber Supply’s conclusions after it conducted a series of hearings during 2012 in communities impacted by the mountain pine beetle epidemic, outlined Rodger Stewart, resource management director, Cariboo TSA with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, based in Williams Lake. The ministry’s response last year to the special committee was introducing “Beyond the Beetle - A Mid-Term Timber Supply Action Plan”.
In February 2013, communities, First Nations and natural resource stakeholders in the Cariboo region were given informal notice about the mid term timber supply action plan. “It was intended to raise awareness about a more formal distribution of information with a bearing on the Cariboo’s mid term timber supply,” explained Stewart.
The distributions of information have subsequently occurred. When the Logging and Sawmilling Journal spoke to Stewart, responses from interested parties were being actively sought. “We will diligently look at options within the (land use) plan,” he promised. “In the Cariboo, we’ve probably got some of the most forest-dependent communities in the province.”
Earlier in the process, the government had to douse an informational wildfire. In outlining its process for re-examining ways in which the mid term timber supply might be augmented, it gave as possible examples log harvesting in sensitive areas currently reserved for old growth management, visual quality management objectives and mule deer winter range exclusions. Forests Minister Steve Thomson and his staff had to be quick to minimize any misunderstanding. “Government is not advocating logging in reserves,” declared Thomson in a widely circulated opinion-editorial. The minister did add a caveat. “If a community believes the reserves no longer serve to represent these purposes, they can initiate a discussion with government. Only then will government consider altering any of those designations.”
Everything is considered case by case, added Thomson. The government was less ambiguous about areas that are “out of scope” in terms of trying to identify new sources of timber for industrial use. The government says off limits are: objectives embedded in forest practices legislation; parks and protected areas and designated habitat areas for species at risk, like caribou.
The government’s action plan includes a 10 year forest inventory initiative. Work is well underway in two of the three Cariboo region TSAs on the first five year plan to re-inventory the hardest hit beetle infestation areas. The information might provide for a revision to timber supply determinations.
The Cariboo region is looking at fully implementing the province’s Type 4 silvicultural strategies. The approach involves looking at more factors than just reforestation when it comes to prioritizing opportunities to enhance timber production and wood quality.
Timber supply reviews are re-examining stand types previously defined as “marginally economic” for potential uplifts. A contentious move to allow more area based forest licences is also on the table. Another opportunity for the Cariboo region may be to look more closely at dry belt Douglas fir ecosystems, suggested Stewart.
“There’s likely to be some significant opportunities that could contribute to fibre supply.” Investing in key infrastructure—like road systems—to the west of Quesnel and Williams Lake could serve multiple resource sector interests, noted the action plan. They could improve access to remote pine beetle stands. But investments to infrastructure, like other opportunities to counter the predicted timber availability reductions, come with a price tag. And the provincial government has made it clear finding money is tough, except for investments in the liquefied natural gas sector.
There’s a wide variance within the Cariboo TSAs of how long beetle stands will remain economic for conversion to lumber products, noted Stewart. Beyond that, some volumes may still be salvageable for the wood bioeconomy sector.
The Canim Lake Band was one First Nation group quick with public reaction to the science based review concept. The band has traditional lands to the northeast of 100 Mile House and a long involvement with the forest industry. And while the band conceded there could be opportunities to revisit the rules around old growth management areas, revisions to visually sensitive zones and harvesting in mule deer winter range, it questioned the long term advantages.
“The science based review is a short term quick fix approach,” concluded the band in a statement. “If successful it will likely delay the fall in the AAC by a year or two but at the expense of our remaining ecological capital. In the opinion of the Canim Lake Band, the costs far outweigh the benefits.”
This fall, the government will decide if there are sufficient grounds to undertake science based reviews or specific land use designations or objectives based on the opinions of First Nations, communities and stakeholder groups. Following that, an information package will be produced for the involved parties to consider alternate systems and provide feedback about them to government. The government anticipates it will be spring 2014 before decisions are made about changes.
As Forests Minister Thomson said in his opinion-editorial: “Managing our forests is a complex issue but the outcome we all want is simple: an industry that continues to support workers and communities.”
This page and all contents ©1996-2015 Logging and Sawmilling Journal (L&S J) and TimberWest Journal.