Burns Lake prepares for impeding shortfall in timber

The Village of Burns Lake and the Burns Lake Community Forest are preparing for an impending shortfall to the volumes of timber supply.

The Village of Burns Lake and the Burns Lake Community Forest (BLCF) are preparing for an impending shortfall to the volumes of timber supply in the Burns Lake area.

“It should be no surprise and is no secret that the shelf life of the dead pine is coming to an end, and for some it has been a surprise that it has lasted as long as it has,” said Frank Varga, general manager of BLCF.

The BLCF recently had a new annual allowable cut (AAC) determination, which came into effect May 1, 2016. The new determination provides the opportunity to harvest up to 225,000 cubic meters of which no more than 45,000 cubic meters can be attributed to live trees. Therefore it effectively allows for approximately 180,000 cubic meters of harvest for dead trees annually.

The previous AAC determination of 225,000 cubic metres, awarded in 2011, had been reduced to 100,000 cubic metres on Dec. 31, 2013.

In the rationale for this year’s AAC determination, Albert Nussbaum, director of the forest analysis and inventory branch with the Ministry of Forests, said this determination follows a significant AAC uplift request from the BLCF to continue the salvage of stands impacted by the mountain pine beetle while the stands still hold economic value.

However, as the mountain pine beetle infestation declines, so will the AAC determination. In 2020, the AAC is expected to drop to 63,000 cubic metres.

“The Burns Lake community forest agreement has been granted significant AAC uplifts in the past and has harvested its full AAC,” said Nussbaum. “However, these uplifts were based on projects of mortality arising from the mountain pine beetle infestation; the infestation is now over and is possible to identify with certainty which stands to salvage and which stands to retain.”

Varga said the BLCF is doing its homework to ensure long-term operations of the community forest.

“The board has completed detailed financial analysis above and beyond the annual audited financial analysis, to examine silviculture liabilities, road and bridge liabilities and general community forest liabilities and obligations to ensure that the operations of the community forest are sustainable into the future,” he said.

The Village of Burns Lake also plans to look into the implications of a reduction in timber supply.

As part of the village’s 2017 municipal objectives, the village plans to form a task force that will assess the impact of a reduction in timber supply to Burns Lake and surrounding areas.

Sheryl Worthing, the village’s chief administrative officer, said council will have further discussions about this task force during budget deliberations at the end of the year.

She said the impacts of a reduction in timber supply are unknown at this time.

Varga also didn’t want to speculate on possible impacts to the area.

“I can say that the village and shareholders will have to manage with what is presented in annual operating plans, and budgets,” he said.

When asked if Buns Lake’s newest community forest, the Chinook Community Forest, could offset the shortfall in timber supply, Varga said he cannot speculate on that either.

“Their profile is very similar to what BLCF has and so they will also have to make strategic decisions on similar opportunities and constraints.”

Over the next few years, Varga says BLCF will be completing further timber supply review and analysis and re-examining harvest opportunities and constraints on the area based tenure.

“We are of course nervous,” says Hampton Affiliates CEO

After 2020, the Burns Lake Community Forest and Chinook Community Forest will represent only a portion of the log supply required to keep Babine Forest Products and Decker Lake Forest Products operating.

Steve Zika, Chief Executive Officer of Hampton Affiliates – company that owns Babine Forest Products and Decker Lake Forest Products -, said many sawmills in Northern B.C. will likely be scrambling in the next five years to find enough quality, economic fiber to maintain existing operations.

“We are of course nervous about whether we can access enough reasonable cost timber to keep both our sawmills operating,” he said. “The ultimate answer will depend on a number of factors including how competitive are our sawmills and how flexible the government is in accessing mid-term timber supply.”

Zika said the devastation from the mountain pine beetle on Northern B.C. forests has already resulted in numerous sawmills curtailing operations or closing.

“Currently Babine and Decker Lake are continuing to harvest as much dead pine as they can from local sources to utilize the fiber before it loses all economic value; however, given that the quality of the fiber continues to deteriorate means we are getting closer to that time when the dead trees have no economic value,” he said.

“Hampton [Affiliates] and the Burns Lake Native Development Corporation as owners have a big job ahead to work together to secure the timber supply we need for our sawmills and the economic vitality of Burns Lake.”

“We believe our First Nations ownership, employees and relationships will help in procuring additional timber supply for Babine and Decker,” added Zika.