A committee of MLAs in the midst of a whirlwind tour to consult on timber supply issues arrived in Burns Lake last week.
Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad, special committee on timber supply chair promised locals during a rally following the meeting that he is committed to doing everything he can to help Burns Lake move forward.
The committee’s terms of reference are to consider recommendations that could increase timber supply, including changes to land use objectives and rates of harvest and the conversion of volume based tenures to area based tenures.
The committee will also consider whether any changes to current legislation is required.
The all party committee that includes four B.C. Liberal and three NDP MLAs was appointed in May 2012 to make recommendations to address the loss of mid-term timber supply due to the mountain pine beetle epidemic, and its decision will ultimately determine the rebuilding of Babine Forest Products, that was completely destroyed in a tragic explosion and fire on Jan. 20, 2012.
Hampton Affiliates, the majority owner of Babine Forest Products is requesting a one million cubic metre annual fibre supply in order to make a rebuild of the sawmill economically viable.
A discussion paper that the special committee on timber supply recently released, outlined the issues. It is projected that in 10 to 15 years, overall provincial timber supplies will be 20 per cent below the pre-infestation levels and that this reduction may last for up to 50 years.
The report lists options, including lifting visual constraints and increasing the harvest of marginally economic timber, allowing trees to be harvested sooner and managing forests more intensively.
The committee is seeking guidance from 15 communities, including Burns Lake, on what they see as the priorities for the timber supply issue and what should be considered when the committee make their final recommendations, expected Aug. 15, 2012.
During the committee meeting 16 local residents and groups made use of the 15 minutes allocated to those who pre-registered to present to the committee.
Mayor Luke Strimbold said, “I want to emphasize the importance of local input into the decision making process. We’re the ones who live here and spend the most time here, so we hope that we have the strongest voice when the decision process is in place. He said, “We have had a commitment from government to ensure that a mill can be rebuilt and we believe in keeping Lakes District timbers for Lakes District mills. The rebuild of Babine Forest Products promotes healthy competition and a robust regional forest economy. After Jan. 20, 2012, log prices dropped $8 to $10 a cubic metre in the neighbouring communities, which has a significant impact for the logging community.”
Cowichan Valley MLA and committee member Bill Routley said, “I was a bit taken aback by the statement that government has given some kind of commitment to the community. I think you used the phrase that you had a commitment from government that the mill could be rebuilt?”
Mayor Strimbold replied, “We worked hard with government on many different opportunities to develop hope in the community. I think part of it was looking at the opportunity in our Lakes timber supply area and also looking at the opportunity to have a mill rebuilt.”
Burns Lake Band Chief Albert Gerow made a presentation to the committee in support of the rebuild of Babine Forest Products.
He said, “At present there is 900,000 cubic metres that has been issued in various licenses throughout the lakes timber supply area. The majority of those licenses are short term. Hampton Affiliates has maintained that in order to rebuild the sawmill, they require approximately one million cubic metres annually. The six First Nations, with the support of the Village of Burns Lake, have proposed to the Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations to direct award a forest license to the six First Nations for the balance of the unallocated volume of 1.1 million cubic metres, for at least 20 years, which would then secure the wood fibre supply for Hampton Affiliates to be able to make a decision to rebuild the sawmill.”
Chief Gerow said, “We’re deeply concerned about the time that this committee is taking away from Hampton Affiliates to be able to make their decision to rebuild. The window of construction is short and any delays pushes us back potentially another year.”
Lake Babine Nation Chief Wilf Adam said, “There’s enough timber supply to meet the needs [of Hampton Affiliates] and there is enough processes already in place to make a decision. This decision has become a political football. The communities around Burns Lake that are objecting have never gone through what we’ve gone through, and to listen to them and give them time is wrong. Every time I think about it, it really angers me that we have to sit here and let things move at a snail’s pace.”
Ron Zayac, vice president of the Burns Lake and District Chamber of Commerce said, “Overnight the price of timber dropped after the Babine Forest Products disaster. Removing Hampton Affiliates from being a regional player will permanently alter the competitive landscape.”
He said the community has also been impacted and added that many local businesses have laid off staff. “Businesses have decreased wages and a lot of businesses have seen decreases in revenue and in sales and, obviously, in profits. We need to look at long term solutions. Economic development and diversification is a long term thing. You may think that tourism is an option but we’re in a pretty remote place in the province. We don’t have access to population. We have a transitory tourist corridor that some folks go by, but it’s not going to provide those huge community sustaining jobs that an industrial player will.”
Locals Bob and Roseanne Murray presented a history of the mountain pine beetle to demonstrate to the committee that the issue is something locals have been battling for a long time. They presented 14 options to the committee including area based licenses supporting Babine Forest Products, the unallocated volume in the Lakes Timber supply area to be directed to local area First Nations, with a commitment that this volume will support local processing plants and the government continuing to work with communities on protection plans to develop fire management plans and mitigation activities.
During his presentation to the committee local resident Miles Fuller said, “When old growth management areas and the visual quality management areas were set up they were thriving, living ecosystems, and they’re not now. I consider it almost blasphemy that they have been maintained as these things. ‘What about fire hazard do you not understand?”
He went on to say, “With the loss of Hampton Affiliates, the day after the fire, the log prices in our area dropped $8 to $10 a cubic metre. We had very low prices for purchased wood, basically about the price of logging and hauling them. Now across the North, from Fraser Lake to Smithers or Hazelton, we will not have a competitive log market if Hampton Affiliates does not come back. There are approximately 300 wood lot licensees, about half a dozen community forests, all kinds of First Nations forest tenures and B.C. timber sales, which sells about a million cubic metres a year in this area. If we do not have a competitive log market, none of those tenures will have any profit in them at all. There will be no way that they can return any money to our local communities.”
The committee wraps up their final meeting in Kamloops on July 12, 2012 and is expected to hand down their decision on Aug. 15, 2012.