The new Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) of timber for the Burns Lake region is about 41 per cent lower than the previous AAC.
The new determination for the Lakes Timber Supply Area (TSA) is 970,000 cubic metres, down from the 1.6 million cubic m of the old AAC that was set in 2016, as the ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) said in a news release on Nov. 21.
The AAC, announced by chief forester Diane Nicholls breaks down into a maximum of 400,000 cubic m per year for live coniferous volume; up to 20,000 cubic m per year for live deciduous volume; and a maximum of 550,000 cubic m per year for dead volume.
The chief forester used partitions to support sustainable use of timber resources, as Dawn Makarowski, FLNRORD spokesperson told Lakes District News.
A partition was made for dead volume to utilize available timber that was affected by fire or mountain pine beetle infestations.
“Although the new cut level is approximately 41 per cent lower than the previous AAC of 1,648,660 cubic metres, it is only 6 per cent lower than harvest levels in the last two years,” the ministry said.
Harvests in 2017-2018 were just above 1 million cubic m, according to the the Lakes TSA Timber Supply Analysis Discussion Paper published on April 29, 2019. Harvest levels have fallen by almost half since 1999, but in almost all years they were below their AAC limits.
However, the new determination doesn’t mean that harvest levels must immediately drop.
The AAC process has two steps. The first is the determination by the chief forester. The second step is the apportionment of the AAC between timber licence holders and that decision is undertaken by the FLNRORD minister, under Section 63 of the Forest Act.
“A decision by the minister to make the apportionment decision to allocate the new AAC is anticipated by the spring of 2020,” said Makarowski.
“The licence is not affected until the minister makes his apportionment decision.”
Back in the spring there was anxiety in the Burns Lake community when some people feared that the AAC would fall to 800,000 cubic metres.
Mayor Dolores Funk is glad that pessimistic scenario hasn’t become reality.
“I’m breathing a bit of a sigh of relief,” she said.
“But the devil’s in the details. It’s all about the apportionment. Until we really understand what that’s going to look like we don’t know how each individual tenure holder will fare.”
Funk is grateful for the efforts of the community in communicating to the chief forester during the determination period the socio-economic importance of forestry to the Lakes District.
“[And] former chief forester Jim Snetsinger, kudos to him for playing a huge role in communicating between the chief forester and the community,” Funk added.
Also sounding a note of optimism on the new determination is Frank Varga, General Manager of the Burns Lake Community Forest.
“I feel [the chief forester] really took every aspect into consideration and provided a timber supply review that is sustainable, but also requires the licensees to prove some major innovation to utilize some of the dead volume and continue operating in low volume stands, and furthermore put the onus on the district office to come to the table with a collaborative focus.”
John Rustad, Nechako Lakes MLA was more cautious in his response to the new AAC.
“When you look at the volume that is processed by the mills in the Lakes TSA, this new AAC will be tight. The community forests, First Nation woodland tenures and other tenures will help but I expect it will be challenging. The operators in the Lakes TSA are good, community supporting operations and I hope everything that can be was looked at to ensure a sustainable fibre supply for the Lakes TSA.”
Steve Zika, CEO of Hampton Lumber, which owns the Decker Lake and Babine Forest Products sawmills in Burns Lake said the new AAC puts the region in a difficult position.
“The question will be whether it is possible, or feasible to reach the AAC of 550,000 m3 of dead timber and also what the final apportionment among the licencees will be. This is the final AAC determination so the reality of the challenge we are facing to keep the only two sawmills in our TSA operating at current capacity is daunting. We will be working with our First Nations partners, community stakeholders and the provincial government going forward to explore alternatives to meet that challenge.”
The Forest Act states that the chief forester must determine the AAC in each of the province’s 37 TSAs and 34 tree farm licenses at least once every 10 years.
The official rationale document for the new AAC can be read online.