The new limit on harvestable timber in the region should be known by mid-fall, a senior forester told a public meeting in Burns Lake on Jan. 17.
Speaking to a Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako board of directors meeting, and an almost-packed public gallery, registered professional forester Jim Snetsinger gave a detailed presentation on the process of formulating the Annual Allowable Cut (AAC).
Snetsinger, the former chief forester for British Columbia, said a public discussion paper on the AAC will be released in late February, after which there’s a 60-day period for public comment.
Diane Nicholls is the current chief forester, and Snetsinger said he hopes to give her a field tour of the Burns Lake area in the near future.
Provincial legislation calls for a new AAC to be set every 10 years, though that can sometimes change.
“In many of the management units around the province, particularly those areas affected by the mountain pine beetle this is happening much sooner than 10 years and mostly at a five-year cycle,” Snetsinger said.
Early on in the talk, he addressed the concern of government interference with AAC determinations.
“I never experienced a situation where elected politicians tried to influence my decisions,” he said.
He also responded to the idea that the AAC process boils down to crunching numbers.
“A lot of people think the AAC process is a mathematically-driven process. A black box in which you put in numbers and out pops a decision,” he said. “I want to dispel that notion. There is a registered professional forester who does this work and considers all the information. There are mathematical models that are used but they are decision aids, not decision makers.”
When he laid out the history of the AAC since 1999 and the facts of mountain beetle infestations, he added that the AAC is a sensitive subject in the region, which depends heavily on the forestry economy.
“There’s a deep concern about the decrease in timber supply and the impact on jobs and the economy. The Ministry hears the message loud and clear.”
Last July, a public discussion on the AAC drew big crowds to the Burns Lake Gathering Place.
In 1999, before the beetle infestation began the AAC in the region was 1.5 million cubic metres.
“The mountain pine beetle hit the central interior in early 2000 and we started to see the implications of that and we increased the AAC to 3 million cubic metres and it peaked in 2004 at 3.5 million cubic metres. And then the epidemic subsided in 2005-2006 and we started to bring the cut down to a more sustainable range.”
The most recent AAC for the Lakes Timber Supply Area (TSA) stands at 1.6 million cubic metres a year, and was set in 2016.
Beetle infestations killed 64 per cent of the mature growing stock timber in the Lakes TSA, or 54 million cubic metres of pine trees, since 1999.
Speaking to Lakes District News about the new AAC determination, Steve Zika, chief executive officer of Hampton Lumber, which owns Babine Forest Products in Burns Lake said the new cut level will be lower.
“The Lakes is a very small TSA and the pine beetle effect on the high percent of lodge pole pine in the district was significant. We are hopeful that the government recognizes the critical importance of having two local sawmills operating in the Burns Lake area and the devastating effects to the First Nations and community at large should they be forced to close.”
Snetsinger noted some good news in the situation with the use of dead pine.
“Industry [has] logged about 27 million cubic metres of dead volume. There’s still some dead pine out on the land base. Even with the fires we had last year there’s still an opportunity in the dead pine. And the chief forester will take that into account in her AAC determination.”
The dead pine continues to be processed by timber mills, though Snetsinger acknowledged that the economic viability of the pine is decreasing.
“The longer you can continue to harvest dead pine the better it makes your mid-term timber supply.”
On a positive note, the former chief forester explained that the forestry infrastructure of the region is making better utilization of the available resources.
“You’ve got Babine Forest Products that takes the best quality logs, you’ve got some of the other material going up to Decker Lake Forest Products and Pacific Timber and then the lowest grade material goes to Pinnacle Pellet. The infrastructure is starting to align better with the resources out there.”
Throughout the year the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development will probably hold open houses on the AAC data package and provide other avenues of information on it, he said.
“We want to develop our communication so that its easiest for people to understand.”