Critics of the province’s plan to find additional timber supply volume in the Lakes Timber Supply Area (TSA) have been vocal since the Sept. 17, 2012 announcement in Burns Lake. On that day, forestry minister Steve Thomson’s Sept. 11 letter to Hampton Affiliates was released. In it he explained the province’s “intentions to manage the timber supply in the Lakes TSA.” It proposed to find volume where some are concerned that there is none to be found.
Bob Simpson, member of legislative assembly for Cariboo North is perplexed that Thomson’s letter proposed new volume while calling for the complete re-inventory of the Lakes TSA as well as the completion of a type-4 silviculture strategy. “This calls into question the rest of the statement of intention,” Simpson says. “Without that data, all the rest that they’re talking about is moot.”
“The main question,” says Simpson, “is how can you even make these statements of intent when you admit in the same letter that you haven’t completed the timber supply review or the silviculture review?”
Hampton Affiliates is also concerned with where the timber will actually be found. “Our board of directors, while appreciative of the minister’s support,” said Hampton CEO Steve Zika, “is concerned about how the commitment of the government will play out on the landscape.”
Vivian Thomas, communications manager with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations explained that, “The commitment to Hampton was based on what is currently known about available timber supply.”
The current Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) for the Lakes TSA was set in July, 2011. That 2011 determination is currently under review, according to Thomas, and there may be a decision to reconsider the AAC once the current review is complete.
During the June, 2012 hearings of the special committee on timber supply, Zika and Richard Vossen, Babine Forest Products woods manager, presented the results of an independent analysis of the lakes timber supply to the committee. Zika argued that the Lakes TSA could sustain at least 1 million ACC indefinitely, and he called for the current ACC to be reduced from 2 million to 1 million ACC to preserve the mid-term timber supply.
This reduction would mean that current licensees in the area would have their volume adjust downwards or eliminated entirely.
“While we requested in our written testimony that other licensees have their volumes moved to other TSA’s closer to their respective sawmills,” says Zika, “the Committee [on timber supply] did not go along with this request.”
Instead, the province announced a plan that, according to jobs minister Pat Bell provides timber volume “that we have concluded can flow without taking anything away from other licensees or sawmills in the region. We haven’t reached our AAC’s in any timber supply region in the last five or six years, so we think there’s sufficient volume.”
The Sept. 21, 2012 AAC apportionment and commitments report does indicate that the current Lakes AAC of 2 million is not fully allocated to licensees, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the unapportioned volume is actually there or that it is economically viable.
“Everybody I talk to that knows the area [Lakes TSA] says that it just isn’t there,” says Simpson. “At best, post beetle, the maximum timber supply is around 1.2 million cubic metres, which is what was given at the timber supply meetings.”
Simpson is not alone in questioning aloud the feasibility of the province’s plan.
“Where is this timber coming from and is it real?” asked Anthony Britneff, a retired registered professional forester and former provincial forest health officer, who has been vocal in his criticism of the province’s current forest management.
According to Thomson’s letter, the largest portion of this new volume (380,000 cubic metres) is to be found in ‘low-volume stands’, or, stands of timber that were not previously considered economic.
Hampton is also concerned about the viability of harvesting these low-volume stands. “The additional measures noted in minister Thomson’s letter are designed to create additional volume for the Babine sawmill,” says Zika, “but a significant portion of the volume will be higher log cost wood since it will be coming from stands with low density or from farther way.”
A June 11, 2012 mid-term timber supply report for the Lakes TSA cautioned that, “licensees have indicated there may be timber supply shortages in early 2014,” if the economic conditions did not improve to make harvesting ‘deteriorating pine’ viable.
This report included a ‘reference’ scenario of maintaining the current 2,000,000 AAC for the next 10 years and then dropping to 500,000 ACC for the next 50 years. The report considered better scenarios, but they were based upon dropping the AAC sooner, as well as including controversial mitigation factors, like loosing management of old growth management areas and reconsider visual quality objectives.
Hampton’s independent analysis was more optimistic, but it stipulated reducing the current AAC by half immediately, and withdrawing volume from licensees taking lumber out of the Lakes TSA. According to Hampton, this would keep green wood in the Lakes TSA and protect mid-term timber supply. Currently, the Lakes TSA supplies mills outside of the Lakes District, as well as two small local mills and two pellet plants.
According to the record of the timber supply hearings, Hampton Affiliates was looking for something in the area of 700,000 AAC for 15 years to justify the expense of building a new mill to replace the one destroyed in January, 2102.