A bittersweet event in Burns Lake

An event last week marked the official start of operations at Chinook Community Forest, Burns Lake’s newest community forest.

An event last week marked the official start of operations at Chinook Community Forest, Burns Lake’s newest community forest.

Although it was certainly a positive event that highlighted the hard work and cooperativeness of our six local First Nations groups and two local governments, it also felt like the timing of the event was unfortunate.

We are celebrating this new community forest at the same time that we’re all becoming more aware of what’s coming in the near future.

A couple of weeks ago, council was presented with updates from both the Omineca Beetle Action Coalition (OBAC) and Agathe Bernard, stewardship officer for the Ministry of Forest and Natural Resource Operations.

As you may have guessed it, they weren’t bringing good news.

While OBAC highlighted how the provincial annual allowable cut is expected to decline by more than 13 million cubic metres per year over the next decade -about equal to the demand of a dozen sawmills-, Bernard pointed out that the mountain pine beetle outbreak has killed 76 per cent of the pine volume available for harvest in the Lakes timber supply area.

As we have been reporting over the past few weeks, this means that the annual allowable cut of the Burns Lake Community Forest and Chinook Community Forest will both be significantly reduced after 2020, putting our local mills at risk of closure.

During the bittersweet event last week, Hampton Affiliates CEO Steve Zika kept positive tone, saying that partnerships such as Chinook will be necessary to ensure the future of our mills. However, it is still unclear what will happen after 2020.

Some people also feel it is unfair that Chinook was built under the promise that it would be sufficient to keep Babine Forest Products operating, and now they find out it won’t be enough. To that, government says Babine Forest Products was rebuilt to a smaller size to reflect the expected decline in timber supply.

To make matters worse, the province will not renew funding for OBAC, which was created to deal with the impacts of the mountain pine beetle outbreak. Although OBAC is still searching for other sources of funding, it may have its days numbered.

The coalition worked to unify the region in order to get resources for communities most affected by the outbreak. Without OBAC, it will be up to individual communities to diversify their economies.

As a Burns Lake councillor recently pointed out, although the reduction in timber supply is bad news for the region, the good news is that we know it’s coming.

This is the time to demand actions from our new mayor, as well as our MP, MLA and the regional district. Are they communicating enough with the provincial and federal government and demanding attention to this issue? What strategies are in place to offset the impending loss of economic activity?

 

These are all important questions to keep in mind in upcoming elections.