I’d like to commend you for your editorial of Oct. 18 (“Forest industry’s uncertain future”), which focused public attention on some of the issues facing Burns Lake’s primary industry.
I’d like to suggest, however, that the softwood lumber agreement is likely the least of our community’s worries. There’s a far bigger storm on the horizon, one that will make trade sanctions and cuts to Burns Lake Community Forest’s Allowable Annual Cut (AAC) look like spring showers.
It’s coming in the form of mid-term timber supply, or rather, the lack of it. Since 1999, the Mountain Pine Beetle has destroyed more than three-quarters of all mature pine stands in the Lakes Timber Supply Area (TSA), trees that were expected to sustain this area’s forest industry (and our local economy) for decades. With that timber now dead, the forest industry here and elsewhere in the Central Interior is facing a crisis like no other.
How serious is the situation? Although the province hasn’t set a new AAC for the Lakes (the volume of timber that can be sustainably harvested here each year), preliminary estimates suggest it will likely be 500,000 m3 or less – at least 67% lower than the pre-beetle AAC of 1.5 million m3. Adding to the problem is the fact that timber harvesting here will likely have to remain at this reduced level for 50 years.
To put these figures into perspective, consider this: the combined capacity of our two largest sawmills – Burns Lake’s biggest employers – exceeds 600,000 m3 per year. In other words, even if this area’s entire post-beetle AAC is committed to local mills (and it won’t be, because big players like Canfor and West Fraser also have forest licenses here), the volume won’t be enough to sustain our current economy. Sure, that 500,000 m3 won’t include volume from area-based tenures such as the community forest, but as your editorial pointed out, those licensees will also be scaling back their harvests.
Clearly, we’re in for a blow. That’s why it’s good to hear that our local government officials are looking at developing a task force to consider the problem. Yet they’ve been slow to react to an issue that has been a matter of public record since the last timber supply review of 2010. The Village of Burns Lake Economic Development Strategic Plan (2016-2018) talks about business retention and expansion, and the development of tourism and agriculture, but doesn’t devote a single line to how our community is going to survive in the post-beetle era.
This has to change. In the upcoming municipal by-election, we need to vote for council members who will make development of a mid-term timber supply mitigation strategy their first priority. We also need non-partisan political representatives who won’t be afraid to tell the province it needs to do a lot more to help at-risk communities like ours prepare for the coming crunch.
It’s time we got serious about the issue of mid-term timber supply, because it isn’t going to go away. Not in this lifetime, at least.