Three weeks ago at the Village of Burns Lake council meeting, representatives from the Nadina Forest District gave a presentation to the mayor and council regarding the future outlook for the timber supply in both the district which includes the Lakes Timber Supply Area and the Morice Timber Supply Area (TSA).
What was brought up during that presentation was rather alarming.
The two TSA’s in the Nadina Forest District support five sawmills, the West Fraser Mills Ltd. out of Smithers and Fraser Lake, the Canfor mill out of Houston and the Hampton Affiliates mills at Decker Lake and here in Burns Lake, and collectively those five mills need 3.6 million cubic metres of timber to operate at full capacity.
Those five mills would be able to remain open so long as they are operating at 60 per cent capacity, which would require there to be approximately 2.5 million cubic metres of harvested timber per year in the district.
As it stands the combine Annual Allowable Cuts (AAC) of both the Lakes TSA and Morice TSA total 4.5 million cubic metres, more than enough to allow the five mills to operate a full cost.
However, in the next three years the combine AAC for the two TSA in the area is expected to drop to 3.2 million cubic metres of harvested timber per year, which isn’t enough to operate all five mills to full capacity, and three years after that it is expected that the timber supply will drop to 2.1 million cubic metres of harvested timber per year, which isn’t even enough to operate the five mills collectively at 60 per cent.
In a region that economically relies so heavily on the forestry industry, we are looking at significant layoffs and possibly closures of sawmills just like the closure of the Houston Forest Products sawmill in Houston over a month ago, which saw 271 mill workers lose their jobs.
This all comes in the wake of the Babine Forest Products mill reopening.
So what can be done to ensure that our community remains economically strong?
Well, the effort to get the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources to issue a licence for a second community forest in Burns Lake, the Chinook Community Forest, with an AAC of 150,000 cubic metres per year has been underway since Hampton was debating whether or not to rebuild the mill.
The stakeholders, the First Nations communities in Burns Lake, have stated that the primary objective is to continue to supply the mill in Burns Lake.
The problem, the area for harvesting for this community forest is located on the Southside, and the cost of harvesting and transporting the logs that distance to the Babine mill outstrip the revenue the community forest will generate from selling the logs to the mill.
This community forest was initiated because it was supposed to help not only our First Nations communities economically, but also the entire Burns Lake community economically, and now it seems like it is destined to live in the red.
It is time for the provincial government to open its eyes to the future problems that this region will face if the logging industry continues this downward trend with its available timber supply.
It needs to be assured that these efforts not be in vain because if they fail to break even that directly affects the supply of logs to our mills and directly affects the economy of the region.