The B.C. government will have a decision this spring on whether the Babine Forest Products mill can be rebuilt after it was destroyed by fire in January, the local MLA says.
Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad says he is confident enough wood can be found to keep the rebuilt mill running, despite widespread pine beetle damage to the surrounding forest and the presence of other high-volume sawmills in the region.
The decision has implications for a much broader area of the B.C. Interior, where beetle-killed trees are deteriorating and alternatives to conventional lumber production are needed.
“In order for us to be looking at a rebuild, in five or 10 years’ time there is not going to be enough fibre in the Lakes Timber Supply Area under current management assumptions,” Rustad said. “And so the only way we can get to what we need in terms of a rebuild is to expand the amount of fibre that would be available.”
One way to do that is to relax the “visual quality objectives” that have prevented logging in areas visible from highways and communities. Rustad said that proposal had unanimous support of mayors at the 2010 Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, as Interior communities looked at the deterioration of beetle-killed trees and the potential loss of timber supply in coming years.
A larger source of wood is areas excluded from cutting because they were considered to have too low a timber volume to be economical to log. Rustad said he has toured some of these areas with representatives of Hampton Affiliates, the Oregon-based owner of the Babine mill, and they believe they can expand into these areas.
Another option is a shift from a volume-based timber licence to an area-based system, similar to woodlot and community forest licences issued by the B.C. government in recent years. Instead of a permit to take a certain volume of lumber each year, the licence holder would be permitted to harvest a certain number of hectares each year.
The idea is to promote selective harvesting, more intensive thinning and fertilizing and use of waste wood for bioenergy to increase forest productivity.
Burns Lake is the site of one of six Pinnacle Pellet plants in B.C. The Quesnel-based company produces softwood pellet fuel, animal bedding and spill absorbent from lower-grade wood at Burns Lake, Houston, Prince George, Quesnel, Williams Lake and Armstrong.
Pinnacle’s Burns Lake plant has been using wood with higher moisture content since the loss of Babine, previously a source of kiln-dried wood scraps.