Battles with government over wildfire fighting resources and demands for more better managed forests is on the minds of Nechako Valley residents and members of local government.
News that timber supplies are dwindling faster than originally believed, had the province on the defense last week, but forest groups took note of the auditor general’s warnings that cut reductions could be on the horizon sooner than previously thought.
The spokesman for the BC Lumber Trade Council John Allan said communities are going to have to look at options and estimates for supplies, as numerous setbacks have taken their toll on B.C.’s interior forests.
“A number of issues have come up,” Allan explained, “there’s the ongoing mountain pine beetle damage, then we’ve had a number of severe forest fires, along with temperature changes … and what these leave in their wake, either dead trees or more slash (wood waste) out there as fire hazards.”
The B.C. auditor general’s report last week criticized the forest ministry for not reforesting enough, not funding enough initiatives, and also for having inventories dating back to the 1980s and 90s.
“It’s interesting that forest companies’ tree planting is in balance, but it seems the forest ministry got behind on replacing what’s been lost,” the lumber trade guy noted.
The Burns Lake mill fire was also an intense wake up call, spotlighting hardship for towns that don’t have a lot of industries to take the place of one main forest-based employer.
“These events of the past few weeks crystalized into discussions about what government is responsible for,” Allan explained.
The lumber industry has been doing very well in B.C. coming out of the downturn, he said, and that we’re getting a real boost from China’s need for lumber exports. What’s uncertain, however is if we can keep up with the demand.
“Forestry is still a major contributor to the economy,” Allan emphasized, so having reduced timber supplies can cause ma- jor disruptions.
With large parts of the Central Interior dependent on available wood for logging, many communities are concerned that poor management could put them in jeopardy.
Residents were told recently that one of their wildfire protection crews from the Nechako Valley is being re-assigned elsewhere. That’s not sitting well with local government.
“They’re taking one of our (fire-fighting) crews out of the Vanderhoof area and assigning them in Fort Nelson, which just doesn’t make any sense,” Vanderhoof mayor, Gerry Thiessen said, “the amount of fires they’ve had up there aren’t near what we’ve had here.”
One thing that’s important to us here is our wood supply, the Vanderhoof mayor emphasized.
The Binta Lake fire in 2010 took out about 100,000 acres of forested land and was one of the most intense wildfires in North America, leaving huge tracts of once-forested places in desert conditions.
“There will not be anything that will grow there for 100 years because the mineral soil having been burned so badly,” Thiessen noted.
“And it not only burned the pine beetle killed trees,” the mayor explained, “but it burned with such intensity, and so far that it wiped out a lot of the plantation trees that were planted 20-30 years ago.”
This is why the local wood supply that was supposed to mature in the next 40-50 years has been severely reduced.
The outlook is not rosy when you note the 24 million acres of trees killed by the mountain pine beetle in the Central Interior – the kill’s epicenter – and that these will not be worth harvesting past their shelf life around 2018.
“So after 2018 we’re going to need to be very careful what trees we’re harvesting and we need to keep stepping up protection for the trees that won’t yet be ready for harvest,” Thiessen said.
He suspects it’s possible technology could reduce the forest’s wait for harvest through fertilizing and other means, but at this rate, it’s a given there will be years of reduced cut.
And while economies of forest-based towns in this region’s are more fragile, so we need to be extra vigilant in protecting area forests, Thiessen noted.
“We want our communities to go back to the government and say, ‘No, this is where the fires are, and we should be increasing our fire protection, not reducing it,’” he added.