The District of Clearwater (DOC) has been busy working on various issues resulting from the closure of Canfor’s Vavenby mill, meeting with government and forest industry officials in an attempt to soften the blow rippling through the community.
Mayor Merlin Blackwell recently met with Forest Minister Doug Donaldson, trying to find new employment opportunities for some of those who were laid off from the Vavenby site.
“We got across the points about what we need for this community—one of the ones we really need to focus on now is to get some wildfire fuel mitigation grants going here because we need to actually start helping human beings,” said Blackwell.
“Minister Donaldson is genuinely concerned with what’s happening to us, and expressed much sympathy for what our forest workers are going through; after a long chat with him and with his staff, I feel confident the provincial government has several strong teams of very smart people working behind the scenes to help us.”
Blackwell previously noted wildfire fuel mitigation could be a source of roughly 60 new jobs with millions of dollars worth of work in Wells Gray Park alone.
There are other areas also in need of fuel removal, including North Thompson Provincial Park as well as sections of district and crown land, which had work done during a previous longterm mill closure about 10 years ago.
It’s critical those areas get cleaned up again, Blackwell said, especially given the severity last two wildfire seasons.
“There’s a lot of undergrowth, a lot of trees down and new dead trees, so we have to expand that and do it in a way we can at least partially subsidize or assist private landowners because Clearwater is full of private land that is overgrown and has way too many trees to withstand wildfire,” he said.
“It’s great living in this forest and it’s great having a yard full of trees, but if we have a couple more hot summers like the last couple and it gets going, it’s pretty much unstoppable and I think we need a serious reality check.”
Council also met with the chair of the Community Forest Corporation to feel out its goals for a potential tenure increase as part of the Bill 22 agreement, and Blackwell encourages residents of the North Thompson Valley to write letters of support for the organization as it doesn’t tend to “toot its own horn.”
He said that’s one of the best ways to gain traction for an expansion of Community Forest’s tenure, and given all the support it’s given to clubs, organizations and other facets of the community, it would be hard for companies competing for gains from the tenure transfer to compete against.
“It’s astounding how much money has been thrown in this community through Community Forest grants,” Blackwell said.
“To write a letter and say how great it’s been, how amazing the benefits have been and how far they’ve gone, that’s the kind of thing that’s really easy for higher governments to sign onto.”
He added Interfor would still get the wood cut from the theoretical Community Forest tenure expansion, but would have to pay a different price and wouldn’t have total control of the harvesting.
Those looking to write letters of support for Community Forest can send them to Deputy Minister of Forests, John Allan, at email@example.com and Cc firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
There’s also a fear that Canfor and Interfor could come to an agreement without doing a sale, effectively bypassing Bill 22’s stipulation of community best interest, using a letter of understanding that would have Interfor managing the wood on behalf of Canfor.
“That’s been a threat since day one. Obviously, Canfor would just like to get $60 million and be done with it, but if the deal is sour enough they could always go for what’s basically the mortgage payment over the next 25 years, which is what a letter of understanding would lead to,” said Blackwell.
In the meantime, a web portal to the provincial government has also been set up for public comment on the potential transfer and the DOC encourages residents to write in and express their thoughts and how the situation has affected them.
Those interest can visit: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/forestry/forest-tenures/forest-tenure-administration/timber-tenure-transfer-disposition/public-interest-proposed-timber-tenure-dispositions