The government is planning public engagement sessions over the summer as part of its interior forestry revitalization initiative.
Two representatives from the Ministry Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) told the board of directors of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN) on June 6 that the engagement will be ambitious and targeted at several stakeholders.
The revitalization scheme was announced by Premier John Horgan in a speech to the Council of Forest Industries in April and came as the forestry industry faces challenges from lower timber supplies and prices, and destructive wildfire seasons.
In their presentation to the RDBN, Eamon O’Donoghue, Assistant Deputy Minister of North Area operations, and Jeff Recknell, Executive Director of FLNRORD for the Skeena region said one of the key aims of the revitalization program is bringing communities back into forest management.
Facing the reality of less timber and declining Annual Allowable Cuts, the next step is working to maintain economic activity in the industry.
“How can we utilize fibre more effectively to keep jobs in the community? Knowing that there is going to be a decline – but how do we do a better job of utilizing waste in a manner that will help us?” O’Donoghue asked.
“As an example of that in the northwest, five to seven years ago there wasn’t the same kind of utilization we have today. There are about 300 people working for those sectors – pellet companies, some small sawmills, you guys know Tahtsa, Seaton just west of Smithers where they’re utilizing fibre that seven or eight years ago wasn’t really utilized. The intention is to build on ideas like that. What kind of policy changes can we do to enhance opportunities for those kind of businesses to survive and thrive?”
O’Donoghue was straightforward about the seriousness of the difficulties facing forestry.
“I don’t want to sugar coat this. There’s going to be pain in the interior. There will be mill closures. There has to be. There is not enough trees for the amount of milling capacity that’s out there. We don’t know where that’s going to be.”
“This is top of mind for us. Stumpage is going to go up on July 1. There’s a shrinking supply. We just talked to a few companies – Canfor is losing a million dollars a day. I’m sure the other companies are in similar situations. It’s about as bad as it gets right now. In July it’s probably going to get a bit worse.
“There’s a big glut of wood – about a billion board feet – on the market. The capacity is going to have to come down. That’s the hard part. When there’s more capacity bidding on less volume – price goes up. That’s what we’re seeing. Super high price to pay for the wood, super low price they’re getting for the lumber.”
One of the first aspects of the public engagement will start with discussion papers on revitalization, and about a dozen of them will be amalgamated into one.
“They’re going to go through a series of these, one being waste utilization. Those are going to be released very soon to the public,” O’Donoghue said.
The forestry officials said that two additional forms of outreach will start in the summer: Timber Supply Area coalitions and engagement sessions in communities along Highway 16.
The coalitions will consist of local government groups, industry players and First Nations.
“The province intends to run three or so at one time. Like a think tank of ideas,” said Recknell.
The invite-only engagement meetings will be lead by FLNRORD staff and will include local government representatives, First Nations and licensees. They will take place in Terrace, Smithers, Burns Lake and other locations.
“They will be an opportunity to dig deeper into the policy topics. They’ll be set up like ‘world cafe’ style. There’ll be some presentation of information and then break into groups and ask questions and provide feedback. The timeline to get those done is the end of the summer. Letters will be sent out about those sessions.”
Not everyone is on board with the revitalization initiative, with critics saying the plan comes too late and lacks government leadership.
Alongside the revitalization engagement, the government is also seeking public feedback on the renewal of the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA) legislation, which has been on the books since 2002 and underwent numerous amendments afterwards.
“The government is reviewing how well that has worked. Are there things we can do to improve the nature of that legislation? I think there was an overall sentiment that yes there were some things we could do to improve that,” said O’Donoghue.
Under a renewed FRPA, O’Donoghue and Recknell said district forestry managers should have more authority.
“There’s been enough examples around the province of permits that went through that we didn’t believe were in the public interest sometimes. The district manger’s authority from before 2004 to after changed dramatically. They didn’t have that ability to reject things that weren’t in the public interest. They had to approve as long as it met the objectives.”
The invitation of public feedback on FRPA renewal began on May 27 and runs until July 15. Feedback can be given through the website at https://engage.gov.bc.ca/govtogetherbc/consultation/forest-and-range-practices-act/ .
The new legislation is expected to go into force after the spring of 2021, O’Donoghue said.