The B.C. Liberal government pledged to find more fibre in the forest to combat the potential loss of thousands of jobs in wake of the mountain pine beetle.
B.C.’s Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Steve Thomson said Tuesday the province will endorse many of the recommendations of a special legislative committee.
That group of MLAs looked at ways to grow B.C.’s timber supply following devastation and a loss of harvesting to the mountain pine beetle.
“It’s the next phase of our decade-long fight against mountain pine beetle,” Thomson said in a conference call from Victoria.
The goal is boosting the fibre supply to make up for loss of merchantable timber killed by pine beetle.
Measures include detailed forest inventories to better understand what timber is available, what is growing and what areas need to be replanted.
In the Kamloops region, aerial photographs have been taken and interpreted. Now ministry staff are on the ground, colouring in the dots on the landscape. The first detailed maps will be done early in the year, the ministry said.
Thomson said the province will also introduce legislation to give companies more rights to Crown forest, so they can space, fertilize and otherwise manage the land — treating it as a tree farm. They will be able to replace area-based licences that provide fewer rights and less incentive to invest.
“It is to be done carefully and slowly — not a wholesale shift,” said MLA John Rustad, who chaired the legislative committee that toured the province seeking ways to combat forecasted job losses.
“It’s something industry is looking for. When they know they have area tenure they’ll invest in silviculture, reforestation and fertilization… . They’ll get direct reward of these investments.”
The province will also introduce forest licences to allow companies to get access to low-grade timber that can be used for bioenergy.
Chris Ortner, a consulting forester in Kamloops, commended the B.C. Liberal government for what he called “common-sense” proposals.
“They (legislative committee) heard time and time again we need to get more (fibre) and we need to waste less. Government is in a populist mode. They want to show people they’re listening.”
Ortner said government and business are still trying to find ways to economically use low-grade timber. Bioenergy is the most promising but it is often too expensive to get material to plants where it can be burned to create energy.
He also applauded the move to area-based tenure — already practiced in West Fraser’s tree farm licence in the North Thompson — but warned it comes with stronger corporate rights on public lands.
Companies may seek to limit public access where they are spending private money, he added.
In a statement, New Democrat critic Norm McDonald called the measures “vague promises without anything behind them,” noting there is no new money identified.
“The promise to increase tree planting sounds good, but the commitment is on behalf of forest companies, when it’s the government itself that has under-planted by hundreds of millions of seedlings.”