Region ignored in wake of pine beetle devastation, critic says

While the Kamloops region is outside ground zero of mountain pine beetle devastation, it will be impacted by the same job loss outlined in a leaked government report, MLA Bob Simpson said Wednesday.

Simpson obtained a copy of the report, stamped confidential, that was briefly posted to a government website this week. It paints a dire scenario of job loss resulting from drastically lower future timber harvests in four Central Interior regions.

The report looks at medium-term timber supply in the Quesnel, Prince George, Burns Lake and Williams Lake areas. It says up to 12,000 jobs are in danger of disappearing within five years.

"If they don't do anything, the government documents show it's 12,000 jobs," Simpson said. "If they relax a whole bunch of land-use plans, it's still 8,800 jobs that they lose."

Simpson said the report was finished last year but government has delayed taking action due to fears over bad news prior to next year's provincial election.

That, in turn, has delayed technical analysis on areas, including Kamloops, on the mountain pine beetle periphery.

"They haven't begun that process so these other areas are stalled."

The report looks at ways to offset the losses of timber, including allowing logging in protected areas, such as set-asides for wildlife, biodiversity and wildlife corridors.

Parks and mountain Caribou areas are not at risk.

"If they're going down the path of allowing logging in currently constrained areas will they restrict that to these timber supply areas or open it up around the province?" Simpson asked.

Consulting forester Chris Ortner agreed that detailed analysis and planning for the future here is long overdue.

"I'm wondering why we're not included. Our annual allowable cut was pushed up to take advantage of beetle opportunity. It's going to need to go down by 40 per cent."

The report calls for "timely action" before the end of the year to avoid running into next year's provincial election. But both Simpson and Ortner said nothing is on the horizon here.

"It's not just jobs," Ortner said. "It's viability of small communities. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of planning going on."

Ortner said he fears the province wants to avoid the subject for fear of hurting its election chances next May.

The Kamloops regional forest economy is centred around mills at Heffley Creek, Adams Lake and Savona. Much of the wood in the North Thompson, however, is shipped to West Fraser's Chasm mill in the South Cariboo.

Simpson also said, depending on wood supply in the Cariboo, the Chasm mill may eventually draw more heavily on timber here due to shortages closer to home. That would threaten timber availability for local mills as well as potential value-added manufacturers.

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