Report recommends more local input to protect forests and jobs

The B.C. Liberal government will move quickly on recommendations to increase timber supply and involve communities and First Nations in decision-making in the wake of pine beetle devastation, minister Steve Thomson said Wednesday.

Changes to forest policy were released by a special legislative committee that toured the province, including Kamloops. It sought ways to increase timber supply in the wake of 53 to 70 per cent of pine forecast to be killed by mountain pine beetle within 10 years.

"When beetle-killed pine is no longer salvageable, the province's overall supply of mature timber will be reduced, and 10

to 15 years from now, it is forecast to be 20 per cent below the pre-infestation levels, a reduction that may last up to 50 years," stated the report.

That represents enough timber to keep eight mills running - several thousand jobs in manufacturing and the bush.

Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, said Wednesday he has given staff a week to come up with recommendations and a timeline how on how to make changes based on the report.

Thomson said he is particularly focused on recommendations to help the Burns Lake community in the wake of the destruction of its sawmill, as well as providing access to timber of marginal economic value.

"Some of the inventory work shows there's more saw-logs in some of these stands than initially anticipated. How do you get maximum value for that?"

That may include biomass opportunities to help rural economies, he said.

The Kamloops forest region is mentioned as one of those severely impacted by pine beetle.

One of the most controversial areas under study is whether logging should be allowed in any protected reserves, for wildlife, ecology or viewscapes.

The committee recommended government restore lapsed local land and resource management plan boards -comprised of outside observers from conservation or naturalist groups, for example - in order to study the reserves and ensure they are still relevant today using a "science-based approach."

"It needs to be done in the same way decisions were made in the first place," Thomson said of the land and resource management plan boards.

The committee also recommended more public investment in infrastructure, including roads and bridges, to allow access to timber.

NDP critic Norm Macdonald called the report, a unanimous one by government and Opposition members, an indictment of B.C. Liberal forest policy.

"We have to do silviculture work," Macdonald said of replanting stands that have not regrown to sufficient standards to ensure timber for the future.

"Decisions by the B.C. Liberal government to remove the legal obligation to replant and cutting the budget by 90 per cent is a mistake that shows up now," he said.

United Steelworkers said it backs the report. It advocated more investment in forests, including replanting.

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