The Special Legislative Committee on Timber Supply has completed their report intended to help the forest sector and communities impacted by the Mountain Pine Beetle and more specifically address the issues related to possible re-building the Burns Lake sawmill destroyed by fire in January. The Committee positioned the report as the answer to the future of B.C.'s forest and forest dependent communities. However, they chose to limit their comments on the issues specific to their narrow Terms of Reference while not taking the opportunity to provide leadership and innovation on key issues affecting the overall management of B.C.'s forests. The Committee grossly missed the point of what is needed for the future of B.C. forests.
This is an opportunity lost!
The report recommends increasing timber supply to help Burns Lake even as it acknowledges that timber supply will drop dramatically in the coming years due to pine beetle devastation and speaks vaguely of consulting communities and First Nations in figuring out a way forward. But the report had no surprises and nothing new regarding the issues identified through the consultation process. The issues were consistent with the 2011 results arising from the Healthy Forest-Healthy Communities' community dialogue sessions and those from forest management experts. The issues and recommendations are generally known within Government or the bureaucracy for some time. There is a fear Government will position the Committee report with the Roundtable on Forestry report as the blueprint to revitalize the forest sector. This would be totally incorrect as key issues are not addressed in either report. A comprehensive strategic action plan is required rather than piece meal short-term economic actions as recommended by the Committee.
Farther down the logging road
The report has deficiencies in a number of critical items required to move towards healthy and productive forests that support communities and provincial revenue. Unfortunately, the Committee continued to support the Government focus on short-term economic actions and include only a few long-term sustainability actions. Missing are references to:
The need for an updated Sustainable Forest Management framework;
An independent assessment of the forest inventory;
A focus on enhanced forest research, environmental protection and forest health;
Improvements in forest management;
A reduction in the amount of Not Significantly Regenerated land;
And a comprehensive community diversification action plan.
All these issues were raised during the consultation process. Government and industry continue to brag about B.C. forest management but this is based on 20th century actions. Others, such as Alberta are well ahead of us now. A major update of the system is essential, if we are to meet the needs of communities and the public. The Committee report does nothing in this regard.
Where are time and money targets?
Communities and the public could be misled as no timeline or cost estimate is provided to implement the recommendations. It will take time (5-10 years) to get meaningful results. Implementing the recommendations will be costly. It is doubtful the costs can be covered within existing Ministry budgets as they have been decreased substantially over the last several years. The Committee should have made it clear that Government needs to provide the funding and resourcing, if the overall timber supply objective is to be achieved. Without additional resources, the tendency will be for Government to limit actions to those that are superficial and support political expediency so a message of acceptance can be given with little change.
The lack of solid recommendations to assist communities in adapting to the "post-beetle era" is disappointing. Limiting recommendations to the Ministry giving consideration to policy changes to meet community needs is grossly inadequate. Communities need money to implement the adaptation strategies developed through the Beetle Action Coalitions. Without adequate funding, the communities will struggle like the cod fishery in the Maritimes!
Business as usual?
The report does have a few positives.
It is encouraging the Committee recommended re-establishment of the Land Use Implementation Committees to review the status of the land use plans and make recommendations on the future. Encouraging, too, are the recognition by the Committee of the importance of more involvement by communities in forest management decisions, and the Committee's recommended measured approach using science to evaluate functionality of forest reserves.
But the report's general lack of vision and innovation is evident in the fact it lacks the simple recommendation to create a value-added sector by dealing with log exports and bio-energy. The minimum should have been recommending a comprehensive strategic action plan that integrates forest management with community diversification opportunities and business needs.
There is a fear Government will make a political decision to allocate one million cubic meters per year of Allowable Annual Cut to Hampton to justify re-building the Burns Lake mill. This will be based on superficial inventory information and without the analysis recommended by the Committee. If Hampton needs a decision by Sept. 30, the mill business requirements and the report recommendations are not in sync. Reliable data and analysis will not be available. The inventory itself will take a year or more to do properly. Re-establishing the Land Use Implementation Committee to evaluate logging in forest reserves will not be done until October at the earliest and if field work is required, will not occur once the snow comes. Therefore, it will be next year before reliable data is available. Creating a non-sustainable Allowable Annual Cut is an injustice to Hampton and the communities and a recipe for disaster.
The report is limited and does not solve the B.C. forest management problem.