Logs await processing at the Downie Timber yard in Revelstoke.

Logs await processing at the Downie Timber yard in Revelstoke.

Macdonald: Timber supply review input valuable

NDP forest critic says party platform focus on reinvesting in forest management, raw log exports and value for resource

A report on timber supply in the beetle-ravaged B.C. Central Interior is an indictment of the failed forestry policies of the current B.C. government, says Columbia River—Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald.

“The crisis in Burns Lake brought into focus two clear failings of this government. First, the BC Liberals have no mechanism to assist and support communities in transition due to crisis or loss of industry,” said Macdonald, who was the deputy chair of the committee that produced the report and is the NDP  critic for forestry issues. “Second, the lack of proper care of the land means that we have neither the information nor the capacity to make the best decisions.”

A bipartisan committee tasked with reviewing timber supply in the beetle-ravaged B.C. Central Interior released its findings on Aug. 15 in a report titled Growing Fibre, Growing Value.

The backdrop is the devastating mountain pine beetle epidemic that has affected 18.1 million hectares of forest lands in B.C. The most recent projections estimate the beetle will have killed between 53 to 70 per cent of “merchantable” pine by 2012.

The report finds that mills in the Central Interior won’t have enough wood to operate, creating “significant negative economic and social impacts on forestry-dependent communities and present major challenges to the industry.”

The committee was tasked with finding solutions to the issue, and specifically finding more timber supply.

With the BC Liberals trailing the NDP in the polls and facing a resurgent BC Conservatives in the 2013 election, we asked Macdonald how the report would guide the NDP platform heading into the next election.

Secondly, the forest industry in the Revelstoke area hasn’t been impacted like the Central Interior. We asked what the recommendations in the report mean for our unique forest industry.

Macdonald said the process, including many public input sessions was enlightening, and guided the report: “It reflects what we heard in communities,” he said.

He said the NDP would continue this focus on engaging communities in land decisions, something that has been lacking.

Re-investing in forest health is another, saying the current government has cut back on forest stewardship to the point where there’s inadequate information to make informed decisions. The report recommends “establishing silviculture-related forest practice requirements that ensure the objectives of growing more fibre and generating more value are achieved.”

So, how would this shape the NDP forestry platform in 2013? “I would expect to see five clear commitments and things that we are confident that we can achieve,” Macdonald said. “And then beyond that, it’s simply competent management in the areas that are going to be more ongoing.

“Just as with forest health, we have been clear that we’re going to make improvements in that area. The exact dollar figure is something that will be laid out in a platform, because you have to make sure that it’s costed, and that’s something that’s traditionally laid out as you move into a campaign.”

In a media release, Macdonald said stemming the flow of raw logs from B.C. would be key, although he said it was more of a coastal industry issue. “On raw logs, there’s no question that commitment is already there to improve the balance that we currently have and to get more out of the resource,” he said.

According to his numbers, raw log exports have increased over the past decade from about one million cubic metres annually to six million today. Macdonald said the numbers showed the government’s “lack of commitment to getting value for the resource.” He didn’t outline exactly how the shift to a lower volume of raw log exports would happen, saying it would be “evolutionary rather than revolutionary.”

The report also recommends finding ways to shift funding for interface fuel management from emergency firefighting budgets to wildland-urban treatment programs.

“The idea is that if you’re doing it at the last second as the fire approaches, it’s a very costly and dangerous exercise, and if you’ve done work ahead of time then you’re in a much stronger position,” Macdonald told the Times Review. “In times where we’ve had very dire wildfire seasons we have spent hundreds of millions. By investing just a small percentage of that we could set up a situation where we had in place fuel management that would allow us to better protect communities.”