Premier David Eby promised faster permitting and $50 million to increase access to fire damaged wood at the Truck Loggers Association Convention Thursday.
The recent announcement that Canfor Corp. (TSX:CFP) is shutting down its pulp mill in Prince George has underscored a fibre crisis in B.C. that has seen a wave of sawmills curtailed or permanently shuttered, followed by a wave of pulp and paper mill closures.
Eby blamed the timber supply crisis in part on “inadequate land use planning,” and acknowledged the economic pain such closures can cause in smaller forest dependent communities.
“The industry is clearly in crisis,” he said. “But crisis precipitates change, and we have to find new ways of doing business. We’ll find that by working together, where every tree harvested, we have to maximize the number of jobs that comes from it.”
On Tuesday at the BC Natural Resources Forum in Prince George, Eby announced $90 million to support value-added wood manufacturing, which he said it is for projects “specifically in rural communities.”
Thursday at the Truck Loggers Association Convention in Vancouver, he announced his government will earmark $50 million in this year’s budget for the Forest Enhancement Society of BC to increase access to fire damaged wood from salvage operations.
While that won’t stop the pulp mill closure in Prince George, it might help other pulp mills augment a dwindling fibre supply that has resulted from sawmill closures.
“This new funding will help us get fire-damaged wood out of areas that would be uneconomic to recover the wood to the pulp mills that need it,” Eby said. “It means more work for forestry contractors hauling fibre that would be otherwise too costly or remote to access.”
Joe Nemeth, project manager for the BC Pulp and Paper Coalition, said the program would make up to four million tonnes of waste wood available to pulp mills, if the program were to become permanent, as a opposed to a one-off grant.
"It's a bullseye, with one caveat," Nemeth said. "It's a great start. That number is exactly what we need, per year, going forward to go and do this on a sustainable basis.
"If it is fully implemented and is extend to more years than one, then it could and should keep the pulp mills running in B.C."
Eby also vowed to speed up what he called a ”slow and complex and antique permitting system” for logging activities.
“We have dedicated additional funding,” he said. “We are immediately bringing on 40 new staff to remediate pressures in the permitting sector.”
He said the new staff will be focused on the immediate work of processing permit backlogs, and reforming the permitting system to make it “faster and more efficient.”
He also said that his government is responding to a recommendation from the Truck Loggers Association, which raised concerns about contractors and tenure holders getting accurate, up-to-date logging rate data. He announced $1.5 million in grant funding to give loggers and tenure holders access to up-to-date data on logging rates.