The B.C. government’s plan to award new logging rights so the Burns Lake sawmill can be rebuilt has a chance of working, but it is taking too long, says NDP forest critic Norm Macdonald.
Jobs Minister Pat Bell and local MLA John Rustad announced Monday that the government will award a new community forest tenure to the Burns Lake Native Development Corp., which was a partner in the Babine Forest Products mill along with Oregon-based Hampton Affiliates.
That would provide 150,000 cubic metres per year, and a new area-based First Nations woodlands licence would add another 65,000 cubic metres a year. Bell said a partnership of area First Nations will be formed to share another tenure that would make another 380,000 cubic metres of wood available to the rebuilt mill.
The new forest tenure will mainly come from lower-value timber stands that were not included in the forest inventory before, and will include salvage trees for bioenergy production, Bell said.
Hampton Affiliates CEO Steve Zika said if all that timber is delivered, it will allow the company to build a smaller mill to replace the one destroyed by fire in January. The company expects to make a final decision in December.
Macdonald said Tuesday he supports the plan, which he helped work out on a special committee that toured the region. But he said the B.C. Liberal government wasted several months by exploring more extreme options, such as logging wildlife corridors and protected areas.
“I remain optimistic, and I certainly hope for the community’s sake that we’ve found something that is not only environmentally responsible, but that can provide workers and communities and First Nations there some good opportunities,” Macdonald said.
Cariboo North independent MLA Bob Simpson said the government is apparently hoping to expand the wood pellet industry to use more of the pine beetle-killed trees in the area. He said logging whole trees for pellet production isn’t viable without subsidies.
Simpson said he supports the idea of area-based tenures and making more timber available for aboriginal communities, as suggested for Burns Lake.
“What I’m opposed to is that they’re doing it as an 11th-hour, last-ditch attempt so that John Rustad and Pat Bell, going into the May 2013 election, can either be cutting a ribbon or touting good news, without any forethought for the province-wide implications of this,” Simpson said.