Closed-door meetings with forests ministry staff and community and first nations leaders began Thursday in Williams Lake, as the B.C. government’s ambitious plan to remake the struggling Interior forest industry picks up speed.
The B.C. industry has been rocked by sawmill closures as it copes with reduced timber supply after extensive beetle damage and a slump in lumber prices. The NDP government has also moved to regulate Crown forest licence transfers, redistribute logging rights and impose restrictions on log exports.
In January, Premier John Horgan invited industry leaders to lead their own meetings on sharing forest harvest rights with local communities. Now ministry staff are conducting their own private meetings, starting in Williams Lake Thursday and Friday.
During the week of July 21, meetings are set in 100 Mile House, Anahim Lake, Burns Lake, Mackenzie and Terrace. The week of July 28 they move to Castlegar, Cranbrook, Hazelton, Houston, Quesnel and Revelstoke, with Kamloops, Vernon and northern communities during August.
Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said the public is invited to have their say on the province’s priorities, with a discussion paper and submissions via a new website. Topics include forest tenure, sustainability, climate change and forest carbon, manufacturing capacity, innovation and the “fibre bio-economy,” making forest-dependent communities more resilient, and reconciling with Indigenous communities.
“Part of this government’s approach is to see more involvement of first nations in forestry,” Donaldson said in an interview with Black Press. “Almost every day when we’re sitting in the legislature I have first nations come into my office to express interest in more volume and getting involved in forestry.”
That timber volume largely would have to come from existing forest licences. New legislation passed this spring requires the minister’s approval before tenures can be sold from one company to another, such as the proposed $60 million sale of Canfor’s harvest rights to Interfor after the closure of the Vavenby sawmill near Clearwater.