Area-based management, a phrase rarely heard in recent years to describe forest practices in B.C., has come up repeatedly at the Special Committee on Timber Supply, a group of MLAs touring the province and returning to Prince George today.
Right now, mills and other forestry interests can harvest trees on what's called a volume-based system. The province is divided up into different "timber supply areas" and logging companies work with the Ministry of Forests about who gets to cut how much and where, within that parcel of land. Every five years, each timber supply area is reevaluated in case major fires or a pine beetle epidemic have caused the calculations to change about how many trees can be harvested in that area.
The provincial government has already warned central and northern communities that the pine beetle epidemic will cause the coming years' allowable annual cut to be drastically reduced. Some mills may not be able to survive the reductions.
"There's a balance between the science of it and the public interest. Lots of people will talk about those pros and cons each way," said Bill Kordyban, president of Carrier Lumber, a milling company based in Prince George. "The proposal we're making is the province establish smaller area-based tenures to provide security for companies to do enhanced silviculture, to boost growth and ultimately raise the allowable annual cut. We're suggesting up to 250,000 cubic metres per year for these licenses, in essence like a mill's own woodlot."
It would be a return to area-based management, which has not been done in BC on a large scale in decades.
Kordyban explained that the way things are now, the company that cuts and replants any given part of the local area has no promise of ever working that same plot of land again. But if a mill had domain over a set parcel of land, it would have ongoing incentive to do the best possible silvilculture job and boost that area's productivity. At the same time it would boost the mill's activity.
Lloyd Larsen, co-proprietor of L&M Lumber in Vanderhoof, said the committee needs to do something to foster a healthy business community among mills, and not make political decisions that favour large forestry corporations.
"There are only a few players anymore," he said. "To me it doesn't matter what way it goes, as long as I've got the same shot as everyone else. We just hope they appreciate the need for diversity in corporations and companies in the BC forest sector."
The Ministry of Forests issued a statement in June explaining that 80 per cent of the BC aggregated forest was worked under the volume-based model and the remaining 20 per cent was under the area-based model (examples: tree farms, wood lots, community forests, some First Nations agreements, etc.). It said that the idea of shifting more to the area-based model held considerable merit but had to be considered on a case by case basis.
Residents can take part to the discussion by presenting at the committee's public hearing today in Prince George at the Ramada Hotel from 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. or by submitting a written or video submission. The deadline for submissions is July 20. The committee's report to the Legislative Assembly is due Aug. 15.