Caribou recovery deal could cut millions from South Peace economy and incomes, study finds

Implementing caribou recovery measures in the South Peace could cut tens of millions of dollars from the local economy as well as government and worker pocketbooks, a new study has concluded.

The Peace River Regional District hired Stantec Consulting last year to study the socio-economic impacts of two agreements drafted to protect endangered herds around Chetwynd and Tumbler Ridge. It's separate from a similar study started by the federal and provincial governments in April.

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The Stantec study, which the regional district board will discuss Thursday, is mainly focused on the impacts to logging and wood manufacturing around the areas where new land protections and resource development moratoriums are proposed.

The study predicts a dramatic drop in economic activity under the moratoriums, with estimates the annual allowable cut in the Dawson Creek Timber Supply Area and Tree Farm Licence 48 could be reduced from 2.7 million cubic metres to 1.9 million -- or a 29 per cebt drop.

That could mean a combined loss of $94 million in GDP in both logging and wood manufacturing, and eliminate $10 million in provincial revenues and $5 million in federal revenues. It could also mean the loss of 425 person-years of employment, directly or indirectly, and $25 million in incomes, according to the study.

"Due to the location of existing mills ... reductions in available timber, AACs, and harvesting and manufacturing output would have an adverse effect within Chetwynd," the study concluded.

"Conversations with forestry companies in the region have suggested that proposed caribou management measures could result in the closure of at least one mill in the region."

B.C. has drafted a partnership agreement with the Saulteau and West Moberly First Nations that proposes the resource moratoriums, and boosts support for their successful maternal penning program as well as an ongoing wolf cull.

The study compared today's base case scenario of no cuts to tree harvesting and processing, to a moratorium scenario based on proposed restrictions.

While any reductions to the annual allowable cuts in the region hasn't been finalized, the government has ball parked the figure around 300,000 cubic metres. Both Canfor and West Fraser have said the cuts will likely be much larger than that.

Saulteau and West Moberly have shrugged off concerns about the economics of the deal, saying any reductions in the allowable cut would be limited and manageable between the companies, and that caribou recovery actions will create new jobs in the region.

"We can't control what Canfor or West Fraser do with their mills. But if they drop a shift or close the doors, it won't be because of the caribou," West Moberly Chief Roland Willson said.

The Stantec study concludes the forestry sector operating in the Fort St. John and Dawson Creek supply areas will, based on no cuts to activity, generate an estimated $1.1 billion to the provincial economy, create 4,160 person-years of employment, and generate $50 million in federal and $76 million in provincial government revenues.

Southern mountain caribou in the region have been listed as a threatened wildlife species under the federal Species At Risk Act since 2003.

Last year, the federal government declared the species to be under imminent threat of recovery, starting a year-long timeline to put a strategy in place.

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