City calling on feds to honour pine beetle funding

Prince George will join other northern municipalities to call on the federal government to make good on a promise to spend $800 million to limit the impacts of the mountain pine-beetle.

"We need the money. We don't know if it's been forgotten or if it's just a very long process," said Coun. Garth Frizzell at Monday night's council meeting.

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Frizzell sits on the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) rural forum board and said in September the national body will begin its plans to lobby government.

"We have a chance to get some serious weight," he said of making the funding a topic of discussion.

"This is an election year so I think we'll get a big chance of having a serious impact to remind the federal government of this commitment."

Councillors voted unanimously to call for the funding to start up again over the next eight years.

Ottawa has spent $340 million since 2002 on research, spread control, wildfire protection and other economic growth activities.

The last announcement came in 2007 when it promised $200 million for a Mountain Pine-Beetle Program focussed on forestry and economic diversification components.

The provincial government has spent $917 million since 2001, according to a October 2013 factsheet from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

Coun. Albert Koehler, who also brought the motion forward, said while it affects the whole region, Prince George is particularly touched.

"What many don't know is that between 22 and up to 33 per cent of all employment in Prince George is still wood and log dependent," he said, for direct and indirect employment.

That group is affected by a dwindling amount of forest that can be cut.

"The annual allowable cut which comes from the government will be drastically reduced in the future and has been already reduced in British Columbia from originally 63 million cubic metres per year to 58," said Koehler, noting its effect has already been felt with some mill closures.

That will be further reduced to 40 million cubic metres per year before 2030, he said.

"That's a reduction of 40 per cent of the annual allowable cut," Koehler said.

"It will affect everybody somehow."

"Some of them that is the only industry they have in their community," Coun. Frank Everitt later agreed.

Other councillors expressed frustration at the delay in funding, which Frizzell said had been promised eight to 10 years ago.

"I'm just gobsmacked that $800 million got lost in a Post-it somewhere," said Coun. Terri McConnachie.

Mayor Lyn Hall said he planned to also pen a letter to Bob Zimmer, MP for Prince George-Peace River, on the matter.

Correction: A previous version of the article incorrectly quoted Coun. Terri McConnachie referencing $800,000, when the number in question is $800 million.

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