B.C.'s wildfire season to have long-term implications for logging

A helicopter carries a water bucket over a burnt out area of the Philpot Road wildfire just outside of Kelowna, B.C., on Monday, August 28, 2017. British Columbia's Forests Minister says the historic wildfire season that has charred more than 11,500 square kilometres of land will have lingering implications for the logging industry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

WILLIAMS LAKE, B.C. - Recovering from a historic wildfire season is expected to take British Columbia's forest industry at least five years, the province's Forest Ministry said on Wednesday.

The ministry said in a statement that although wildfires will likely remain active into the fall, plans to help the industry rebound are already underway.

"To better support this process in the light of this year’s unprecedented fire season, a new recovery unit has been established to oversee and co-ordinate government’s cross-ministry response," said the statement sent to The Canadian Press.

Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said at a news conference Tuesday that the logging industry alone will experience lingering implications from the fires.

Donaldson said an estimated 53 million cubic metres of timber has burned, which calls for support of harvesters already licensed to collect trees within the fire zone. New licences will also need to be issued to salvage usable wood in burned areas that weren't previously due to be harvested, the minister said.

Those efforts are well underway, along with long-term plans focused on the sustainability of the industry, Donaldson said.

"We know there is going to be an extremely high need for reforestation and that's been planned right now through my ministry in order to ensure that we do have the timber supply in the future," he said. "But there is no question that there's going to be an impact from that much timber being burned in the province."

The BC Wildfire Service said on Wednesday that the fires have charred more than 11,500 square kilometres of land this season.

The ministry said the full extent of the damage won't be known until the season is over.

But once those areas are thoroughly surveyed, the ministry said it may adjust the annual allowable cuts and determine how much of the scorched timber should be salvaged or left for wildlife habitat.

Susan Yurkovich, president of the BC Council of Forest Industries, said although mill infrastructure hasn't been destroyed by fires, the shortage of timber and wood fibre, especially in the Interior, means companies can't operate.

"We're not able to get into the forest obviously to do logging because of the fire activity so that's going to have an impact on mills being able to run," she said in an interview Wednesday.

Many companies have been involved in fire suppression efforts and working with first responders to keep employees and their families safe.

As fires are extinguished, Yurkovich said salvaging timber and looking at other areas to harvest wood are priorities to allow mills and the communities around them to get back to work.

"When they've been through this kind of incident, they need to get back to normal, they need to get into their homes and they need to get back to work," she said.

David Elstone, executive director of the Truck Loggers Association, said even on the coast where fires have been less severe than in the Interior, contractors have seen a decline in work this season.

"We can't estimate how much of the workforce right now is not actually out there on the land working because of the dryness and the hazards but there are certainly contracting communities that aren't out there in full force."

The BC Wildfire Service said 158 fires are still burning in the province, bringing the total number since April 1 to 1,212 blazes.

Yurkovich said the industry is working closely with the provincial government on recovery efforts, and discussions about changing forest-management practices are expected to continue beyond the current fire season.

— By Linda Givetash in Vancouver; with files from Laura Kane.


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