Wildfires have taken too big a toll on British Columbia

By Joe Nemeth, BC Pulp and Paper Coalition
The Province
December 11, 2023
Category: Opinion / EdiTOADial
Region: Canada, Canada West

Joe Nemeth

When the wildfire season mercifully ended in November, 2,217 wildfires had been counted, 2.8 million hectares of land had been burned, including forested and non-forested land. …The premier has appointed a task force to study this year’s fire season and develop ideas about what can be done. The pulp and paper sector applauds the premier for making wildfire risk reduction and salvage a priority, but challenges the need for another task force to add recommendations to those of previous studies and analyses. We know what to do and we need to act now. The top four steps we can take include: Streamlining the cutting permit approval process for fire-damaged trees; Creating fire breaks with roads and small openings; Removing fuel sources around small communities through brushing and thinning; and Making better use of First Nations historical practices such as cultural burning.

What happens to the millions of fire-damaged trees left in the wake of these big fires? …There is a ready use for that burned fibre in the province’s pulp and paper mills and sawmills. In fact, the pulp and paper sector is keen to be part of the solution by taking up to five million cubic metres of burnt wood every year. …But the industry has a problem. We are currently operating at about 80 per cent capacity, mainly due to a fibre shortfall of about two million cubic metres annually — a tiny percentage of all that fire-damaged wood left across B.C. It shouldn’t be that hard to access that fibre and get it into these mills so that jobs and communities and international markets can be sustained. …We just need a little will from government to speed up permitting decisions, direct funding to allow the use of wood waste and fire damaged stands to continue and grow, and to introduce a program to support thinning around communities to safeguard them from fire risk.

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