A new approach to provincial forestry agreements will lead to faster action on harvesting areas damaged by wildfire, provide more timber for mills and set up faster reforestation through the leadership of First Nations.
New Wildfire Salvage Opportunity Agreements (WSOAs) will enable the timely direct award of forestry licences to First Nations for salvaging timber damaged by wildfire. Streamlining the process to harvest timber affected by wildfire will support mills by ensuring they can access fire-damaged logs before they degrade and still have commercial value.
“B.C. has experienced record-breaking wildfires in recent years. We are working in partnership with First Nations and the forestry industry to accelerate salvage of fire-damaged timber in these areas, supporting jobs at mills and enhanced forest regrowth,” said Katrine Conroy, Minister of Forests. “We have heard loud and clear from First Nations that they want more opportunities to participate in forestry. New Wildfire Salvage Opportunity Agreements are another step in our journey to advance reconciliation in the sector.”
Recent record-breaking wildfires have created a significant volume of fire-damaged timber, far outstripping the ability of forest companies to harvest the areas in a timely manner. Wildfires affected more than 864,000 hectares of forests in 2021 with only approximately 5% of the area expected to be salvaged this year.
WSOA’s will provide an opportunity for First Nations to secure salvage timber volumes under licence, adding to the work that forest companies are already performing. The agreements will increase harvest activities in fire-damaged forests, while providing meaningful employment and economic benefits to communities. One of the additional benefits is that expedited harvesting creates the opportunity to rehabilitate forest lands faster, through silviculture and forest regrowth.
The Ministry of Forests will negotiate specific WSOAs with First Nations, which will expand Indigenous participation in the forestry sector and reflect the provincial commitment under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. Licences issued under WSOAs will be short-term (between one and three years), with timber volumes expected in the range of 2,000 to 50,000 cubic metres.
Accelerating access to fire-damaged timber was one of the key recommendations from the BC Pulp and Paper Coalition to keep mills operating and support forestry jobs. The pulp industry is committed to expanding partnerships with First Nations to improve access to moderate and heavily burnt timber needed by mills.
Vern Louie, forest manager, Osoyoos Indian Band –
“We have worked hard with Vaagen Fibre Canada to identify where harvesting should take place and where the land should be left to recover on its own. When we can identify and manage an entire landscape after a wildfire for water protection, such as wildlife corridors, surviving trees and shrubs, and culturally significant areas, immediately after a wildfire has burned, then we can restore the land and emphasize our management values.”
Dan Macmaster, registered professional forester, Osoyoos Indian Band –
“WSOA will provide a more efficient opportunity for First Nations to identify, manage and recover from traditional lands that were subjected to wildfire. This landscape-level approach will give the Osoyoos Indian Band the ability to make key decisions on harvesting, protecting and restoring the diversity of areas devastated by the wildfire, as well as plan for the reforestation of important shrubs and trees on the land. Issuing a WSOA licence in a timely manner will allow the Band to harvest value from the burnt sawlogs, provide jobs in the recovery and restoration efforts, and clean up a wildfire area to make it safe for hunters, gatherers and recreators.”
Joe Nemeth, manager, BC Pulp and Paper Coalition –
“The BC Pulp and Paper Industry fully supports Wildfire Salvage Opportunity Agreements as an important initiative to address the unprecedented and widespread devastation of B.C.’s forest lands by wildfires during the past five years. Having a streamlined, provincewide program will provide multiple benefits. This includes the environment, as new healthy forests sequester carbon, create oxygen and provide important habitat for wildlife. WSOAs additionally provide meaningful opportunities for First Nations through management of forest lands in their traditional territories. The WSOAs will also be an important step to achieving the Province’s goal of higher utilization (doing more with less) by converting dead, decaying trees into fibre supply that will keep mills running to provide thousands of family-supporting jobs in rural communities across the Province.”
Kelly Johnson, president, Public and Private Workers of Canada –
“The Public and Private Workers of Canada (PPWC) are excited to hear the British Columbia government’s announcement of the revitalization of fire-damaged forests. This is crucial for rebuilding strong, healthy forests in B.C. The unfortunate previous years have been devastating and left forest landscapes throughout our province decimated. These forests are no longer productive in storing carbon, nor in providing habitat for the many diverse species in B.C. Rebuilding our forests into strong and sustainable forests will have amazing benefits to our environment and our rural communities devastated by forest fires.
“Having strong healthy forests protects us from future fires, provides homes for the many species that call our forests homes and gives us a stronger environment. As we move forward, the methods and science has been developed to minimize our footprint in our productive forests. We can have a healthy forest, thriving industry, safe communities and a truly meaningful partnership with Indigenous stewards of our lands.”