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Public forest values feeling the burn around Quesnel

First Nations and forest companies losing organic assets
Wildfire out of control at Trout Creek north of Francois Lake (Brian Imus photo)

Wildfires have already burned a hole through the wooden wallets of British Columbia, and the fire season is only a fraction finished. More public assets and ecosystems are going up in smoke every second.

It is the practice of the provincial government to focus firefighting efforts on areas where homes and other structures are in danger of burning. In the past, that has meant that parcels held by First Nations for their future financial sustainability over decades have been erased in a matter of a couple of weeks. It is happening right now to the Ulkatcho First Nation.

“Unfortunately, the active wildfires in the Quesnel and Williams Lake regions are affecting several tenure holders, including a First Nation held tenure by the name of Yun Ka Whu’ten Development Limited Partnership, and Tolko. The wildfire situation in the province does continue to evolve, so the cutblocks affected can change,” said Ministry of Forests spokesperson Nigel McInnis.

The largest forest products manufacturing company in the region, West Fraser Timber, has also been affected.

“It has been an unprecedented wildfire season across Canada, including in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec where West Fraser has operations,” said company communications director Joyce Wagenaar. “The overall impact of this year’s wildfires on timber supply won’t be known until later in the fall. West Fraser is focusing on safety and community support by working with local emergency services and helping wherever we can. We are grateful for the many emergency responders and volunteers working around the clock to keep people, communities and infrastructure like our mills safe while preserving our forest resource.”

The thousands of hectares that have already burned this summer don’t simply add to previous years’ wildfire damage. The problem is compounding. What’s destroyed in two, five, 10 years still takes 75, 90, 100 years to grow back to merchantable timber and equivalent environment.

The provincial wood manufacturing sector was set back in a similar way by the mountain pine beetle disaster. Wildfires are in some spots taking out the already dead trees from the beetle, but in other areas it is healthy timber dying by flame, emptying the depleted fibre basket even more.

“We know that this wildfire season has been incredibly challenging for forestry workers and the forestry industry,” said McInnis, on behalf of the ministry. “Throughout the province, we are seeing the impacts of climate change, with drier, hotter summers and more wildfire activity. This reinforces our continued work with the scientists and First Nations rights holders to strengthen forestry management, landscape planning and wildfire preparedness. In recent years we have taken actions to support more fire resilient forests, including doubling prevention programs, expanding prescribed and cultural burning, and launching new Forest Landscape Plans.”

The economic losses apply in many ways, such as to companies who have less material to work with, their employees and suppliers who are hired less, provincial government budgets taking in less income due to lost stumpage (the per-stump fee forest companies pay the taxpayer for cutting down publicly owned trees) paid into general coffers, plus the up-front costs of fighting the forest fires and the silviculture to eventually restore them.

The cultural, ecological and recreational losses are virtually incalculable, as is the amount of greenhouse gases emitted without purpose.

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