Two weeks after their first demonstration and no new cutting permits later, Aspen Planers employees and local forestry contractors gathered once again today to deliver their message to the Ministry of Forest: “free the permits!”
Aspen Planers’ Merritt mill was closed for over a month starting December 2022, and only reopened a few weeks ago due to an external supply of logs. Both AP Group, the parent company of Aspen Planers, and mill union leadership say the issue behind the closure is a lack of cutting permits being issued by the provincial Ministry of Forests.
“Nothing yet, they’re still holding our permits hostage, we’ll say,” said Bryan Halford, chair of Aspen Planer’s local United Steelworkers union chapter.
“We’ve made many calls, we’ve had the MLA try to get ahold of them, many phone calls to the minister, emails, but nothing.”
British Columbia’s Forest & Range Practices Act, which regulates the cutting of trees on government-owned Crown land, sets out the process for obtaining permits and permissions in regards to provincial forestry practices. The provincial government also sets an Allowable Annual Cut (AAC) for areas across the province, which determines the number of metres cubed of timber may be cut in the region per year. The AAC for Merritt’s forestry area is 1,200,000 m³, and those looking to harvest from that set amount must apply for cutting permits before falling trees.
Ministry of Forests staff recently told the Herald that a vast majority of local permits are issued within 45 days, and that it is working with both Aspen Planers and local First Nations to find ways to address First Nations’ concerns around the cutting permit process and environmental stewardship process that could be delaying the issuance of new permits. However, Aspen Planers said this is untrue, and that communication from the ministry around cutting permits has been nonexistent. The mill is set to close down again in the coming weeks, unless a supply of logs can be found.
“That means that a lot of guys won’t be able to feed their families unless they go and get other work,” added Halford.
“Housing is super expensive, so I could see a lot of people moving as well. The mill keeps the City running, and without the City, what do we do? It’s going to become a ghost town.”
Halford added that at the very least, he would like to see the Ministry issue cutting permits that would allow Aspen Planers to harvest wood that was damaged in B.C.’s recent wildfire season, which must be done within a certain timeframe to ensure wood quality and replanting efforts are not compromised. Halford noted that the protests won’t end before new cutting permits are issued.