A group of logging contractors from the Nicola Valley have penned a letter to the provincial government regarding concerns with the province’s cutting permit referral process and high stumpage fees, along with economic and environmental worries over wildfire affected timber being left unharvested.

The letter was sent to a number of local and provincial elected officials, and addressed to provincial Minister of Forestry, Bruce Ralston. The letter is from an unidentified group of local logging contractors who said they are requesting more clarity on timing for key issues like cutting permit issuance and responsible reforestation practices.

“An estimated $100,000,000 in logging machinery is sitting idle and therefore, approximately 350 direct employees are not receiving paycheques,” states the letter. “These are taxpaying citizens that are considering moving out of the province to keep their livelihood. As a group of concerned forest workers and citizens, we would like to have a timeline on permits that are going to be issued for local employment.”

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. 

Both AP Group, the parent company of Aspen Planers, and mill union leadership have said the issue behind the Merritt mill’s recent closures is a lack of cutting permits being issued by the provincial Ministry of Forests due to concerns by local First Nations with the applications. The Ministry previously told the Herald that a vast majority of local permits, which are required to harvest logs in B.C., 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 sustainable forestry practices. 

“Our group understands the major bottleneck is in getting the required referrals approved by First Nations,” added the letter.  “Are these consultations between First Nations, licensees and government held at regular intervals? What can our group do to support the consultation process and how can it be monitored so things happen in a timely manner?”

The letter also raises concerns about the lack of harvesting in areas of the province recently burnt by wildfire, which they add could be detrimental to the environment. Millions of acres of timber sit burnt in B.C. following years of increasingly intense wildfire seasons, including the 2021 wildfire season that saw the Village of Lytton completely destroyed. 

“These untouched burnt areas that haven’t been harvested and reforested create the opportunity for landslides, floods & other natural disasters comparable to 2021, with the potential to further destroy our area,” note the contractors. “Please advise us of the plan to address the reforestation of these burnt timber areas, in order to protect the future of our communities, industry, and province.”

The group of logging contractors also took issue with the province’s high stumpage fees, drawing comparison to neighbouring Alberta, whose stumpage fees are significantly lower. A stumpage fee is a charge that businesses or individuals pay when they harvest timber from crown land, or publicly owned land, in B.C. 

The letter was sent to Ralston’s office via email on June 9. The Herald has reached out to the contractors for comment. 

Read the full text of the letter below: 

We as a group of Nicola Valley Logging Contractors, community members, and business representatives met on May 31, 2023 to discuss many forest industry related issues. The majority of logging contractors have not worked since February 2023, with no foreseen work in the near future. This affects employees, local businesses & the basic way of life for many, as well as providing regular revenue to the Province of B.C and the First Nations Communities.

The group met to try to understand the timber permitting process and the barriers in the approval process. There have been very few permits issued in the Merritt Timber Supply Area in the last six months, which is causing great concern from a financial standpoint and the mental health of the employees affected. An estimated $100,000,000 in logging machinery is sitting idle and therefore, approximately 350 direct employees are not receiving paycheques. These are taxpaying citizens that are considering moving out of the province to keep their livelihood. As a group of concerned forest workers and citizens, we would like to have a timeline on permits that are going to be issued for local employment. We understand that the forest district is issuing permits after technical information and legal regulatory requirements have been met and submitted. Part of this documentation is the required consultation with local First Nations to ensure the decisions are not unjustifiably infringing on Indigenous rights. Our group understands the major bottleneck is in getting the required referrals approved by First Nations. Are these consultations between First Nations, licensees and government held at regular intervals? What can our group do to support the consultation process and how can it be monitored so things happen in a timely manner?

Another key issue is the high stumpage rates in the Province of B.C. High stumpage rates and low lumber markets have created a perfect storm, which has handcuffed licensees from moving forward with their business as usual. Our neighbour in Alberta is averaging at $4.00/meter stumpage rate, compared to British Columbia’s average of $65.00/meter. How are we to compete with that? Our fixed costs of logging are the same, if not more. As a concerned community, we need an alternate solution in short order, or all forest industry-based communities in the Province of B.C. and specifically the City of Merritt and the Nicola Valley will starve and die quickly! Rural B.C. will become ghost towns and this will ultimately affect urban areas of our province since revenues from stumpage and industry related taxes will not be part of the provincial budget, causing the government to cut services to both rural and urban areas. Please advise of what the Ministry plans to do regarding the stumpage situation. This issue has been on the books for a long time and thus far the Provincial Government has made no adjustments or changes to keep the Province of B.C. competitive.

As you drive through our Thompson-Nicola region there are multiple areas, that equate to 3.9 million meters of burnt timber that could be harvested and are now rotting and falling to the ground. This could create a substantial amount of revenue for this community, First Nations and the province, but with the broken system we have nothing is being done. This is not only a financial issue, but a safety issue. These untouched burnt areas that haven’t been harvested and reforested create the opportunity for landslides, floods & other natural disasters comparable to 2021, with the potential to further destroy our area. Please advise us of the plan to address the reforestation of these burnt timber areas, in order to protect the future of our communities, industry, and province.

We aren’t looking for a miracle! We are willing to do whatever it takes and are prepared to work with all the governing bodies and First Nations to create a positive environment that works for everyone and keeps the Nicola Valley and the province moving forward.

We look forward to your response to these matters as they are time sensitive.

Yours truly,

Nicola Valley Logging Contractors