Forests critic keeping an eye on salvage wood subsidy program

Eyes on salvage subsidy

Opposition forests critic Mike Bernier is taking a wait and see attitude to the provincial government's recently-announced doubling of funding to Forest Enhancement Society of B.C.

For 2023, FESBC will have $50 million to distribute. Projects funded through FEBC subsidize retrieval of fire-damaged wood and logging waste from areas too remote or costly to access.

Premier David Eby announced the allotment in January while attending the Truck Loggers Association Convention in Vancouver.

"Doubling in essence is good, if we get results with it," Bernier said Tuesday.

However, Bernier said the better strategy is to give forest companies the certainty they need to make investment decisions.

"To know that if they apply for permits, there will be a timeline that they can follow, that they'll have access to timber and that they can look at reducing costs for them," he said. "That's what these companies want."

The announcement came shortly after Canfor announced it will be shutting down a line at its Prince George Pulp and Paper Mill.

Whether Canfor will take advantage of the latest allotment remains to be seen but according to the Ministry of Forests, between October 2019 and January 2022, FEBC aided Canfor to the tune of $3.7 million to pull from the surrounding area low-grade fibre suitable for pulp that would otherwise be burned and have it trucked to the mill. In turn Canfor spent $29.4 million, based on $50 per cubic metre of the 587,769 cubic metres that was was retrieved.

Bernier, the B.C. Liberal MLA for Peace River South, said he will also be keeping an eye on details surrounding a $90-million fund to encourage job development in the value-added forestry sector when a program guide and proposal form are released on February 28.

As it stands, the government has said that through the fund, Victoria will contribute up to $50,000 towards completion of business plans and technical assessments for fledgling capital projects and up to $10 million for "investment-ready" capital projects. Examples of the latter include "adopting innovative processes to manufacture value-added forestry products from biomass or other alternatives," according to a government backgrounder.

"We'll be watching that for sure and it's right back to the same thing," Bernier said. "I'm all in favour of making sure that we put in policies and supports if they're going to tangibly support and keep people working in our communities. If it's just for political gain, if the government's making announcements and there's no substance behind it, then that's where I have a problem because that doesn't help anybody."

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