Merritt’s Tolko lumber mill isn’t expecting to have to make any more job cuts due to a lower allowable annual cut (AAC) now in effect for the Merritt Timber Supply Area.

Last November, Tolko laid off 29 full-time employees and curtailed their small log production in response to expected reductions to the annual allowable cut.

Last week B.C.’s chief forester Diane Nicholls announced the AAC is dropping it from 2.4 million cubic metres to 1.5 million effective immediately. By March 24, 2021 it will decrease to 1.2 million cubic metres.

“There are no further reductions in manpower expected with the current announcement of 1.5 million AAC,” sawmill superintendent for Merritt, Dwayne Thiessen, told the Herald.

So far, the full impact of this immediate 37 per cent reduction is yet to be determined.

Murray Wilson, Tolko manager of stewardship and tenures for B.C. and Manitoba told the Herald the company doesn’t expect their apportionment of the Merritt TSA to change from its current level. He said he expects the Minister of forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Steve Thomson,  will complete his decisions on apportionment by June.

“At that time, then we’ll know how much our individual license is impacted,” said Wilson.

Wilson said the new allowable annual cut matched Tolko’s expectations.

Don Brown — owner of ML Brown Logging in Merritt — has had a contract with the local Tolko mill for half a century. He said that for now business is going strong, but that could change.

“It might mean we shut it down. We’ll have to wait and see what happens,” he said of the reduced allowable annual cut.

Brown said he still needs to have his yearly meeting with the mill.

With the new limit set, the minister Thomson, says he will determine how to disperse that amount throughout the TSA over the next couple of months.

“We’ll be working with the communities, and the industry and First Nations and making those decisions,” Thomson said.

“It’s not going to be an easy process, but we need to make sure that for the area we have an ongoing sustainable level of harvest,” the minister said.

The new limit is comparable to what it was before the mountain pine beetle epidemic began.

“Now that we have nearly completed salvage harvesting of mountain pine beetle-affected stands in the Merritt timber supply area, my new determination signals a return to more sustainable harvesting practices that will support and ensure the long-term timber supply,” said Nicholls in a press release.

In a document outlining her rationale for the new allowable annual cut, Nicholls stated that reducing the harvest from 2.4 million cubic metres to 1.5 million is significant and has serious implications for the economic stability of local communities in the Merritt TSA.

Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart told the Herald that while the drop is significant, the local mills have been aware the drop was coming down after the harvesting of mountain pine beetle-affected timber, and have planned for this.

“There’s lots of opportunity for consultation and input and hopefully we can minimize the impact locally,” Tegart said.

Representatives from Merritt’s other local lumber mill, Aspen Planers, could not be reached for comment before the Herald’s press deadline.