CASTANET.NET — Vernon-based Tolko Industries is concerned about reduced harvest as part of the province’s announcement of deferred old-growth logging, but says it is looking forward to working with First Nations on managing B.C.’s forests.

The province announced Tuesday it would defer 2.6 million hectares of old-growth logging.

The BC Council of Forest Industries said the decision will have devastating impacts, leading to the closure of up to 20 sawmills and threatening as many as 18,000 jobs.

But Tolko, one of B.C.’s largest lumber companies, took a more measured response.

“Tolko realizes the delicate balancing act that the Government of B.C. is undertaking in order to manage harvesting in the province while continuing to protect old-growth forest,” the company said in a statement.

“Working with Indigenous partners as decision-makers in the forest sector is important to ensure our forests are sustainable for future generations.

“There is some concern that a further reduced area for consideration in the annual allowable cut will have additional economic impacts to our industry, however, Tolko looks forward to working collaboratively both with the Government of B.C. and the various Indigenous nations on this new vision for the forest sector.”

At COFI, president Susan Yurkovich said: “If fully implemented, this move will have a profound and devastating impact on people, families, and communities across the province.

“While we are still digesting the details, our initial analysis indicates that these deferrals would result in the closure of between 14 and 20 sawmills in B.C., along with two pulp mills and an undetermined number of value-added manufacturing facilities. This represents approximately 18,000 good, family-supporting jobs lost, along with over $400 million in lost revenues to government each year – revenues that help pay for health care, education and other services British Columbians count on.”

The deferrals are a “temporary measure,” the province said until a “modernized” old-growth management strategy can be implemented.

The government says it is asking First Nations to indicate within 30 days whether or not they agree with the proposed deferrals. However, it’s unclear what will happen if First Nations with interests in forestry say no to the deferrals.

“It’s particularly troubling that these deferrals come on the heels of a pandemic that has challenged us all and where the forest industry has been a bright light. We kept people working safely and continued to deliver more than $4 billion in revenues to government over the last year, which has helped put our province in a financial position better than most. Now the key industry that has and can continue to contribute to our resilience is being devastated,” Yurkovich said.

COFI says more than 75% of B.C.’s 11.4 million hectares of old forests are already protected or are outside the timber harvesting land base.

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