As wildfires plague northeastern B.C. and ravage northern Alberta, B.C.’s forests minister is blunt about what the logging industry can expect this year.

“We know we face significant challenges over the summer,” said Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, during a speech to industry representatives attending the Interior Logging Assocation’s annual conference in Vernon. “Depending on May and June, in terms of precipitation, we could be facing a long and difficult fire season.”

Thomson said his thoughts were with the people of Fort McMurray and Alberta as they deal with “that devastating fire.”

He pointed to the “significant challenges” in B.C.’s Peace River area where a number of wildfires are burning, including a large blaze that has crossed into Alberta.

“The weather conditions are not helpful,” said Thomson, adding that firefighting resources were focused on that region.

Thomson pointed to two other major issues facing the industry.

He said the government was “working flat out” to get the U.S. coalition back to the table to develop a new softwood lumber agreement.

At the same time, the government was preparing for “no agreement” and the possibility of quotas and another round of litigation against Canadian producers.

“(An agreement) has to be something that works for us,” said Thomson, pointing out the province produces 55 per cent of all softwood product in Canada. “If there isn’t one, we’ll use all of our resources to defend B.C.’s industry.”

Thomson said producers could expect reduced harvest levels in the province now that most of the dead pine from the pine beetle infestation had been cut.

Just yesterday, the province’s chief forester announced a dramatically lower annual cut for the Kamloops Timber Supply Area (TSA).

Thomson was applauded when he announced that $1 million was being added to the Forestry Service Providers Compensation Fund to protect eligible forestry contractors and service providers in the event of licensee insolvency.

“We needed to seed it and provide protection for contractors,” Thomson told the crowd.