BC sawmills risk closure as beetle-killed forests pulls down sustainable logging rate

British Columbia’s timber supply has begun to drop dramatically decades after mountain pine beetles chewed through its pine forests, forcing authorities to revise down the province’s sustainable harvest rate this year.

The severity of the infestation is likely to translate into mill closures and community disruptions, said Albert Nussbaum, director of forest analysis and inventory for the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

He said the beetle killed 54 percent of commercial pine to be harvested. But in some areas, specifically the central Interior, nearly 90 percent have been devastated.

The beetle infestation peaked in 2004, but is thankfully returning to near-normal levels. Forest companies have been salvaging that dead timber, but operations are beginning to slow down. With the decline in the availability of dead timber, the province is now reducing the allowable annual cut. 

Quesnel is the hardest-hit, with the allowable annual cut falling nearly three times to 1.6 million cubic metres from four million cubic metres.

The decline has been expected for years, but it was always somewhere in the future, said Hakan Ekstrom from Seattle-based consulting firm Wood Resources International.

“More sawmills will be shut down in British Columbia,” said Ekstrom. “The question is, will it be three, four, five or six sawmills? And will it be in the next three, four or five years?”