Minister of Mines, Energy and Resources John Streicker is concerned about the fuelwood supply given the number of calls his department has been fielding from Yukoners struggling to get wood to heat their homes this winter.
“We’re getting enough of those calls that we’re nervous,” he told the News in a Sept. 27 interview.
“It’s why we’ve been trying to get more supply into the marketplace all along.”
A Sept. 20 release by the Yukon Party calls on the minister to immediately address the firewood shortage. The party said it is getting reports from Yukoners who cannot get firewood delivered for the upcoming winter and wait lists are up to three months long.
“The minister said in January the shortage was not due to permitting or supply, but cold weather,” Energy, Mines and Resources critic Scott Kent said in the release.
”Now many months later, suppliers and Yukoners are telling us there is no wood to be found, and a lack of supply.”
The official opposition is asking the Yukon government to get firewood-cutting permits “out the door” and to plan for harvesting areas. The release suggests that banning logging in the Quill Creek harvest area from April 1 into the fall has made the problem worse.
Streicker has been aware of this impending issue since he met with the Yukon Wood Products Association to hear about fuelwood supply challenges in 2021.
Streicker said the government’s role is to make sure there are permits available for wood and he did get Yukon permits out the door, but one of the territory’s two biggest suppliers faced complications with his permits due to harvesting outside of the permitted area in northern B.C., and that, in part, led to a low stockpile of wood. He said his department is working with the supplier to get his B.C. permits in place.
“We think there could be shortages this year,” Streicker said.
“That’s why basically the forestry branch has been working really hard to try and get more wood available to Yukoners over this past summer.”
In terms of what is being done to address the shortage, Streicker said that each year there are about 6,000 to 7,000 cords of firewood harvested per season, but the Yukon has about 30,000 to 35,000 cords permitted right now.
“I’m asking that they permit as much as they can,” he said.
Streicker said the forestry branch is working directly with the territory’s biggest suppliers to support them and working to increase personal firewood harvesting areas.
The Yukon government will also be offering a consumer rebate of $50 per cord “to try to bring the price down a bit,” Streicker said.
Longer hauls combined with more expensive fuel is driving up the cost of fuelwood in the Yukon.
Peter Wright, executive director of the Yukon Wood Products Association, said the majority of the fuelwood supplied in Whitehorse lately is coming up from Watson Lake and northern British Columbia.
That trip is hundreds of kilometres more than the relatively shorter trip that has been taking place over the last decade or so from Haines Junction, where wood that has been harvested is “getting to its last legs,” Wright said.
As a result, Yukoners are now paying about $500 per cord, which is about twice as much compared to previous years.
Wright said that while there is a large volume of wood available, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what that available wood looks like, in addition to maintenance issues and labour shortages affecting the mostly small to medium-sized wood-producing businesses in the Yukon.
“Woodcutters are backlogged but they are working diligently” to meet orders, he said, adding that producers could use more of a heads up from consumers, for example, who know they will need to put orders in for the winter each year.
Wright expects that more wood will come to the market over the next few months as woodcutters start accessing wood in winter harvesting only areas that become accessible after Oct. 1.
The Yukon forestry handbook indicates that most harvesting occurs in winter due to site sensitivity. The handbook also points out some advantages of summer harvesting are that it reduces seasonal timber supply shortages, is easier on equipment and requires less road maintenance.
Wright is trying to create an appetite for seasoned greenwood to eventually increase the supply in the Yukon.
He explained that greenwood has a higher moisture content so it requires major upfront costs. He said preparing it and drying it takes time, so delivering it won’t happen for a year or two down the road.
“That is a huge, huge investment in risk for the woodcutter,” he said.
In the meantime, Wright suggests fuelwood users who are eligible seniors apply for the pioneer utility grant to get a rebate on home heating costs. On Sept. 27, the Yukon government announced a one-time 10 per cent additional payment to pioneer utility grant recipients, which will be provided in February 2023.
“Our hearts really go out to a lot of the people in challenging economic times, and especially for those on fixed income,” he said.
Contact Dana Hatherly at email@example.com