The Whitehorse region may be running out of woodlots, says New Democrat John Edzerza and some of his McIntyre-Takhini constituents.
When Edzerza asked a commercial operator where he could cut wood the man gave him four different areas.
“I asked which ones he’d recommend, and he said they’re pretty well all cut out,” said Edzerza.
“How am I going to find six cords of wood hunting around in the bush trying to find the odd tree?”
It’s reminiscent of the sternwheeler era, when the banks of the Yukon River were stripped bare for kilometers on either side after years of foraging for fuel to feed the paddlewheelers’ fires.
Edzerza raised the issue in the legislature on Wednesday.
“Firewood is a necessity for a large number of my constituents because that is their main source of heat in the cold winter months,” he said.
“Many Yukon families cannot afford to pay $200 plus, which is the going rate for a cord of wood.
“A person who cannot obtain firewood is like someone who can’t buy fuel for their oil stove.
“This is a very critical and important issue.”
Recently, eight kilometers of road was built by the government’s forestry branch in the Fox Lake burn area to facilitate access to firewood.
However, all four roads had locked steel gates blocking public access.
Edzerza wanted to know why.
“We began this current project because we were told that the old areas were running out of wood,” said forest operations manager Susan Skaalid.
“The branch responded by putting this project together and submitted it to YESAA.”
The subsequent decision document recommended there be restriction to access to the road so that it didn’t become used as a public road.
Commercial woodcutters, by buying the rights to each lot, will be covering the cost of building the road, said Skaalid.
Individual woodcutters can’t access the roads, she added.
“Our roads are only to service the cut blocks.
“Once the harvesting and reforestation activities are done, we go in and deactivate the road.”
The gates also allow the area to be closed when there is a risk of harming the environment, such as when the soil is too wet.
The Fox Lake burn covers 50,000 hectares of land.
Beyond those accessible by way of the new road, several lots within the area are available for personal-use permits.
Personal-use permits are free of charge, said Skaalid, because they’re meant to allow Yukoners to heat their homes in the winter.
Timber permits are available from forestry offices in each district.
Within the Whitehorse region, there are 21 other designated personal-use fuel wood cutting areas.
Forestry officers will ask applicants where they live, what type of vehicle they’re using and help choose an area that will work best for them.
“We have always tried to make personal fuel wood areas as available as possible,” said Skaalid.
“It’s important to meet everyone’s needs, whether they’re private or commercial.”