The owner of a mill in Whitehorse says he’s been forced to let his clients know that there isn’t enough commercial wood available in the Yukon to keep operating.
Doug Kerley is the owner of Creekside Wood Supply, a local small-scale mill that uses selective harvest to produce rough lumber products made and used in the territory. Kerley said the mill employs around four people seasonally over the course of the year.
“We practice selective timber harvesting. It’s low impact in order to leave the forest healthier than it was before we went and minimal waste. It is just about harvesting a sustainable resource and doing it in a manner that is socially acceptable in the Yukon,” he said. “But I need to know now if we have wood.”
Among his clients are local wood for Kilrich Industries and specialty orders to Career Industries for use in making core sample boxes for mining.
Kerley is one of a number of wood product companies in the Yukon that are troubled by a lack of planning to bring new harvesting lots online. He said the department has failed in its obligation to plan and identify areas where local companies can harvest wood.
In particular, no major harvesting areas have been approved for harvesting in the Whitehorse Southern Lakes District. For the past 10 years harvesters have been relegated to three historical areas, one of which he said has been shrunk rather than expanded over that timeframe.
Kerley said the supply of suitable trees — they must be a minimum size for the lumber product — has been exhausted.
As a result, he said his livelihood and the future of the industry in the territory are now at risk. He said he has over a half-million dollars invested in equipment and other business costs – decisions he made based on conversations with the department – and no shortage of clients.
The problem is that he can’t get enough wood to fill orders.
Without Yukon wood products, buyers will be left with just lumber from British Columbia, according to Kilrich president Rob Fordham.
He said that would be a shame, for both environmental and economic reasons.
“I mean, this is far more environmentally sustainable than pulling lumber from thousands of kilometers away. So it’s a tragedy to be going backwards when it seems like we’re moving forward with positive local production,” he said. “The Do It Yourselfers and people building cabins and this sort of stuff – they want to support local industry.”
Minister says department will ‘try to assist’
Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources John Streicker said he’s aware of the situation and has directed the forest resource branch to assist companies that are struggling with supply.
“Just like the whole firewood issue we hit a problem this summer where we ran into a supply issue – same on the firewood side – the direction that I gave to the forest resource branch was just please work closely with folks to try to assist them,” he said.
Streicker said the department is trying to identify short-term solutions, including smaller areas of land that don’t require special approvals in order to harvest wood – including areas already slated for tree removal and routine clearing along highways and firebreaks.
Kerley said the issue with these shortcut solutions is that although these small areas might work for firewood, they have not been assessed for quality trees and may not be efficient areas for operating.
“The issue is planning,” he said.
Long-term, Streicker acknowledged more long-term thinking is necessary. He said the Quill Creek area, which is a possible solution for fuelwood harvesting, has been recommended by YESAA. The Southern Lakes Forest Resources Management Plan has also been approved, although concerns remain about caribou.
“I think that we are in a shortage, and I think that there is some responsibility that we have to take for sure,” he said. “Wood is a very important piece of the puzzle for us. We’ve gone through some challenges. I think we did not anticipate that we would be in this position but that’s our responsibility to get it sorted and to make sure that we get that supply in place.”
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