By the end of the Easter long weekend Creekside Wood Supply’s sawmill will have fallen silent.
Mill owner Doug Kerley said there simply isn’t enough wood to keep his employees working and the business viable. Kerley attributes the shortage to a variety of things but maintains that the government’s policy around opening areas to timber harvest is the main culprit.
The areas where Kerley can log are now slim pickings after years of harvesting, he told the News. He said he needs trees he can cut a six-by-six piece of lumber out of, or it isn’t worth staying in operation. He says the supply of those trees has dwindled and his efforts to lobby for new harvest areas have not been successful.
Kerley had been banking on new timber harvest he proposed for the Johnson’s Crossing area, but that project was not approved by the Yukon Environment and Socio-economic Assesment Board (YESAB). The proposed project was timber harvest work and up to 16.5 kilometre of road building.
The draft decision issued by YESAB in March 2021 rejected the project citing a lack of support from the Teslin Tlingit Council who stated they wanted future forest management projects to consider direction from their highway corridor and land use planning.
Kerley said the work he had planned for Johnson’s Crossing and that he has undertaken in other areas is selective harvesting rather than the clear cuts seen in other parts of Canada. He said he takes about one in 10 trees out of what is now a “decadent spruce forest” with a high fuel load that will either be harvested or eventually burn. He said the mature trees also slow plant growth on the forest floor.
He added that he thinks the lack of harvest areas being made available through the government’s forest management branch is not fulfilling what was promised in the government’s Whitehorse and Southern Lakes Forest Resources Management Plan. The 2020 plan to direct the management of forests in a large area south of Whitehorse states that identifying areas for timber harvesting and fuel abatement with input from the government and the First Nations that signed off on it is a priority.
The plan also acknowledges that a low level of harvesting in the area coupled with fire suppression efforts has left a fuel-laden forest.
In peak season, the Creekside Wood Supply mill employs four people. Kerley and his employees are now cutting what timber they have left in order to get one more shipment out to his primary local customers.
One of those customers is Career Industries, which operates a wood shop that employs adults with developmental delays or other barriers to employment. Rick Mombourquette, who managed the shop for decades and now assists with its marketing, said the source of locally produced lumber will be sorely missed.
Already shopping around ahead of the last shipment from Kerley’s mill, Mombourquette said Career Industries could find themselves paying twice what Kerley was charging. This will be partly because they will have to buy a higher grade of lumber that the products Career Industries makes do not require.
One of Career Industries’ main products is core boxes for the mining industry and Mombourquette said his customers appreciate the ones made out of the rough lumber that Kerley’s mill had supplied.
He added that he thinks the supply of wood Career Industries will be getting from out of territory will be less secure as there are sometimes difficulties in getting it supplied via the Alaska Highway.
Consistent local supply has been a challenge. Mombourquette said in more than 30 years in the woodworking business he has seen five or six local mills shut down.
John Streicker, the Yukon’s Minister of Energy Mines and Resources, said efforts to open up the removal of trees from more areas is ongoing. He noted a long approval process and a focus on finding more firewood harvest areas. He said a planned firewood harvest for the Quill Creek area near Haines Junction took longer than expected to be approved.
He expressed the importance of fuel management work around communities and said the removal of trees for that purpose could result in wood suitable for making into lumber.
Kerley says Streicker has been helpful overall and that Streicker has worked as a contractor on fuel management work. He said the timber derived from the fuel management work does not consistently meet the specifications he needs it to.
Streicker said sorting out wood from the fuel management projects that could be suitable for sawmills may be difficult but it isn’t impossible.
The minister added that he has been in discussions with First Nations, including the Teslin Tlingit Council that opposed Kerley’s proposal for logging in the Johnson’s Crossing area. Streicker said that following a recent discussion with representatives of the First Nation, they were in agreement about the benefits of a timber harvest economically and in terms of fire protection. He said he would be working with them on a solution that will benefit both the Teslin Tlingit Council and other Yukoners.
In order to assist with solving the firewood shortage, Streicker said his department hired a forestry industry expert who might now turn their experience to saw logs.
Streicker added that local wood harvest is also important because the burning of wood for heat displaces the use of other fuels and locally produced lumber limits the amount that must be trucked in from B.C. or elsewhere.
Kerley will shut down his mill but doesn’t plan to sell the equipment immediately, leaving time for a restart if more timber can be found.
Contact Jim Elliot at email@example.com