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A mountain pine beetle is shown in a handout photo. Alberta researchers say the destructive mountain pine beetle has infested a different type of tree that could allow the bugs to spread eastward across Canada.KLAUS BOLTE/The Canadian Press

A committee looking for ways to boost B.C.'s dwindling store of timber is looking at logging protected areas such as old-growth forests as one way out of a supply crunch.

Other options include cutting greater volumes of "marginally economic" timber and pumping up forest growth by using fertilizer and other intensive management techniques.

The options, included in a June 11 discussion paper of the government-appointed Special Committee on Timber Supply, come in advance of community open houses scheduled for June and July and provide more detail on plans that came to light in April, when leaked documents revealed the government was looking for ways to bolster timber supply.

The open houses are scheduled in communities, such as Quesnel and Burns Lake, that stand to be most affected by a shortage of timber.

"The [COFI] members are very concerned about the timber supply in these areas, absolutely," Archie MacDonald, forestry general manager with the Council of Forest Industries, said on Tuesday. "They're concerned about having sufficient timber supply so that they can carry on their businesses."

The crunch is a result of a pine beetle infestation that began in 1999, swept through massive stands of forest and has now largely run its course. Harvest levels that were hiked in an attempt to stop the beetles' spread, or to harvest wood while it still had economic value, are on their way down.

Government reports have suggested that as many as 12,000 jobs could be at risk and most observers expect mills to close.

In 10 to 15 years, overall provincial timber supplies will be 20 per cent below the pre-infestation levels and that reduction could last for up to 50 years, says the discussion paper.

Many of the job losses projected as a result of the pine beetle infestation have already occurred, said MaryAnne Arcand, executive director of the Central Interior Logging Association.

The logging, trucking and other contractors that comprise CILA's membership could also find work harvesting timber for other purposes, such as proposed bio-energy plants, even if the wood is no longer suitable for lumber, she said.

"When you look at biomass – it still needs to be cut down and processed," Ms. Arcand said on Tuesday. "Whether they're clearing for a transmission line or cutting lumber or for chips to feed a pulp mill, for my members that doesn't matter."

The committee should be looking at ways to mitigate community impact, rather than short-term fixes to timber-supply crunch, Bob Simpson, a former NDP MLA who now sits as an independent, said on Tuesday.

Companies ramped up capacity to handle significantly greater volume during the pine beetle infestation, so it stands to reason that some mills should close if harvest levels are brought down to a "sustainable" level, he said.

According to the discussion paper, "decreases in timber supply will have significant negative economic and social impacts on communities" and the committee is looking at ways to lessen the impacts, adding that "many of these could require rebalancing important environmental, social and economic considerations."

Parks are not being considered for logging, a Forestry Department spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

But other areas, including old-growth management areas, are being eyed, although it's not clear whether opening such areas to harvest would have industry support.

"Loggers live in those communities – we were generally part of the land-use plans when they were put together 20 or 30 years ago," Ms. Arcand said. "We protected those values for a reason. I don't think they're going to be given up that easily by community members."

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