The mountain pine beetle epidemic will have cost B.C. 11,250 direct jobs by the time it runs its course, according to a new study by credit union economists.
Central 1 Credit Union analyzed forests ministry data that project the impact of the B.C. Interior’s worst recorded infestation will continue until 2028. The beetle kill peaked in 2005 in the Prince George, Quesnel and Vanderhoof areas, and in 2006 in the Cariboo and Kamloops regions.
It has spread to the east and south and is expected to peak this year in the Robson Valley, southeast of Prince George. Infestation is expected to peak in 2011 in the Dawson Creek and Merritt timber management areas, followed by the Arrow, Bulkley and Fort St. John areas in 2012.
The peak reaches Boundary, Invermere, Kootenay Lake, Okanagan and Cassiar areas in 2013, and the Cranbrook and Golden areas in 2014.
By 2024, it is projected that 68 per cent of the province’s mature pine will have been killed by beetles, representing 20 per cent of B.C.’s total timber harvest land base.
The drop in timber supply led West Fraser Timber to announce at the end of June that its Northstar Lumber mill in Quesnel will not reopen. The mill has been idle since December 2008, with 127 jobs lost.
“The ongoing economic conditions and the inevitable impact of the mountain pine beetle on future fibre availability make this decision necessary,” said West Fraser CEO Hank Ketcham.
The credit union study found that another 9,500 indirect jobs are related to the forest harvest slump that is underway. How many of those jobs disappear depends largely on the growth in mining, energy and transportation in each region.
The federal government is preparing to make a final decision on the Prosperity gold and copper mine project near Williams Lake. That region, along with the Mackenzie, Fort St. James, Vanderhoof and Morice areas, are the most dependent on forestry jobs in the province.
Other proposals in vulnerable areas include the Chu molybdenum project near Vanderhoof and the Mt. Milligan copper and gold mine near Mackenzie.
Natural gas development in northeastern B.C. is also expected to continue expansion, and the proposed oil and gas export facilities at Kitimat would also offset forestry job losses.