Forests minister Steve Thomson met with local sawmills in Fruitvale last month. One person who was present described the meeting as positive

Hands are tied, forests minister tells Kootenay mills

An industry professional says BC’s forests minister understands their plight but made no promises at a meeting last month.

An industry professional who attended a meeting last month between local sawmills and BC’s forests minister in Fruitvale says Steve Thomson understood their message, but made no promises.

“I thought it was a very positive meeting,” says Bill Kestell, woodlands manager with Salmo’s Porcupine Lumber. “He was very down to earth and easy to talk to and made some good points. I’ve heard others felt the same way.”

Kestell attended along with representatives of other local members of the Interior Lumber Manufacturers Association, who are seeking to have constraints on their access to timber lifted.

Kestell says Thomson appreciated their concerns but couldn’t offer any easy answers: “He doesn’t have the authority to get rid of the constraints. He said a lot of them are in legislation, and that’s not easy to change. So it’s up to all of us to put our heads together.”

A ministry spokesman confirmed in an email: “While a full re-opening of the Kootenay-Boundary higher level plan is unlikely, Minister Thomson has asked staff to look at options to address timber supply constraints and opportunities.”

Kestell was encouraged by the backing of local politicians at the meeting. “Their support meant an awful lot to industry members,” he said. “It’s half the battle.”

The lumber manufacturers approached the Regional District of Central Kootenay in July about setting up a meeting with the minister, but in the meantime scheduled one themselves and invited certain local politicians — who have since been criticized by others who fear broader community interests weren’t represented.

The meeting with the minister lasted about an hour and a half.

The industry group says its livelihood is at risk without easier access to wood and land-base constraints forces them into domestic watersheds. Some critics, however, scoff at their request and suggest it would threaten protected areas.

Thomson’s low key visit to the area in mid-August included stops in Grand Forks, Castlegar, Fruitvale, and Salmo and the operations of Zellstoff Celgar, Kalesnikoff Lumber, Atco, and Porcupine.

Kalesnikoff and Atco didn’t respond to requests for comment.