The announcement of the Canfor sawmill closure in Quesnel last October was a wakeup call for the Cariboo-Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition, according to coalition chair Chad Mernett.
Since its inception in 2005, CCBAC has been working behind the scenes, Mernett told reporters in Williams Lake during a media conference Friday.
“We knew impacts on our timber supply were looming but all of a sudden it was real.”
Mernett, who became chair last fall, said the coalition anticipates there will be more impacts on the timber supply and was prompted to meet and develop strategic priorities.
During a two-day action planning session, the CCBAC board outlined six strategic priorities for the coming year.
They include participating in the government’s mid-term timber supply review.
“About 70,000 people call the Cariboo Chilcotin home and 70 per cent of our economy is forestry based,” Mernett said, adding the CCBAC will working with communities, First Nations and governments to help minimize the impacts of a reduction of the timber supply and the resulting job loss.
The board will focus on skills training in the region and continue to work with the other two beetle action coalitions in B.C. to ensure adequate government resources are available to communities and First Nations.
To that end, all three coalitions are also part of the Rural BC Project, Mernett said.
“There are many benefits to working together on key issues.”
A fourth priority will see the board collaborating with existing tourism and economic development agencies in the region to identify new opportunities for growth, development and creation of new jobs. “Our region is rich in natural beauty, wide open spaces, everything from mountain biking to rodeos to fly fishing and Barkerville,” Mernett said.
While the coalition will continue to fund projects aimed at diversifying the agricultural sector, one of the newest ideas is self-contained aquaculture operations to raise arctic char.
“CCBAC is also waiting an update on one of its original strategies which focuses on social development, needs of people and communities in our region,” he added. “The closure of a sawmill, mine or any other major employer has a number of impacts.”
Mernett presented Quesnel Mayor Mary Sjostrom with a cheque for $50,000 to assist the city with unanticipated community transition expenses due to the Canfor mill closure in March 2014. Sjostrom said the mill closure will impact 200 jobs directly, with a trickle down effecting in excess of 1,000 jobs.
“We’ve taken a three pillar approach in Quesnel and that’s working around the transition for workers, but it also the economic development piece which were working on very strongly, and then the social aspect which is always significantly effected.”