The B.C. government has used $12 million of its $10 billion COVID-19 relief fund to expand a forest job program that was first set up to retain people in communities where their sawmill closed down after the pine beetle epidemic.
Forests Minister Katrine Conroy says the renewed program can expand to the coastal region, with a total of 180 land-based projects such as caribou habitat restoration, firebreaks around communities, recreational trail and bridge repairs.
There is no shortage of repair work after two record-breaking forest fire seasons, as well as the flooding, landslides and falling trees that occur every year across the province.
Karla Kozakevich, chair of Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen, said the district has $450,000 to tackle underfunded maintenance on its 230 km of Kettle Valley Rail Trail system that links Summerland, Penticton, Peachland and Kelowna. Work includes bridge repairs in Tulameen, direction signs, repairs of landslides and erosion, brushing, removal of invasive plants and “danger trees,” installation of picnic tables, a pit toilet and rock scaling at Little Tunnel in Naramata.
“During the pandemic this past year we have seen a huge increase in the number of folks who want to get outside and recreate and make use of our beautiful regional trail system,” Kozakevich said.
The coastal expansion covers removal and cleanup of seven landslides on a Haida Gwaii forest road, as well as danger tree and forest health work at recreation sites near Port Alberni, Youbou, Lake Cowichan, Port Renfrew, Powell River and Sechelt.
Wildfire and flood repairs are also planned for sites and trails near Barriere, Chase, Logan Lake, Kamloops and Sun Peaks.
Chief Sharleen Gale of the Fort Nelson First Nation said the program allows the community to carry on boreal caribou habitat restoration work, and logging to create firebreaks around the community.
It also provides logging training to a region that lost its forest industry more than 10 years ago, but has a joint venture through Eh Cho Dene Enterprises to supply a wood pellet plant, with increasing demand for biomass fuels in Asia and Europe.