VICTORIA - A special government committee will examine British Columbia's timber supply after a leaked report warned about thousands of job losses due to a declining amount of wood caused by the ravages of the pine beetle epidemic.
Forests Minister Steve Thomson says the committee will hold public meetings to look for new ways to expand timber supplies, including possible changes to harvest rates, forest tenures and land use policies.
"Time is of the essence and this is about finding options to increase the timber supply," he said.
The seven-member, all-party committee has until Aug. 15 to produce a report.
A government report leaked last month warned the mountain pine beetle epidemic could wreak havoc on communities in B.C.'s Interior and cost the region thousands of jobs in the coming years.
The Feb. 29, 2012 document suggested that as part of a mitigation strategy, the government should consider harvesting smaller trees and logging areas currently managed for their biodiversity, wildlife and scenic values.
Independent MLA Bob Simpson, who raised the timber supply issue in the legislature, said the formation of the committee may be too little too late.
He said the report warned his hometown of Quesnel could lose up to 1,600 forest industry jobs as available timber supplies run out, possibly in as little as 18 months.
"It's good that they are finally going to go out and consult with the communities, unfortunately I do think it's the 11th hour," said Simpson.
Opposition New Democrat forests critic Norm Macdonald said the committee doesn't have much time to find solutions. He said the Opposition wants to help communities suffering through forest industry declines.
An estimated 18.1 million hectares — an area more than five times the size of Vancouver Island — have been affected to some degree by the mountain pine beetle.