One of the initiatives we’d hoped to highlight during our planned community celebration this past September is our Forestry Innovation Centre at City Hall. This new centre is the hub for Council’s Forestry Think Tank process and the Forestry Initiatives Program which is the base of operations for all the fuel management and fire-smarting activities being conducted under the City’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP).
The Forestry Think Tank process was initiated by Council in 2018 after the disastrous 2017 fire season and our inability to convince the provincial government of the day to take a deeper look at the state of forest health in our region and develop more innovative and proactive plans to rehabilitate the land base in the Quesnel Forest District, particularly west of the Fraser River.
Our fear was that if the provincial government persisted in applying historical forest practices to the land base west of the Fraser we’d simply see a larger mountain pine beetle infestation followed by even larger, more catastrophic forest fires within 30-40 years. We also believed that with the robustness of the forestry manufacturing capacity that Quesnel still enjoys, we had an ideal opportunity to explore ways to reinvent the manufacturing sector in conjunction with new approaches to rehabilitating the forest land base.
The early sessions of the Think Tank process were very well received, and each session was over-subscribed. The presentations and group discussions at these sessions stimulated deeper conversations about how we need to manage our forests through the lens of ecological resiliency rather than timber production, move our manufacturing processes up the value chain (i.e. produce more diverse secondary and tertiary products from a shrinking timber supply, including bioproducts that can directly substitute for petrochemical products), and retrain the forest sector workforce.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has prevented us from continuing these in-person sessions, but the work of the Think Tank has continued, led by two full time staff housed in the City’s Forestry Innovation Center.
Partly as a result of the discussions during the Think Tank process, Quesnel is now a pilot District for a new approach to landscape level planning that will see the Ministry of Forests collaborate with First Nation Governments as well as local stakeholders in the creation of a comprehensive plan to rehabilitate and manage the forests in the North Cariboo. Staff at the Forestry Innovation Centre have also completed a preliminary analysis of alternate manufacturing opportunities that we will be discussing with the Provincial government and potential investors over the coming months.
Another outcome of the Think Tank process and the establishment of the Forestry Innovation Centre is that Quesnel has attracted the attention of universities and researchers from across the globe. For example, last week (for the second year in a row) we hosted a group of students from UBC’s Masters of International Forestry program who spent 3 days in Quesnel exploring all aspects of forestry from the field to the mills. The 21 students and 4 staff who visited our City represented 13 different countries and all were impressed with both our passion for the forest sector and our community’s leadership in its reinvention. Several of the students will be returning to our community to further their studies and potentially for internships or jobs.
Due to the success of the Forestry Innovation Centre, Quesnel has also been selected as the provincial hub for a 5-year federal research project called Silva21 (silva21.com) which will provide tools and practical solutions for decision-makers, managers and planners to adapt their forest management practices. This week, we are meeting with the research team from Carleton University, the University of Toronto, the University of Alberta, and Natural Resources Canada who are developing a risk management framework for managing future mountain pine beetle epidemics.
These examples demonstrate how the Forestry Innovation Centre is a hub for protecting our community from wildfire, transitioning our forest practices for ecosystem health, and pivoting our manufacturing sector, all of which help Quesnel build a stronger community that is better equipped to face challenges and seize opportunities as they arise.
For more information and regular updates on the City’s forestry innovation initiatives please visit: quesnel.ca/forestry