By Andru McCracken
Not a single staff person for the Ministry of Forests lives in the Robson Valley anymore, save fire protection staff in Valemount. The four staff that used to work for the Ministry of Forests in McBride have now retired according to a spokesperson with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.
Staffing levels have been on the decline since 2011 when four staff worked for stewardship, engineering, compliance and enforcement, and Recreation Sites & Trails.
“All staff have now retired from the location,” said the spokesperson. “Many of the services previously provided at the district and regional offices can be accessed online at FrontCounterBC.gov.bc.ca or by calling 1-877-855-3222.”
The Rocky Mountain Goat asked for the value of timber leaving the Robson Valley Timber Supply Area, and the Ministry responded instead with the total volume and not a dollar value.
“In 2019, a total of 135,436.31 m3 was scaled in Robson Valley Timber Supply Area,” the spokesperson said.
In Prince George District there are 31 staff members whose responsibilities include the Robson Valley.
“The total Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) for the Prince George Timber Supply Area is 8,350,000 m3, and the AAC for the Robson Valley Timber Supply Area is 363,559 m3,” she said. “The relative magnitude of operations is not solely based on harvest levels but is impacted by numerous factors including industrial activities and community populations.”
Mayor Eugene Runtz is not happy with the situation.
“I just think it is wrong. Fundamentally wrong,” he said. “What they have done is they have centralized and let RPFs do a bunch of things. That is not the same as government people being there taking part in the community.”
Runtz said shrinking the forest service hasn’t been good for McBride.
“They become these people that aren’t related to what is happening in the bush,” he said. “When you are living by each other you tend to work with each other.”
Runtz said keeping jobs in communities makes economic sense at the provincial level.
“When you spend money in communities, it comes back many-fold,” he said.
Runtz said that when in power, the BC Liberals had committed to keeping 5 positions in the valley.
The valley used to have a district office that employed as many as 40 people, and retained 28 when it closed. That district office was closed by the BC liberals in March 2003 in a wave of changes affecting the forest sector.
A former forestry employee wondered how the Prince George District Office will handle flooding and the potential for washed out roads.
Because the fall was so wet, they believe the potential for hazard is great.
“My colleague would have been very busy in the spring helping in different situations. Now we don’t have a guy resident here,” they said. “This is the first Spring without [the engineer] located in the Community.”
Despite the loss of these government positions, Runtz said he is meeting young families who are moving to McBride for its beauty, affordability and lifestyle.
“They tell me they don’t make a lot of money here, but cost of living is much less. With the land prices, they can see a future here when they can buy a home.”
Runtz said he wants jobs, and he’s not picky about where they come from.
MLA Shirley Bond was contacted for comment but did not respond by press time.
EDITED March 17, 2020 9:30 pm to include FLNRO Staff working on fire protection in Valemount. We had incorrectly stated that no ministry staff lived in the area at this time.