GRAND PRAIRIE, Alberta (From news reports) -- Uncertainty looms over the Grande Prairie-area Weyerhaeuser wood mill as the company seeks assurance from the province about new caribou regulations.
A provincial plan to protect threatened woodland caribou could reduce the mill's supply of timber, effectively putting an end to its operation, said Wendy Crosina, manager of forest stewardship for Weyerhaeuser Timberlands.
About 67% of the company's merchantable timber is within caribou ranges that will be protected under the new regulations.
"If the constraints of a caribou range plan keep us out of those caribou ranges to any degree, or any great degree, we're not going to have enough wood to run the mill," she said.
Crosina said the company needs assurance from the province that the new plan won't reduce the mill's supply of wood, or "fibre."
The company has been looking at a major upgrade to the local sawmill, located in the County of Grande Prairie, but that may be called off soon without reassurance from the province, Crosina said.
"If they're going to be investing a considerable amount of money in that sawmill, they'd like to have some level of assurance that we're going to have adequate and secure fibre supply for the next 20 years.
"Our concern is that if we don't get something that we can take to the company that says we have a high level of confidence that we're going to get the volume we need, they'll take that capital investment somewhere else in the company."
The upgrades, which would cost $70 million to $90 million, would allow the mill to adapt to a changing "wood supply profile," Crosina said.
"We're coming into some smaller wood and it's a little bit more scattered than it has been."
The company will be making decisions on capital investment in August.
Weyerhaeuser sent a letter to the province earlier this year asking for reassurance, but the response wasn't what they'd hope for, Crosina said.
Another letter was sent this month, followed by letters of support from the City and County of Grande Prairie and the MD of Greenview.
Weyerhaeuser's letter, sent July 9, said the company needed assurance by Aug. 10. Crosina said they're waiting for a response.
In addition to the planned capital investment, the company is also in the midst of creating a long-term forest management plan, which it must provide to the province every 10 years, Crosina said. That's another reason why it needs to know how it will be affected by the new caribou range plan.
In March, the province suspended portions of the draft plan, citing concerns about the its impact on the economy.
Weyerhaeuser has been working for two or three years with the province and "local stakeholders" to come up with a viable plan, Crosina said.
"We think we can work towards a solution that gives us access to harvesting within the caribou ranges, maintains caribou on the land base but also gives us enough wood to run our mills."