North

Forest fires threaten N.W.T. wood harvesting operation

Timberworks, a wood harvesting partnership between the Deninu K'ue First Nation and the Fort Resolution Métis Council, has already lost 400 hectares of woodland during this year's fire season, and is at risk of losing an entire five-year harvest area.

Timberworks, a company owned by local First Nations, has already lost 400 hectares of forest due to fires

Smoke from a forest fire is visible from the junction of N.W.T. highways 5 and 6 Friday afternoon. Highway 6, which leads to Fort Resolution, has been intermittently closed due to fire over the past week as wildfires burn in the area. (submitted by Jodie Miersch)

This year's N.W.T. forest fires aren't just threatening cabins and communities; they're also putting at risk land set aside for economic development.

Donald Harrison, the general manager of Timberworks, says the company has already lost around 400 hectares of forest, or 27,000 cubic metres of harvestable wood, to a fire burning north and south of Highway 5, close to the defunct Pine Point mine site.

That burned-out area represents about one tenth of the total area that Timberworks — a partnership between the Deninu K'ue First Nation and the Fort Resolution Métis Council — hopes to start harvesting over five years once a wood pellet plant begins operating in Enterprise.

News of the fire arrived just days after Timberworks filed its application for a land use permit. However, Harrison is remaining optimistic.

"As long as the winds don't pick up and change direction, we should be in pretty good shape," said Harrison Monday afternoon. "But if the winds do change out of the south, southwest, there's the potential that we could lose the whole five-year harvest."

The situation remained unchanged as of early Tuesday afternoon. 

If that harvest area is completely destroyed, the company will simply shift its focus to a second area set aside for harvesting between the years 2020 and 2024, said Harrison.

However, it could be decades before a burned-out area re-grows and becomes harvestable again.

"It would just come up later in the cue, in 80 years," said Harrison.

Timberworks estimates its operations will create up to 34 jobs for Fort Resolution alone.

Factoring in the plant in Enterprise and additional wood harvesting done by groups in Fort Providence, the South Slave region could see over 100 direct jobs created, says Harrison, which is why he's keeping a close eye on the fires.

"The economic [impact] for the South Slave is just horrendous. It's very serious when we start to lose fibre."

The green area on this map indicates the area, on the south side of Great Slave Lake, where Timberworks is planning to harvest wood during the first five years of its harvesting plan. The area is currently threatened by a fire, with one tenth of it already lost. (Submitted by Timberworks)

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