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The truth is...

Bob Brash: The provincial government thinks they are fixing forestry in BC; they are wrong. Here's why.

Can anyone remember a more tumultuous time in BC forestry? Changes are afoot but the question is whether these changes are built on the solid foundation needed for success. The truth is, probably not.

Let’s start with the old-growth issue and government’s decisions to “start” deferring substantial areas from harvest forever. I say “start” because government has already made it clear they intend to defer more areas and we all know that multi-national environmental groups will continue protesting until all harvesting effectively ceases.

The truth is, BC has world leading levels of outright protection of land and forests, truly sustainable harvesting, stringent regulatory requirements, and the highest proportion of independently certified forests in the world.

The truth is, BC harvests less than one third of one per cent of our forest lands comprising old-growth forests annually, and 75 per cent of it is protected in perpetuity. That meager amount supports thousands of forestry workers, families, businesses, and their communities with good paying jobs.

The truth is about 30 per cent of BC’s old-growth forests can grow the “big” trees most of the public associates with their definition of old growth. Since this independent study was released, there has been a miraculous silence from the environmental movement on the previously oft quoted rhetoric that “only 3 per cent” is left. Seems their distortion only needed to hold water until government capitulated to their demands.

The truth is, BC’s value-added sector heavily depends on continued old-growth harvesting. While the sector is currently in various stages of transitioning to second growth products, new markets and re-capitalization cannot, does not, and will not happen overnight. In fact, it will take many years. Additionally, such a migration to predominantly second growth products needs steady supplies, certainty in supply and the regulatory environment.

The truth is, BC’s forest contractors, suppliers, and tenure holders, need certainty for their work and communities to prosper too. The math is simple; investing millions of dollars requires confidence in the future.

The truth is, forest products offer an opportunity for BC to provide real solutions to tackle climate change and are the right choice for those who truly care about sustainability and the environment. Furthermore, compared to wood, an honest review would find many other solutions decidedly lacking for building the homes BC and the world need.

These are the positive truths to all of us knowledgeable and active in the forestry sector who live and breathe it every day. Over the decades, not only have we been innovative, adaptable, community-minded, but we’ve successfully risen to ever evolving expectations from society and government. Unfortunately, negative truths are becoming increasingly prevalent and there are harsh new realities for many forestry reliant communities, including the Lower Mainland.

The truth is, the government’s truths and objectives are becoming increasingly difficult to decipher.  Recent and significant legislative and regulatory changes have been rammed through with negative impacts that will move the sector backward. They have introduced an unprecedented level of uncertainty, resulting in stifling plans that will affect people, businesses, suppliers, investors, and communities. And the value-added sector is now suddenly devoid of most of their supply needs, crippling the very investments government wants to encourage.

The truth is, real engagement and consultation are non-existent and broad decisions to effectively reduce the annual harvest by at least 10 per cent (and likely far more) have been made, incomprehensively, putting up to 20,000 people out of work without any real parallel social and economic analysis. Concrete compensation and transition plans do not exist.

And that’s the short list.

The far more unfortunate truth is that all of this was avoidable through real engagement with the forestry sector towards a collective strategy and not capitulation to special interest groups.

The truth is, BC’s forestry sector could have continued logging only an additional 1-2 per cent of old growth for the next 20 years. Surely this meager amount can allow for implementing a strategy with options that all of us could accept while protecting workers and at-risk forests without the turmoil government is imposing.

The truth is, government thinks they are fixing forestry in BC; they are wrong. The TLA has long advocated to be part of the solution in meeting government’s broad objectives to move the sector progressively forward. There are multitudes of possible options that will enable workers, families, and communities to prosper. BC’s forest workers want jobs, not social welfare. If government wants to fix the industry, then working with us and others directly responsible for actually implementing such changes is critical. Truthfully, not doing so will doom their objectives to failure.

Strengthening our communities is an admirable objective that all would support. Success will take a collective strategy that we can all agree on, real partnerships, the creation of an attractive investment climate, properly financed transition programs for workers, and years to unfold correctly.

Bob Brash is Executive Director of the Truck Loggers Association. 

This article originally appeared in Truck Logger BC Magazine. Click here to subscribe  or here to read the latest or past issues.