LETTER: Are B.C.’s trees going the way of Newfoundland’s cod?

LETTER: Are B.C.’s trees going the way of Newfoundland’s cod?

In 1992, Canada’s fisheries Minister, John Crosbie, reasoned with struggling fishermen that he “didn’t take the fish from the goddamn water, so don’t go abusing me.”

Today in B.C., the forest minister is under similar attack; his party is taking the fall from unions, workers and industry for decades of overharvesting, uplifts, inflated annual cuts, automation and the overall mismanagement of our greatest crown asset.

Are B.C.’s trees going the way of Newfoundland’s cod? As we mourn one controversial political leader we cannot help but recall the moratorium of 1992 and make comparisons to a similar natural resource crisis, our forests. Read any media from 2019 and it mentions today’s crippled forestry industry.

In 1945 when the Sloan Report by the Chief Justice of B.C. laid the policy foundation for the Forest Act, including granting industry full access to our forests through tenure, to ensure the taxpayers of B.C. a “perpetual supply of raw material for forest industries, with consequent stability of industrial communities and assurance of permanent payrolls,” it is doubtful he had today’s depleted industry scenario in mind.

In spite of warnings in the 70s of the ‘fall down’ effect precipitated by less access to old-growth, consistent declines in the 90s, 50,000 jobs lost in two decades, the shutdown and curtailments at over 125 mills, today’s industry keeps plugging away, business as usual, cutting down more trees, as quickly and economically as they can, hoping things will ‘turn around.’ It is time to reform the government policies supporting this accelerated decline.

While radical to some, to save the remnants of the forestry industry we must first save the forest, to save reduced jobs in forestry we have to save trees, too keep some mills afloat we will have to shutter others. Our forests have been permanently, radically altered, now our forest industry must follow. Anything within easy access and of value on our great landscape has been harvested, time for a pause, especially in parks, protected areas and community watersheds where the true value in a tree does not come from a 2×4.

This is not a partisan issue. Former Liberal forest critics, MLAs and one-mill town mayors need to stop finger pointing at the current government; they are suffering from amnesia if they believe this crisis sprung up when the NDP came to power in May 2017. Telling the forestry policies of the NDP and the Liberals apart isn’t easy, Green Party MLA Adam Olsen says. “A lot of these decisions are eerily similar.” If this is so, then to achieve the outcomes B.C. voters want including forests first, wildlife, clean water, then mills and jobs, we will need a monumental shift in ministry policies, a ‘new’ forestry, focused on the communities that rely on them for more than just jobs

In a week that mourned the loss of a politician who had to make the hard decisions, and place a moratorium on the cod fishery to save the species and salvage an industry, Premier Horgan and his NDP Green coalition are going to have to get offensive in their forestry reforms. The NDP cannot continue to play defensively pitting forestry workers against academics, unions against environmentalists, local governments against licensees and industry but bring them together to develop a ‘new’ forestry game. B.C. must dramatically change how forestry is managed and governed if it hopes to reverse today’s troubling trends. It will be essential to shift decision-making away from the top five or six unaccountable forestry corporations to regional planning committees, local councils that are accountable to First Nations, communities and rural residents. Perhaps Horgan needs to borrow a move from John Crosbie’s play book before another 50,000 job are lost because there are no trees to cut and pause the logging like there is no tomorrow, today!.

It’s time for this province to make a stand and take the offensive, no more minor window dressing alterations to professional reliance and forest practices, no more going back on new forest policies like slash pile penalties. Let’s take a play from another great Canadian legend and leader, Wayne Gretzky, he used to say: “Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been. … Let’s focus on the future.”

Taryn Skalbania

Peachland