The past four weeks have been a time of stress and uncertainty for Salmon Arm’s Brett Barnard and others who earn a living in B.C.’s forestry industry.
This anxiety began on Nov. 2 when the B.C. government announced it was deferring the harvest of 2.6 million hectares of ancient, rare and priority large stands of old growth within the province. Available mapping and data about the deferrals, described as a temporary measure, were shared with B.C. First Nations who were asked by the province to respond in 30 days if they were in support, or if further engagement and/or work was needed.
Groups representing B.C.’s forestry industry were quick to respond, stressing how it could result in the closure of up to 20 sawmills and the loss of about 18,000 jobs, as well as negatively impact value-added manufacturing facilities.
All of this leaves Barnard concerned for his own business, Mt. Ida Nursery, and for others who work in the forestry industry, of which he stressed there are many in the Shuswap.
Barnard explained Mt. Ida Nursery produces approximately 9.5 million seedlings annually and employs 20 full-time equivalent positions. The business started in 2017 with a crop of 1.7 million seedlings and has expanded over the last five years due to high demand and a lack of greenhouse space. Since the Nov. 2 announcement, Barnard said his business strategy has changed drastically.
“Rather than thinking of expansion over the next five years, we are focused on clearing up our debt in anticipation of the incredibly soft market that is being predicted,” said Barnard, explaining it is predicted the seedling market will be reduced by between 20 to 30 per cent over the next five years.
“Currently the province plants 300 million seedlings annually. A 20 per cent reduction would mean a market of only 240 million seedlings provincewide. This could lead to the closure of six nurseries the same size as mine over the next 5 years.”
Among his frustrations with the Nov. 2 announcement was the limited 30-day referral process allotted to First Nations and what he said was a complete absence of consultation with industry stakeholders – including First Nations.
Cam Brown, a strategic planning forester with Forsite Consultants Ltd., said that instead of being consulted, First Nations were handed the project and essentially asked by the province, “Hey, what do you think of this?”
“The old growth strategic review that was completed that called for this work to be done, their number one recommendation was to engage First Nations in the process. That wasn’t done,” said Brown.
Dave Nordquist, the title and rights natural resource director with the Adams Lake Indian Band, said on Nov. 30 that the band had responded to the province but was still “looking at the implications of the announcement” and wasn’t ready to comment.
Having recently completed his own report on old-growth in the province, Brown said the situation isn’t as dire as what’s been suggested but agreed work still needs to be done on how it’s managed. However, like Barnard, he is not impressed with the deferrals, the limited accompanying data and what he views as the province’s lack of consideration for socio-economic impact and balance.
“The big picture is they came out with a pretty aggressive ask for how much old growth is going to be set aside; government said dial it back to the 2.6 million that they ultimately came out with and it’s completely unclear how they did that,” said Brown. “I still can’t, after relentless badgering of ministry people at the provincial level, get answers to that question.”
Barnard is concerned the B.C. government’s current stance on old-growth stands will wind up having an impact beyond the province’s borders.
“B.C. forestry is a leader on a global scale; to see it decimated by a political ideology is an absolute shame,” said Barnard.
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