The forestry plan the BC NDP released Monday would be an improvement on the BC Liberal government’s forest management, but falls short of what is needed, says a long-time independent forester.
“We need to get the control of public forests back in public hands,” said Herb Hammond, a forest ecologist and registered professional forester based in the Slocan Valley who specializes in ecosystem-based conservation planning.
Moving from an industrial model of forest management to one that’s more locally based in forest communities would increase the number of jobs, expand the types of products made from the province’s wood and provide more money back to the government, he said.
“It’s kind of a win-win for everyone but the one per cent,” he said.
On Monday, NDP leader John Horgan released an eight-page document called Taking Action for BC Forest Jobs.
The plan focuses on reducing the export of raw logs and using them to make products here, like the engineered wood used to build the 18-storey Brock Commons tower at UBC.
It would also include investing in reforestation and fighting for a fair softwood lumber deal with the United States.
In a news release, Horgan was quoted saying that since 2001 B.C. has lost 30,000 forestry jobs and closed 100 mills.
Hammond said the NDP plan “was short on specifics and long on generalities that are hard to disagree with.” Eliminating raw log exports and increasing value-added manufacturing have been issues in forestry for decades and action is overdue, he said.
There also needs to be a shift from the dominant industrial model to more community forests and management decisions based on what the ecosystem needs, he said. “If you base it on sound science you do something significantly different.”
Community forests like those run by the Xaxli'p First Nation or Harrop-Procter in the West Kootenay create a lot more jobs for the amount of wood cut than the big companies do, Hammond said, adding that there are also social and environmental benefits.
Large companies could bid on the wood from such forests to run their mills, he said. It would likely drive prices up for the raw material, giving the companies more incentive to produce products that are worth more, he said.
“It’s always seemed to me B.C. large tenure holders do ‘the least with the most’ when you compare it to the rest of the country in terms of job creation,” he said.
“This change would also end the softwood lumber wars with the U.S.,” he said. “The current system artificially suppresses the value of timber to the benefit of Canadian corporations, who are able to generate large profits due in part to the low price of raw material.”
After 2001, the Liberal government virtually eliminated the province’s forest service, taking away public oversight, and gave tenure holders a lot more power to decide how to log on public land, Hammond said. “That was a huge change.”
The change essentially privatized publicly owned forests and enabled the companies to export large numbers of logs without processing them, he said. It has resulted in low employment as well as the devastation of forests at a time when they are needed more than ever due to global warming.
Old, intact forests protect water sources, he said. “We're going the opposite direction throughout the province.”
A political party with the courage to propose major tenure reform would likely find a lot of support, Hammond said. “I think a lot of people are ready for that kind of change.”