Throne Speech 2017: Forestry

The Throne Speech 2017 provides a few passing sentences about BC forestry and the government’s approach in the coming year and beyond. On reading these few words, one would come away with the impression that the key problem facing the industry is access to the US market and the softwood lumber agreement.  All the actions highlighted were limited to one area: finding markets for BC’s exports.  Yes, this is one of the issues facing the forestry sector. Yet what is avoided are the biggest issues facing forestry in BC. The government is looking outwards at foreign markets when most of the ills lie within the sector and how the BC Liberals have adjusted the rules of the game. Our forestry sector requires an extensive reconsideration and revitalization.

There is no mention in the Throne Speech of increasing raw log exports, the aftermath of the mountain pine beetle, mill closures, or the crashing annual cut. Raw logs, failed mills and the beetle epidemic reveal the set of serious problems in our current forest policy and economy. The challenge is how to turn this around before we dig ourselves into a bigger hole. This is where the actions of government need to be focused and what the Throne Speech should have addressed.

In BC, we are witnessing the ongoing consolidation of most of the province’s annual cut into the hands of mainly multi-national forestry corporations: five remaining big players.  Regional monopolies control the public timber supply. This undervalues timber in an uncompetitive market. It prevents access to timber by new players. It completely discourages entrepreneurs: the biggest job creators in any economy. 

As well, there is no legislation requiring long-term forest stewardship on public forestland. Very little planning is being developed. After 2000, operational planning was delegated to the big companies, without adequate provincial oversight, compliance or enforcement.

Communities and small companies lost access to public timber. There is severely reduced local manufacturing capacity. Forest worker jobs have declined dramatically.  Forestry-dependent communities, First Nations, logging contractors, and small/medium-sized companies today have less and less say in provincial forest policy.  Just talk to the communities such as the City of Fort Nelson, or the Independent Wood Processors or the Truck Loggers Association.

The BC government must get on with the hard work of long overdue tenure reform. Currently, very little is being done to address the situation. 

The 2017 Throne Speech leaves me wondering:

•    Who is benefiting and by how much from the forest resources in the regions?

•    Who will manage the forest most effectively for the long term?

•    Who is included in decision making?

•    How are we going to achieve ecological sustainability to maintain the services provided by natural forests?

The major forest corporations with private forest tenures on public land have most of the power. This will not change without reconsideration of the arrangement. It has been this way in BC for a long time. Although the big forest companies donate big money to the BC Liberals, the truth remains that ninety four percent of the Province is an asset owned by all of us. Citizens must act like owners.  In 2017 and beyond, BC communities must receive greater benefit from this common asset.

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