FORESTS THEN & NOW
Not so long ago the forest industry in B.C. was regulated by a truly world class Forest Practices Code. Important environmental values were monitored and given some degree of protection. ‘Sustainability’ was an achievable management goal, and community stability was an essential economic component.
But no more. Over the past two decades government agencies have been gutted of the professional skills and management resources that made the system work. Under sixteen years of the BC Liberal governments of Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark, public oversight all but disappeared. The regulations and transparency that once protected vital public interests have been replaced by reliance on the opaque opinions of professional foresters who work for the industry. It was hoped that the BC NDP government which took power in 2017 would restore public oversight of forests, but sadly it has not.
As the public interest disappeared, so did the trees — raw log exports on freighters bound for China and two-by-fours by the trainload to the US, in exchange for low royalties for British Columbia. Community-based sawmills and the jobs they once provided are going, going, gone. And so are the habitat needs of salmon, bears and First Nation communities, all of whom have rights to and depend upon healthy forests.
In a few short decades, log exports and mechanization have resulted in the loss of 24,000 well-paying jobs in the woods, in sawmills and pulp and paper mills in small communities.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
In a few short words: greed and disregard for the public interest in the form of a healthy environment and local community economies. Government agencies have been captured and controlled by the very logging companies they once regulated for our common good. Decision-making has been surrendered to industry-paid professionals who serve the industry that profits from their neglect.
WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN NOW?
Ideally we would have seen a forensic audit of the actions of the former government over the past 20 years in undoing the well-being of our forests and all who depend on them.
The ancient forests of British Columbia have developed over thousands of years in some of the richest and most prolific ecosystems on earth. The natural values they contain and the environmental benefits they sustain are astonishing. Clean flowing rivers where salmon spawn and rear their young and people get their drinking water. Habitats for birds, mammals, amphibians and insects. Plants of all sizes from colossal fir, spruce and cedar trees to huckleberry bushes and licorice ferns. A massive role in collecting and storing atmospheric carbon and so mitigating the impacts of climate change.
Today we have logged almost all of the largest, most valuable trees, converting ecological values into cash values siphoned off to investors in distant capital markets. Most all of the benefits are gone, yet all of the costs remain.
On Vancouver Island, less than 10 percent of the most productive ancient forest remains unlogged. Ninety percent of the best is gone, in particular the huge and valuable fir and cedar. On Haida Gwaii, over 70 percent is gone, even more in places where the best cedar, spruce and hemlock trees once stood.
Commons BC works with mapping technology, experts and careful research to present factual information on the history of forest policy and practice in BC, and on what needs to be done to make our forests sustainable once more.