IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Crisis in the forest industry Part II

As a follow up to my previous column (Aug. 10 issue of the Grand Forks Gazette, I want to take a brief look at some of our local communities.

As a follow up to my previous column (Aug. 10 issue of the Grand Forks Gazette, I want to take a brief look at some of our local communities, see how that ties in with the other forest-reliant regions in B.C. and connect to the positive solutions offered in the report.

Although each community and region has its own response to difficulty, province-wide policy tends to affect us all similarly.

Specifically in our riding, in Castlegar, the local pulp mill Zelstoff Celgar has had to deal with numerous issues related to the cost of chips, railway complications and unpredictable variation in the Canadian and U.S. dollar exchange rate. Nearby Interfor operations have gone from full operations to essentially a total shut-down, resuming production at a reduced level only fairly recently.

Springer Creek Forest Products in Slocan has been temporarily closed and is working on various options in order to keep jobs in the community.

Forest-related production in Grand Forks has been dramatically reduced in the last decade and many residents of Midway have committed their own funds in an effort to bring mill production back to their community.

Some participants reported that decision-making on land use has deteriorated, and opportunities to participate in planning have become very limited.

Many jobs are being lost to other parts of the world due to lack of “value-added” operations and unemployment in the whole region has sky-rocketed since 2007. Low stumpage rates result in much lower returns to the province in exchange for access to a resource that belongs to us all.

This report makes it clear that stewardship methods have deteriorated to such a point that research is under-resourced, tracking of forest inventory is not up to date and, although desperately needed, reforestation is lacking in the wake of the mountain pine beetle attack.

Care of the forests is being overlooked while more and more forests are simply seen as a source of profit. It was noted that the “results-based” system is not specific about what the term “results” might actually mean.

The number of various activities taking place in B.C.’s forests without co-ordination or adequate supports, in terms of people and funding, is also of significant concern.

The situation is clearly dire but solutions are offered. These focus on the need to enhance, not reduce, services including monitoring, enforcement, stewardship, forest management and reforestation.

Management of watersheds needs to be locally-driven, tenure reform undertaken and policy designed so as to encourage greater care and planning to increase the inherent value of our forests, as well as the industry’s financial viability.

Change may involve incorporating some beneficial practices from the past with new management methods for the well-being of our forests and for the benefit of all.

The report’s conclusion states, “A groundswell of alarm is emerging about the health of B.C.’s forests, and the lack of public oversight in the woods. British Columbians – the owners of these incredibly valuable and precious forest resources – deserve better.”

In my view, this groundswell is the result of the growing awareness of just what’s happening to this critical public resource.

The final lines of B.C. Forests in Crisis call upon the provincial government to implement its recommendations immediately.

I support this call and ask you to consider doing the same. Our government must stop fostering the destruction of our woodlands and instead, adopt a model of stewardship that allows our forests to return to being “the future for our kids”.

– Alex Atamanenko is MP for the B.C. Southern Interior