Our rural communities are built upon our relationships with forests; from the economic drivers to the quality of life delivered from those forests and all points between, our interactions with forests have shaped our culture and history. As clearly stated in the strategic review for B.C.’s old-growth forests, Gorley and Merkel state, “the overall system of forest management has not supported effective implementation or achievement of the stated public objectives for old forests. (Due to) a pattern of many choices made over several decades, within an outdated paradigm.” The forestry intentions paper, released last week, is part of a road map to help us spur on the paradigm shift that Gorley and Merkel call for. Over the months ahead, we will have the opportunity to hear from British Columbians about how this map aligns with the needs and desires of our communities.
I am passionate about ecology and, indeed, have dedicated most of my life to better understand it — the complexities of interactions in forest ecosystems are certainly dear to me. To help inform good decisions, this government took the initiative to appoint independent experts to bring forward recommendations based on engagement around the province. Upon receipt of that report and its recommendations, we committed to implementing all of their 14 recommendations. These recommendations call for change in terms of how we manage our forests, and while there is certainly more work to be done beyond these recommendations, implementing them is an important and substantial step in the right direction.
Desmond Tutu observed that, “there comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.” So it is with much of what we all do in the legislature, and forest management is no exception. In the context of forestry, “going upstream” to me means taking an earnest look at how we manage our forests, and making sure our decisions are designed to support long-term social, economic, and ecological value to all of us and our environment. To me, “going upstream” is why I’m here.
My sights are set on helping our government go upstream and move our forest sector to a place where we’ve shifted from decisions based on volume to decisions based on wrap-around value that works for our communities. A future where we’ve transitioned to include more participants at the table, and more communities — Indigenous and non-Indigenous — making the key decisions that matter to them. A future where Indigenous and rural communities in B.C. will celebrate a forest industry that adds local value, that provides good jobs and a thriving economy, and where our forests are managed in an ecologically sustainable way.
Thus, my political focus remains on the long-term need to improve our forest management. This is complex work, and with an eye toward generations to come rather than election terms, these decisions aren’t something that our political system is well designed to entertain. I empathize with the feeling that we’re not moving fast enough, but simultaneously hope that this larger perspective means work that will leave us all, and our environment, in a better place for the long term. Helping fix the root of the problems is what I hope — and believe — we can do. This intentions paper and the old-growth report help draw the map to lead us there. I know that concurrently, and the minister has reiterated her commitment to me directly, that short-term measures are happening and that more deferrals to protect old-growth forests are coming this summer.
The most essential element in the old-growth report, in my mind, is the recommendation that we spark that paradigm shift in our forest industry. I am confident that this shift can be done in a way that re-envisions and delivers a forest sector that supports our communities with greater value — more jobs, more opportunities, more decision-making, and more economic vibrancy. But most importantly, I’m confident that we can do this while simultaneously delivering an ecologically sustainable industry that leaves a healthy forest ecosystem for my children, and their children, and generations to come. And I’m proud to be a part of that process.
— Roly Russell is B.C.’s Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Development and MLA for Boundary-Similkameen