OPINION: Bob Brash: No better time than now to protect B.C.’s forestry sectorOver the decades, governments of all stripes have made considerable promises and commitments to strengthen B.C.’s forestry sector, and the resource communities and workers dependent upon its success. Well, it’s time to move forward on those promises for everyone’s future well-being.Contrary to the stories constructed by those with ulterior agendas, B.C.’s forestry sector remains critical to its economy now and into the future. More importantly, 340 of B.C.’s communities and 120 First Nations and organizations are dependent — to varying degrees — on the success of the sector for their continuing sustainability, viability and vitality. Don’t take our word for it; resource communities long ago knew this core fact and are making their voices heard when it comes to government policies and strategies moving forward. And their voices are supported by numerous studies demonstrating the extent to which the forestry sector is important to their towns and cities.
Another fact, contrary to the story board of those fighting against the forestry sector, is B.C.’s Lower Mainland and urban areas’ dependence on the forest industry. The number of sawmills, remanufacturing, value-added and distribution facilities is extensive. In fact, a recent Council of Forest Industry study shows 19 municipalities in Metro Vancouver to be the largest recipients of the industry supply-chain spend.Where does the billions-of-dollars in benefits for all of us come from? It comes from the most regulated and sustainable forests in the world. It comes from the most independently certified forests in the world. And it comes from only one-third-of-one-per-cent of the land base being harvested in any particular year.Our newly re-elected government has high hopes and ambitions for our forestry sector. That’s great. All of us in the industry will support any move to make us collectively stronger and more prosperous. But here’s the rub: There is a heavily financed, vocal and orchestrated minority with an intent to dramatically downsize the industry. In short, there is never a stump they would like harvested and they talk in platitudes and fantasies about strategies to mitigate impacts to our rural and resource communities that are impossible to implement.One of the core issues surrounds the extent of the long-term working forest and old-growth management. If we all truly wish to support the industry moving forward, resolution is obviously required. For many of us, the decades of ever-increasing complexities in the regulatory environment and areas set aside for outright protection would seem more than sufficient. For others, any logging is unacceptable and past agreements are meaningless to their agendas.
In order for this sector to prosper, a few basic factors are critical. First, there must be certainty in the land base available over the long-term. Second, we need to get our overall cost structure in place because we’ve simply created a poor investment climate due to our high and onerous cost structure. And lastly, we need to ensure there are open avenues for a freer flow of logs and lumber to encourage the diversity needed in our industry for those (and there are many of us) who want to invest in creating jobs and prosperity for everyone.Government has made commitments to ensure future decisions about the working forest and old growth by conducting necessary social and economic studies before any decisions moving forward. We trust they will follow through on such commitments because it’s the right thing to do. We will also continue to force discussions on the long-term vision to move our industry forward.Why is there no better time to protect B.C.’s forestry sector? It always has been and always will be the mainstay of B.C.’s economy and rural communities. During COVID-19, the sector hasn’t only shown remarkable abilities to adapt to change and provide the job and revenue stability needed in these difficult times, but has also provided the essential building materials, pandemic supplies and consumer products proven to be critical to everyone.Our government can leave a legacy that will continue to benefit this province long after the pandemic. Luckily, those in the forestry sector and our resource communities are more than willing to invest in that legacy.