BC must dramatically change how forestry is managed and governed if it hopes to reverse today’s troubling trends, says Bob Williams, who served as the province’s forest minister in the early 1970s, in a new report for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Williams says it is essential to shift decision-making away from unaccountable transnational forestry corporations to regional planning councils that are accountable to rural communities and First Nations.
Failure to reverse present trends where millions of raw logs are exported from BC, forest industry jobs continue to decline, and the industry’s share of provincial GDP shrinks is in no one’s interest, he says.
“We have an industry that for the most part is in the cheap commodity lumber business,” Williams says in the report that is part memoir and part research based on five decades involvement with the industry.
“We have pretended that we’ve developed a scientifically sound base for sustainable forestry practice. We’ve pretended we have a successful licensing and cutting program, and we’ve pretended that we get full value for our trees with a competitive system for selling timber and cutting rights. On all of these points, and more, we have failed,” Williams writes in Restoring Forestry in BC: The story of the industry’s decline and the case for regional management.
If managed regionally rather than by corporations BC’s iconic industry can benefit British Columbians and communities around the province, says Williams who has also been a senior government advisor.
In recent years, Williams toured forestry communities on the coast, Vancouver Island, the Kootenays and northern Interior with two registered professional foresters and a land planning researcher to examine the state of BC forests and speak with people who took control of local forests and forestry operations in order to protect valuable public resources for future generations and to create jobs today.
After these visits, Williams, registered professional foresters Ray Travers and Fred Parker and planner Denis O’Gorman determined that regional-based forestry with local input and management would best serve BC’s public forests and communities surrounding them.
Williams recommends that a BC Forest Charter be passed by the Legislature with an overall vision for the province, sustainability principles, standards and goals for this valuable public resource as well as establishment of an independent Forester General to work with regional foresters on local land planning processes.
The Forester General would provide data, information, monitoring and accountability to the regions.
“This would be a significant change from the status quo, which is basically off-loading management of our public forests to the private sector,” Williams believes. “We must grow our forests for value over time rather than simply for the volume of timber we can extract from them today.”
Williams points to Sweden as a country where forests are managed in the public interest for the long term. Sweden’s total forested lands are equal in area to BC’s commercial forests.
“The Swedes manage their lands in a scientific manner. We do not,” he says.
“They intensively replant and thin forests two or three times over a long rotation period and by doing this Sweden has increased the value and volume of trees growing in managed forests. We can learn from them,” he explained.
The report finds that if implemented well, a system of regional forest co-management with First Nations could:
- maintain or enhance environmental health and sustainability.
- provide for public involvement at the local level in planning and stewardship.
- provide fulfilling jobs with a living wage.
- create economic growth and improve equity and fairness throughout the province.
Read Report Here.