Wood Rush: the demand for bio-fuel needs to be handled correctly

WHO IS managing British Columbia’s forests?

  • Jun. 21, 2011 5:00 p.m.
JIM CULP

JIM CULP

By Jim Culp

WHO IS managing British Columbia’s forests?

On a return trip from Vancouver in mid-April my wife and I talked about the state of our forests and the communities that were once dependent upon them.  Many smaller hamlets and villages from Yale to Terrace showed serious signs of decay as a result of the poor forest economy, some from a declining tourism industry others because of a change in agriculture production.  It was strange passing so many old and familiar landmarks, cafes, motels, and other businesses closed or boarded up.  In contrast very little of the natural landscapes have changed in the Fraser and Thompson River canyons.  Few logging clear cuts were seen and both river environments were spectacular.

It was depressing seeing the beetle killed pine along Highways 97 and 16 and visualizing the area affected being replaced by large clear cuts.

All of the negative talk about the high unemployment in the larger communities such as Williams Lake and Prince George were masked by the heavy traffic and business activity we are accustomed to seeing.

On our final lap we marveled over the natural beauty of the Skeena and Bulkley valleys.    Sadly, the scenery has changed over the 37 years we have lived in Terrace and the 50 years of travelling along Hwy16.  More logging clear cuts can be seen along the mountain slopes and it was unusual to see so many logging settings along and between the highway and the Skeena River. When laying out these settings where was the consideration for tourism values, protecting wildlife habitat, preserving riparian zone integrity and bio-diversity?

Industrial logging has forever created animosity because of unacceptable forest practices, over harvesting, and lack of consideration for fish, wildlife, tourism and other social values.  During the 1990’s, changes in forest practices and attitude took place across the province.  Complementing that change the NDP government established the Stephen Owen Commission on Resources and the Environment. A process intended to put an end to the “war in the woods” and to improve management of forests and the land base. Implementation of the Forest Practices Code and Local Resource Management planning followed.  The LRMPs  were  consensus based processes involving a cross section of interested parties who made critical recommendations to government on resource use, management of forests, wildlife, fisheries, tourism, land use, trapping and establishing protected areas along with numerous objectives and strategies .  The meetings in the Kalum Forest District were long and difficult over a period of more than 10 years.

During the process progress was made with the two major forest companies and a forest service who showed more understanding and a willingness to change.

Tradeoffs that occurred during that period were the retention of small groves of timber along rivers and roadways that have special significance for anglers, hikers, horse riders and those who want sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of every day life.  Visual quality objectives became the norm.  Bio-diversity was the new buzz word.  And fish, wildlife, hunting, fishing and tourism were all given a higher profile.

The Forest Practices Code continued prescriptive forest management with a focus on sustainability and multi-use and providing a more predictable future for more than just the forest industry.

Those three initiatives cooled the war in the woods. Unfortunately the forest industry was very unhappy with rules that were complex, difficult and costly to deal with.  For many the code went too far, too quickly and was a hated way to do business.  The NDP government recognized the problems and to its credit decided that changes and streamlining of the code were necessary.

Rightly or wrongly the Liberal Opposition made hay over the forest industry unhappiness, the so- called fast ferries fiasco and what they labeled as budget financial mismanagement by the NDP government.  The Liberals won the next election in 2001 with a resounding majority and now all of that is history.

The new government relegated the Forest Practices Code to forest development plans and imposed a new way of managing our forests called “results based management” which is incorporated into the TFL forest stewardship plans.  The new system called the “Forest and Range Practices Act” essentially does away with the prescriptive way of doing business and in contrast puts the onus on the companies and First Nations to design and implement logging plans.   Almost complete control over management of British Columbia’s forests is now vested with them.  Further entrenchment took place when government decreed that the well-being of the forest industry took priority over other interests and values.  After signing off on “Logging Stewardship Plans” it appears that the forest service is nothing more than a rubber stamp.  They and the Ministry of Environment have minimal control over implementation and harvesting unless there is a complete and obvious breakdown in the plan implementation or protecting other values.

Since the 1990’s about one half of the forest service staff and offices have been laid off and closed.  Similar reductions have been imposed upon the MOE including fragmenting various roles into two separate   ministries.  This senseless and dramatic alteration was brought about by former Premier Gordon Campbell.  For the public it is a mess and a disaster.  For industry they could not ask for anything better.

The privatization of our crown forests is taking place and there is no public dialogue.  The implications are enormous and I doubt most British Columbians understand the consequences. It seems that the only way of stopping this colossal restructuring will be public outrage.

Timber harvesting is taking place in locations never expected; in riparian zones, wildlife habitats, headwaters of community watersheds and removing groves of old growth timber that were special places, integral, and key parts of river valley landscapes the tourism mosaic of the Skeena Valley.

Much second growth timber, “the future” is being logged twenty to forty years before maturity.

Former Social Credit governments, although archaic in their respect for other values, had a solid grip on management of our crown forests. Not withstanding their political stripe previous governments maintained a management system that withstood the test of time.  Incredibly most of the past is trashed, along with the positive, forward thinking and good will of the 1990’s.

Handicapped in the 2000’s by the low value of the many mature hemlock and high cost to harvest, low prices for pulp along with plummeting demand and old inefficient pulp mills made the industry uneconomical. Compounding the dilemma was the later world wide recession, and the soft wood lumber war between the U.S. and Canada.

When the signing the Soft Wood Agreement, a quota should have been imposed upon Canada’s forest industry rather than a larger export of lumber.  A different result would have given our country more control and flexibility over how we manage our forests.  “Sadly” in a world of depleting resources, higher profits continue to trump the long term greater good.

Out of all this mess the two major saw mills in Terrace were shut down, incentives and a subsidy similar to the auto industry bailout may have kept the most modern and efficient mill operating.

What ever happened to tough international negotiating where the sale of a manufactured product takes priority over the export of whole logs?  Tough negotiating, along with a much smaller whole log market supplemented by a silvi-culture, logging road and infrastructure maintenance work program funded by the taxpayer would have made more sense.  A more productive and efficient future forest industry would have emerged along with the creation of a more diversified labor force.

I am very concerned over the possibility of a gold rush for waste wood and mature hemlock for wood pellet, bio-coal and bio-energy operations. Who will be in control over forest tenure, logging plans, forest practices, waste removal, impact upon wildlife, fisheries, bio-diversity and the list goes on?  Government and public dialogue is critical.

What is the future of TFL#41?  Is it part of the West Fraser Sawmill sale to a foreign country?  What are the implications?  Should that tenure remain in Canada?  Again an up front public dialogue is necessary.

Are we moving back to the bad old days when the war in the woods followed the terrible logging practices of the previous 100 years?  Or is there hope that our provincial government will reconsider its forest policy and embrace much of the sound and progressive direction and thinking of the 1990’s?