By Robin Austin
Forestry in the northwest has a long and rich history, and properly managed, it can have a bright and prosperous future.
We are all aware that forestry has faced difficult times in the past several years.
Since 2001, under the current Liberal government, more than 35,000 well-paying, family-supporting jobs have vanished from the forest industry.
In some regions, including parts of the northwest, almost the entire manufacturing sector has vanished, leaving nothing but harvesting in areas where forestry was once the sole industry.
The job losses have meant devastation as workers, many of whom had been in the same job their entire working lives, were left with no livelihoods.
In other cases, workers and families had to leave for other provinces to find work, leaving holes in those communities.
The wait-and-see approach by the current government has simply not worked.
The job losses began to mount in the first years of this century and have continued.
To make matters worse, the government significantly reduced the resources devoted to restoring the health of our forests.
Even the most basic work – inventory work aimed at showing the true state of the forests – has been slashed. As the pine beetle outbreak ravaged the forests, the government reduced tree planting and silviculture work.
Not only has forestry’s present been underserved by this government, the future has been somewhat hamstrung.
Adrian Dix and the New Democrats think we can do better. And we must do better.
There’s no question that our forests face challenges. A quick glance at any of the region’s forests is enough to tell you that we will see less opportunity for harvesting in the future.
Annual allowable cuts were increased in the wake of the beetle outbreak and even if planting did keep pace, it would still be years before the new growth was ready for cutting.
So we need to make better use of the fiber that is available to us.
Bio-energy is one strategy – especially when it comes to the use of waste wood – but we also need to develop new products and new processes that would allow us to take advantage of the fiber currently available to us.
Research at the University of Northern B.C. should be used to guide us toward a forest industry of the future, one that gets the best use of the wood we have.
And we also need to pay greater attention to forest health. Fire, pests and routine harvests have all taken their toll.
As owners of the resource – the forested land base in British Columbia is conservatively estimated at a quarter to a third of a trillion dollars – it’s crucial that we maintain and invest in our economic asset so it’s there to sustain future generations.
Despite its current challenges, I believe forestry can be an important economic driver in the northwest for years to come.
And governments can play a role in driving positive change.
As we mark national forestry week, it’s my hope we can look forward to a bright and prosperous future in forestry.
Robin Austin is the NDP MLA for Skeena. First elected in 2005, he is the NDP critic for education in the provincial legislature.