A commentary from a 40 year veteran of the BC Forest Service who has held senior professional positions in inventory, silviculture and forest health.
Jobs in British Columbia’s forestry sector have become a talisman used by the forestry industry and its associations to persuade politicians of the importance of the sector to the provincial economy.
As forestry jobs steadily declined, industry lobbyists such as the Council of Forest Industries, Resource Works and the Truck Loggers’ Association became increasingly creative in overstating the forestry sector’s contribution to the provincial economy by inflating the number of jobs with indirect jobs.
If Statistics Canada counted jobs this way, we would have many more jobs than there are residents in the province.
Between 2000 and 2019, British Columbia’s forestry sector lost 50,000 direct jobs largely due to the mechanization and depletion of old growth forests. About the same number, 50,000, remains, mostly in manufacturing.
So let’s question the talisman. Is it so ridiculous to cut the remaining number of direct forestry jobs in lumber and manufacturing from, say, 40,000? Maybe not. Let’s take a look at some of the compelling reasons for a shrinking forestry workforce:
The loss of tree cover expressed in area per capita is greater in British Columbia than in most forest countries in the world; higher than that of Brazil, Indonesia and Russia. This rate and extent of clearcutting has a significant carbon footprint.
The prevalence of highly flammable clearcuts and young plantations (under 25) has become a major factor in the size of forest fires … the mega-fires of recent years that are destroying homes and affecting so much the quality of the land. air that our health is in danger.
In fact, British Columbia’s wildfires have grown so much in size and intensity that they, along with logging, now overtake fossil fuels as the primary source of carbon destabilizing the province’s climate. You won’t find this in the provincial government’s carbon accounting because it has cleverly chosen to ignore carbon emissions from logging and wildfires.
The consequences of clearcutting more familiar to the reader include: The loss of the few remaining old-growth forests that grow in ecosystems rich in biodiversity; destruction of fish and wildlife habitat (salmon, caribou and grizzly bears); and the relentless extermination and extirpation of animals, plants and fungi.
In many ways, climate change in British Columbia is about water. Here, clear cutting contributes to contaminating the drinking water of many rural communities; in the depletion of groundwater causing more frequent and prolonged episodes of drought; and, of great concern to residents of Grand Forks and the Okanagan Valley, by increasing the frequency, magnitude and duration of major floods.
The excessive clearcut rate is permitted by a grossly inflated annual allowable cut. But the question is: to what end? Only 20 percent of clearcut forest products are destined for our domestic market.
The remaining 80 percent satisfy export markets primarily in the United States, China, and Japan, all of which have higher standards for old-growth conservation and protection than British Columbia. This means that these three countries conserve their ecosystems to the detriment of the degradation of our ecosystems.
Despite the high level of forest product exports, the forest sector contributes a meager 2% to the provincial gross domestic product and only 2% to the provincial workforce. In other words, our provincial economy is strong and resilient enough to absorb further job losses in the forestry sector and reduced exports of raw logs and forest products.
Therefore, would it not be in the public interest to ban clearcuts and drastically lower the annual allowable cut, thereby reducing the export of raw logs and forest products and labor in the forestry sector?
If we, as a British Columbia company, can cut 400,000 jobs in two months of 2020 to deal with a global pandemic, is it so ridiculous to make the transition from, say, 40,000 forestry jobs to non-destructive, value-added forestry companies and other sectors to alleviate a global climate emergency already having such profound consequences for the environment and residents of British Columbia?
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