We can protect old growth forests and forestry jobs at the same time

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Opinion: There are solutions that support forest-dependent communities while dealing with the ecological and climate emergencies we face.

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April 30 will mark a year since the Government of British Columbia received the Expert Panel Report on the Strategic Review of Old Growth (OGSR), its blueprint for a paradigm shift in the forest sector of British Columbia. A strategy that, if fully implemented, would protect old-growth forests that are still threatened, promote reconciliation with First Nations and mark the transition to a value-added forestry sector, mainly second-growth in British Columbia.

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The new Minister of Forests insists that forestry workers and communities be supported while changes in the sector take place. She is right, and there is still work to be done to understand and address the socio-economic impacts of the OGSR recommendations. But the minister must first recognize that the continued dependence on British Columbia’s declining ancient resources is neither sustainable nor responsible and does not favor forest-dependent communities that can and must diversify before ancient stands. of the province are exhausted.

It must also recognize that the forestry status quo already undermines the resilience of communities and does not protect forestry jobs.

Over the past two decades, around 55,000 forestry jobs have been lost and more than 80 factories have closed. The reasons are complex, but on the coast it is the result of decades of short-sighted government and industry mismanagement; the historical overexploitation of valley bottoms with the largest and most valuable trees; diminishing returns as productive forests become more expensive to access and trees become smaller as fellers move higher up the valley slopes; a failure to retool factories to handle smaller, second-growth trees; and the export of massive quantities of raw, unprocessed logs abroad.

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The big forestry companies are not the job creators they tell us. Instead of planning for the future, they manage the decline. Once BC’s most precious forests are exhausted, they will be gone, leaving behind closed factories and economic hardship. It is up to the Government of British Columbia to turn things right and achieve the paradigm shift it has promised while providing meaningful support to those most affected. But nearly a year after the OGSR report was completed, there is no sign of the transition plan the province was supposed to have completed within six to 12 months.

It is not for lack of opportunity. Forestry workers have long called on the province to cut exports of raw logs from British Columbia, which reached an unprecedented average of nearly six million cubic meters per year between 2015 and 2019, taking well jobs with them. paid. After promising to restrict raw log exports while in opposition, the NDP government in British Columbia must now translate its intentions into action.

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The NDP could also develop regulations and incentives to facilitate the shift to value-added second growth manufacturing; modernizing factories in British Columbia to adapt to the changing profile of the forest; and support innovative wood processing technologies – well beyond its mass timber initiative – to build the forest sector of the future, based on valuing British Columbia’s forests as much as possible to generate jobs sustainable while reducing the cap protect old wood at risk.

And when it is not yet possible to fully shift to second-growth harvesting, the province should work with municipalities and First Nations to diversify local economies by actively seeking value-added timber and other harvesting capabilities. manufacturing; opportunities for sustainable and alternative development of natural resources; cultural and ecotourism; ecosystem restoration; and more.

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At the same time, logging deferrals in the last 2.7 percent of British Columbia’s at-risk old growth forests are urgently needed to create the “solution space” required to develop conservation and management strategies. long-term forest management while ensuring that productive old growth forests are still standing when all is said and done. Allowing the logging of these remaining lowland old growth forests while developing a plan to best manage them would be reckless and inexcusable.

Funding is an essential key to “unlocking” opportunities for further postponements, economic transition and long-term protection of old growth. By allocating funds in the 2021-2022 budget to alleviate the economic pressure faced by many First Nations – thus making postponement of logging an economically viable option – and to support managed land use planning by Indigenous people, the province would advance Indigenous reconciliation and self-determination while safeguarding high-risk old growth forests.

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Subsequent budgets must then support conservation funding for First Nations and the creation and management of a vast interconnected network of Indigenous protected areas that protects at-risk ecosystems and perpetual access to cultural resources such as the monumental cedar. , medicinal plants and salmon.

Finally, British Columbia must begin to harmonize its laws and policies with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as it has committed to do under the province’s UNDRIP legislation of 2019, including including those relating to land use, forestry and other resource sectors.

Those with vested interests in the status quo will continue to pit old-growth protection against the need for jobs, but ignore the reality that there are many solutions available to support forest-dependent communities while dealing with emergencies. ecological and climatic conditions that we are all familiar with. face.

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It is essential that these steps – all necessary to ensure the successful implementation of the OGSR report – are undertaken in full and simultaneously. British Columbians will not accept half measures or tinker with the complex issues facing BC’s forest sector, ecosystems and communities at risk. Yes, more analysis and consultation is needed to steer the forest sector in a new direction, but there is no time to waste either. Now is the time for the Government of British Columbia to be bold.

Andrea Inness is an activist for the Ancient Forest Alliance. Gary Fiege is President of Public and Private Workers of Canada, Fformerly the Pulp and Paper Workers of Canada.

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