B.C.’s for­est sec­tor must evolve to sur­vive

The Prince George Citizen - - Local -

Re­cent sawmill clo­sures in Bri­tish Columbia have brought to light the need for re­newed fo­cus on the mis­man­age­ment of B.C. forests over the past decades, which is hav­ing a sig­nif­i­cant ef­fect on the B.C. and Cana­dian economies. If you are liv­ing in the B.C. In­te­rior, where over 820 job cuts due to per­ma­nent mill clo­sures have been an­nounced in the last week alone, the ef­fects could be dev­as­tat­ing.

When we take in the lo­cal mul­ti­plier ef­fect of 2.5 jobs for ev­ery job cre­ated by in­dus­try, we re­al­ize the pos­si­bil­ity of eco­nomic hard­ship hit­ting 2,050 fam­i­lies with­out work and tight on money.

Ac­cord­ing to some re­ports, these re­cent mill clo­sures could just be the be­gin­ning of a fur­ther trend.

It is es­ti­mated that an­other 12 mills could close in B.C., putting an­other 2,000 peo­ple out of work. So what is the prob­lem? Un­doubt­edly, there have been some chal­lenges in re­cent years with tim­ber sup­ply, in­clud­ing the pine beetle epi­demic in the early 2000s, which led to an un­prece­dented amount of tim­ber be­ing cut by 2005 and the sub­se­quent years of for­est fires dev­as­tat­ing sig­nif­i­cant swaths of mar­ketable tim­ber.

But this could hardly be con­sid­ered mis­man­age­ment or could it?

There is ev­i­dence that sug­gests that the pine beetle epi­demic could have been averted had there been less for­est fire sup­pres­sion in af­fected ar­eas dur­ing the early years of in­fes­ta­tion.

Log­ging prac­tices that in­cluded al­low­ing the truck­ing of the

bee­tles through un­in­fected ar­eas to dis­tant mills and the log­ging ban in Tweedsmeer Park when the pine beetle prob­lem first be­came an epi­demic have all been crit­i­cized as mis­man­age­ment of the forests. Yet the prob­lems go much deeper.

Deeply in­grained in the for­est prac­tices of Bri­tish Columbia are prob­lems that have con­trib­uted to the re­cent years of wild­fires.

These in­clude a lack of di­ver­sity of species in re­for­esta­tion prac­tices, which have con­cen­trated on the planting of conif­er­ous trees and the spray­ing of her­bi­cides to kill de­cid­u­ous trees that are nat­u­rally more re­sis­tant to for­est fires.

These prac­tices, which have been in­grained for decades, have re­sulted in a lack of va­ri­ety in our forests. This has def­i­nitely con­trib­uted to the spread­ing of for­est fires.

But the lack of di­ver­sity doesn’t stop with just trees. We have a sig­nif­i­cant lack of di­ver­sity in the types of prod­ucts that are be­ing pro­duced by our trees, with a sig­nif­i­cant lack of value-added prod­ucts. This is com­pounded by the fact that small man­u­fac­tur­ers lack ac­cess to wood and tim­ber sup­ply.

Fail­ure on the part of gov­ern­ment over the years to de­mand in­vest­ments into strate­gies that would di­ver­sify our prod­uct mix to pro­tect the econ­omy has now be­come dis­as­trous for fam­i­lies in the in­te­rior of Bri­tish Columbia.

A re­port sev­eral years ago demon­strated that Swe­den, a coun­try with a com­mer­cial for­est land base sim­i­lar to the one in B.C., em­ployed dou­ble the num­ber of peo­ple in forestry and pro­duced al­most 2.5 times the value in wood prod­ucts.

The ten­ure sys­tem, where large com­pa­nies have been given the ac­cess and man­age­ment of large re­gions of for­est in ex­change for jobs, is a sys­tem that is fraught with prob­lems.

Like a third world coun­try, we have es­sen­tially given our trees away for a pit­tance.

Not only that, these com­pa­nies have grown their mills over the years to con­sume more and more of our forests in ex­change for fewer and fewer jobs while we turned a blind eye.

Shame on us.

Now these com­pa­nies are sell­ing their ten­ure, tak­ing their money, shut­ting down their mills in Canada and buy­ing up oth­ers in the U.S. or in Europe.

It might be too late to act to change our for­est prac­tices and pro­tect the econ­omy in the short term, how­ever in the in­ter­est of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions we need to start mak­ing changes. These changes need to start at the univer­sity level, where our fu­ture lead­ers con­tinue to be taught for­est prac­tices that have led to our present sit­u­a­tion.

We need voices to be heard that want to con­sider eco­log­i­cal prac­tices that en­able our forests to be healthy.

We need changes to the dis­tri­bu­tion of tim­ber rights that al­low smaller com­pa­nies to have ac­cess to tim­ber.

Fi­nally, we need to think about how ten­ure should re­vert back to the Crown when forestry gi­ants close their doors in­stead of al­low­ing them to sell to oth­ers who con­tinue down the sim­i­lar path where Bri­tish Columbians and Cana­di­ans fail to ben­e­fit.

This is a com­plex mat­ter. Un­less we stand up and de­mand change, how­ever, change will never hap­pen and we will con­tinue this cy­cle of boom and bust for gen­er­a­tions to come and con­tinue neg­a­tively affect our econ­omy.

Dave Fuller MBA, is a cer­ti­fied pro­fes­sional busi­ness coach and the au­thor of the book Profit Your­self Healthy. Feel lost in the woods with your busi­ness? Email [email protected]­i­ty­our­selfhealth­y.com.

DAVE FULLER

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