Forestry needs public input
Just what has happened to take forestry off the radar for both the media and the public? About all that makes the news these days regarding B.C.’s forests are mill closures, fires and beetles. It was not that long ago that there were battles raging over clearcutting, park creation and the job threats. Here in the Shuswap, poor logging and road-building practices led to massive erosion events and local forest companies fought hard to resist land use planning.
Thanks to progressive government policies in the 1990s, a forest practices code improved logging and land use planning settled conflicts as new parks were created, old growth forests were conserved and protection of riparian areas was improved. Concerns remained over the rate of logging, as overcutting threatens not only ecosystems but also future jobs.
When the forest industry backed government was elected over ten years ago, they quickly transformed forest policies to give companies unfettered access to timber through what they called results-based. Government oversight was nearly eliminated as the forest service was reduced to a shell of its former self and companies were no longer required to prepare detailed plans for review.
In the nineties, the ongoing debate was jobs versus the environment, as the forestry sector claimed that environmental protection and park creation would result in massive job loss for forestry dependent communities like the Shuswap. But the ironic reality is that many of the jobs are now gone due to mechanization and the drop in demand and prices due to the economic downturn. Thankfully, the Shuswap’s increasingly diverse economy has meant that despite the likely permanent loss of the Canoe sawmill and other smaller mills, one can hardly notice any impacts.
But with the local forest service office long gone, forestry plans no longer available, and far fewer watchful eyes in the forests; conflicts are brewing again over where and how logging takes place. As well, the lack of reforestation is once again reaching crisis proportions. The growing litany of problems has now even prompted forestry professionals to take action.
A volunteer run, provincial initiative, “Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities – A Conversation on B.C.’s Forests” has been holding public consultations in communities across the province to gather input for a series of recommendations for our political leaders. On September 14th, from 6 to 9:30 pm, this initiative will hold a public meeting in Salmon Arm at the Prestige Inn. Everyone is welcome to attend and provide their concerns about current forest management and suggest their solutions to the problems.
The organizers want to hear from anyone who has a stake in our forests, including local politicians, community leaders, first nations, forest workers, recreation groups, tourism operators and conservationists.
Based on the input received so far from the public and from the experts who have prepared a series of reports, a number of solutions have already become apparent that focus on sustainably managing forest resources. Communities want to be better informed and want to have more influence on forestland decisions. As well, there are once again calls for tenure reform that supports small-scale tenures, value-added manufacturing and that revives the appurtenancy policy that requires mills to create employment in the region where logging takes place.
Here in the Shuswap, many of the past issues were resolved with the completion of land use planning over ten years ago. However, concerns are mounting again due in part to the government having axed the land use plan monitoring committee a few years ago. Consequently, there is no longer any mechanism for stakeholders to monitor the implementation of the plan, share information and resolve concerns.
A number of new local conflicts are emerging, including plans to log the watershed above Cherryville and near Echo Lake. Another issue is the management of the protected old growth, because when it burns as happened in the Momich Lake area, there is no mechanism to identify replacement areas. Also, some studies have shown that lodgepole pine is not surviving well in cedar/hemlock ecosystems, yet there is little information available. Although the Healthy Forests initiative will not address specific problems, it is a much needed step towards both raising public awareness and hopefully, seeking solutions to a growing list of problems. Visit bcforestconversation.com to learn more.