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Provincial Politics: Liberal Government Has Lost Track On Forestry Management
By Elizabeth Rosenau. BC’s Auditor General, John Doyle, recently released a report on forestry management in this province. Based on his findings, British Columbians who want to see a viable forest industry in the future have much to be concerned about.
The government of British Columbia is responsible for 90 per cent of the 22 million hectares of forested land that are available for timber production and harvesting in this province and it would appear that it gets failing grades for its management of one of our most valuable public assets. When forests are damaged by wildfire, wind, diseases or pests such as the mountain pine beetle, the decision about replanting is left to the government. The government is not legally obligated to reforest and, as it turns out, replanting has occurred in a very, very limited way.
According to Darryl Walker, BCGEU president, the Liberal government dismantled the forest ministry’s research department, gutted its inventory program and slashed compliance and enforcement staff. In 2001 there were 42 district forestry offices providing oversight on public forest lands and now we are down to 21, each with a tiny percentage of the staff it had previously. A total of 39 people are tasked with keeping track of the forest inventory of our entire province. Under the circumstances, it’s little wonder that our government has lost track of this valuable resource and is working with inaccurate information.
Christy Clark’s jobs strategy is focused on non-renewable resources, such as mining and natural gas, which could give us a short-term boom. But forestry, as a renewable resource, has the potential to provide continued prosperity when that boom is over. The investments made in managing our forests today are all about providing the jobs of the future. Good forestry practices also promote water and soil health, mitigate the effects of climate change, and benefit species diversity.
A long term vision is required if we are to avoid the pitfalls inherent in the boom and bust economies that have played such a big part of British Columbia’s economic past. According to the Auditor General’s report, the ministry currently has no defined timber goals, is not clear about its own commitments, and has no real idea how much timber is actually out there to be harvested. How sad is that?
NDP MLA Norm MacDonald, Opposition critic for Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, has repeatedly called on the minister of forests to restore to the statutory responsibilities of the Chief Forester the requirements to conduct and maintain periodic forest inventories, and to reforest and restore forest lands disturbed by fire, wind, disease and insects when it is practical and economical to do so. We can only hope that the minister will get his head out of the sand and begin to listen to what the Auditor General, Mr. MacDonald and the Forest Practices Board have been trying to tell him for years.
The connections between our forest sector and Maple Ridge’s economy are deep and historic. Whether it’s the the Hammond Mill, which has been a major employer for many years, or Pelton Reforestration, which provided tree seedlings for myriad reforestration projects in the past, our community has benefited greatly from local jobs created as a direct result of British Columbia’s forests. I certainly hope that this could be the case again in the future.
Meanwhile, we continue to look for leadership in this area from a government that doesn’t seem to understand it’s responsibilities as custodians of this critical public resource.
Elizabeth Rosenau is one of the nominated candidates for the Provincial NDP in the riding of Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge.