A Vancouver Island elected official wants to see the management of B.C.’ s forests decentralized and managed at the regional level.
Rob Douglas, a councillor in the Municipality of North Cowichan, made a notice of motion Wednesday for council to discuss the issue at the next council meeting on June 19 and to consider whether to send the recommendation to the Union of B.C. Municipalities for its consideration.
He said the forest industry in British Columbia has been on a steady decline in recent decades, with regular mill closures, thousands of jobs lost, and once thriving forestry communities experiencing severe economic decline that is, in part, due to government policies that removed the rules that tied timber harvest to processing at local mills and facilitated an unprecedented growth in raw log exports.
Douglas said many communities across British Columbia have demonstrated that when local people are empowered to manage their forests, such as is the case with the dozens of community forests across the province, there are significant social, economic and environmental benefits.
They include higher levels of local employment and increased self-reliance of rural communities, increased public involvement in resource planning and management decisions, and reduced conflicts over timber harvesting in watersheds and other sensitive areas.
“Four years ago, former B.C. Forest Minister Robert Williams outlined a new model of regionally-based forestry management in his paper ‘Restoring Forestry in BC: The Story of the Industry’s Decline and the Case for Regional Management’ that advocated for resting power with the communities most directly affected by forest management decisions,” Douglas said.
“Giving local people more control leads to better long-term outcomes. There are already several examples of this across the province, including the Harmac pulp mill in Nanaimo where the workers took over operations there and have done a great job.”
Douglas said that, while his motion does have some ties with recent demands by many in North Cowichan to have more of a say in the management of the municipality’s 5,000-hectare municipal reserve forest, the concept was first discussed in the Valley four years ago when Robert Williams was invited to speak to the board at the Cowichan Valley Regional District about his ideas.
“Williams told us that 90 per cent of the Valley’s land base is forests and, while many view forestry as a sunset industry, the land base is still there and we could find ways for it to provide a lot more local employment,” Douglas said.
As part of his motion, Douglas also wants to see the creation of a Forest Charter that would be passed by the province’s Legislature that includes an overall vision, sustainability principles, and standards and goals for the province’s forests.
He said he would also like to see a Forester General appointed by the province to serve as a new independent officer who would report annually to the Legislature and work with the regions on local land-planning processes.
“I also want the province to implement a pilot project on Vancouver Island and coastal B.C., in partnership with local First Nations, that will empower local communities and provide an opportunity to assess the effectiveness of regional forestry management,” Douglas said.
In related news, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development is conducting reviews of its Forest and Range Practices Act and its Managed Forest Program and is seeking public input on what people would like to see changed and/or improved.
The Forest and Range Practices Act governs on-the-ground forest and range activities on B.C.’s public forests and range lands.
The Managed Forest Program encourages sustainable forest management practices, including protecting key public environmental values, in the province’s privately owned forests.
For more in formation, check out http://engage.gov.bc.ca/forestandrangepractices, and https://engage.gov.bc.ca/govtogetherbc/consultation/private-managed-forest-land-program-review/.