GERDING: Forest industry facing tough times

Upcoming protests seeks change in how B.C.’s forests are harvested

Comedian Rodney Dangerfield’s line that he never gets any respect could also be applied to B.C.’s forest industry.

Dating back to the mid-1980s, our forest harvest even then was being referred to as a “sunset industry,” as tourism was becoming the perceived future gold mine for B.C.’s economic fortunes.

The writing was already on the wall despite the reality then how the forest industry was still a booming entity.

Harvesting trees, a reusable resource if trees were replanted, in theory, could have remained an ongoing backbone of our economy. But tree planting and silviculture efforts are expensive and labour intensive, with a return on investment 80 to 100 years from now not so attractive to corporate shareholders.

Today, the forest industry has been abandoned. By the industry corporations who see their investment targeted at mills and timber rights south of the border.

By the environmentalists who want it severely restricted.

By a provincial government tired of dealing with free trade issues over timber rights subsidies.

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Over the last two decades, mills have closed, high paying manufacturing jobs have been lost.

For Peachland resident Taryn Skalbania, she still sees a future for logging, but one on a much smaller operating scale, an industry perhaps returning to its roots before the mass clear-cutting corporate thinking entered the picture.

She sees an opening for value added products being generated by our wood supply, rather than sending raw logs off to countries like China so we can buy their value added products.

And she envisions an industry that fits in with rather than diminishes watershed ecosystems.

She cites Gorman Brothers in West Kelowna as one example of successfully adopting that way of thinking, and Westbank First Nation moving in that same direction.

She says the economic stats belay an industry in decline.

Being subsidized by the province to the amount of $1 million a day, Skalbania says the allusion that our forest industry revenues build hospitals and schools is fading from reality.

Today, she says Vancouver International Airport has only a slightly lower contribution to the province’s GDP than forestry, 3.0 to 3.69 per cent.

“It’s a strange thing…forestry used to be a big player, but it has been replaced by real estate, high tech, health, tourism, even mining,” Skalbania said.

“People in the industry hate it when you it’s dying, but I do think it needs to be reshaped. So many things need to change. The days of clear-cutting and leaving behind the trees that are too large or small in diameter dimensions for milling can’t continue any longer.”

The bark beetle epidemics have also forced the acceleration of timber harvesting to save the value of the trees, but the inevitable timber shortfall will hurt so many of the B.C. Interior’s one-resource towns. At least that was predicted.

But since the ‘80s, Skalbania says any push for changes in forestry management have hit the same brick wall — legislation favours corporate profits over ecosystem health and local job creation. Liberal or NDP, the government has remained committed to large-scale timber harvesting and log exports.

“Industry is not going to change and the government is not going to change unless we at the grassroots level lobby for change,” she said.

To bring greater attention to that discussion, Skalbania joined forces with Grand Forks resident Jennifer Houghton to organize a forestry summit conference online, featuring 12 different topics, culminating in a provincewide day of action protest for change on Sept. 18.

Their protest deserves our collective attention, to push for a new way to preserve what is left of a fading industry and high paying manufacturing sector jobs that can’t be replaced.

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