B.C. has some of the richest and most diverse forests in the world. But, as everyone knows, these forests are in bad shape now and the forest industry itself is in crisis.
How has this come about? There are a host of problems ranging from the over-harvesting of timber to raw log exports, pine and spruce beetle infestations, lack of reinvestment, failure to extract more value from the wood, environmental degradation, and now an acute shortage of wood fibre which has contributed to the closure of the pulp line at Prince George Pulp & Paper and 300 employees losing their jobs.
One thing is clear. For too long, government forest policy has been under the thumb of the giant globalized forest companies with just about everyone else relegated to the sidelines. And we are seeing the results of this lop-sided big company domination with the sorry state of our forests today.
Our forests still have all sorts of potential, but to release that potential we need solutions to get us out of the present state of affairs and to make sure that this same situation doesn’t happen again down the road.
A key solution that I think we should consider and discuss is the concept of more community control over the forest resource.
Does this mean the big forest companies will have no input? No, it does not. They will have their input, but that’s along with the input from everyone else including workers, Indigenous peoples, small and medium forestry companies, environmentalists, relevant levels of government, contractors, forest scientists and other community members.
In other words, more real decision-making power from all sectors engaged in forestry, along with the broader community. There is a word for more community control. It’s called democracy.
It is not about one sector having lop-sided power and everyone else on the sidelines, but rather it’s about all sectors of the community, workers and industry being empowered to have input and collectively make good, sound, environmentally sustainable decisions about our forest resource, such as getting more value out of the wood and preserving our old growth forests.
But we need new community-based mechanisms and processes to bring this paradigm shift about. The current political and economic processes just won’t do. In that regard, from the BC experience, there are various examples of communities having more control over what happens to the forest resource (e.g community forests, appurtenancy arrangements, etc.), as well as the experience of other jurisdictions and countries which we can learn from. This does not necessarily mean that these are the solutions for the problems of today. Indeed, it is a time to stretch our imaginations and develop new paths that fit our unique circumstances, empower our communities and preserve our forests.
Of course, more community control does not mean abandoning provincial environmental and other forms of centralized regulation, nor does it solve all the problems facing us in the forestry sector. But it is about empowering communities and those who live and work in them to have the means and mechanisms to make decisions about the forest resource that surrounds us and belongs to all of us, rather than the key decisions being made in faraway corporate boardrooms and government offices.
In my opinion, new types of community control, of what amounts to a deepening of our democracy, is a way forward out of the problems that we are facing in our forests today.
Peter Ewart is a Prince George writer.