Discussion on the Future of Forestry and Our Forests
– Dawn Hemingway –
Enough is Enough was the banner headline on the poster advertising a meeting on the future of forestry, forest renewal and community well-being, organized by Conservation North, and held in Prince George on October 10. Those working in the forestry and environmental sectors, students hoping to obtain education and work in those areas, retirees from the sector, along with a wide range of concerned community members and activists, all came together to hear presentations and engage in discussion about this critical topic for the future of Prince George, northern BC and the entire province.
The first speaker of the evening was Stand Up for the North spokesperson, Peter Ewart, who highlighted the fact that we have “a talented and skilled workforce … as well as supportive communities and institutes of higher learning.” He continued by saying that the forests in BC can be brought back to health through appropriate policies and scientific practices, but that there is a longstanding roadblock. “Workers, Indigenous peoples, foresters, contractors, scientists and others who work in the field are alienated from having control or even having a say…. Instead, billionaire financiers and top government bureaucrats make the key decisions, too often at the expense of the workforce and communities….” Further, workers and communities are alienated from the forest itself “living and working in the midst of the forests yet having no say about the health of the forests and the environment as a whole.” He concluded by calling for a new direction where working people and communities have more say and more control regarding the forests and forest industry of the province.
James Steidle, known for his leadership role in Stop the Spray BC (organizing to bring attention to and stop indiscriminate glyphosate spraying on forests in the BC interior), spoke next. He grew up and worked in a small forestry community, was subsequently employed in public policy and research within government and the labour movement, and now operates a woodworking company near Prince George. James’ presentation spoke about the rise of supermills, the damaging and totally unacceptable practices of clearcutting and overharvesting massive stands of forests, simply to line the pockets of the large forest companies, and the huge impact of these practices on small forestry operations, communities and families across northern BC. He also called for more control of the forests by those who work and live in the forests and forest communities.
The final speaker was Michelle Connolly from Conservation North who began by drawing attention to current efforts by big forest companies to gain access to public lands, including logging provincial parks as part of increasing their fiber supply. Specifically, she noted company requests of government to be provided “incentives” to access difficult terrain along with the creation of “working forest zones” with no conservation regulations. Michelle underlined the need to innovate and do better with the second growth forests that are already being harvested and leave the remaining primary, old growth forests alone. Again echoing the need for engagement and organizing to have community voices heard, Michelle reminded everyone of the current provincial government consultation process on forestry and encouraged attendees to access computers provided at the meeting to submit their views to government as one mechanism to express views and impact change.
Presentations were followed by questions and a lively discussion about how to organize to bring about the changes that everyone is seeking. Many participants also took advantage of the computers provided to send messages through to the government consultation process.
(Photos: Conservation North, J. Beckett)