As the deputy chair of the Special Committee on Timber Supply, I have spent the last three months involved in intensive consultation which has now resulted in 22 recommendations to address the issue of mid-term timber supply and forest health.
The impetus of the formation of this committee arose from the tragic fire of January 21 when the community of Burns Lake lost its mill. But that crisis also highlighted other serious challenges facing the forest industry in British Columbia: drastically declining timber supplies, continued destruction by forest pests, inadequate knowledge about the state of our forests and the government’s lack of commitment to job protection.
Over the course of the 6-week consultation period, the committee received 650 submissions. And through that input, British Columbian’s stated their passion for our forest lands and their commitment to the sustainable use of that land. British Columbians understand that we rely on our forests not only for timber but for numerous other values including ecological services such as recreation and climate change mitigation.
Presenters told the committee that improving and supporting forest health is of critical importance. British Columbians expect the government to set high standards for sustainable practices on the land base, and to enforce them.
Experts told us we also must take significant action on wildfire mitigation and fuel management in the wildland-urban interface. Government needs to allocate a portion of its fire fighting budget to reducing forest fuels and fire risks on the land base to protect communities as well as future timber supply.
Presenters also stated that government has a responsibility to ensure that every tree harvested results in the best use of the fibre and highest number of jobs for British Columbians. In times of declining access to timber supply, we must reduce raw log exports, find new uses for fibre that is currently being wasted, and encourage manufacturing that puts British Columbians to work.
The overwhelming response to this committee’s consultation process indicates the importance of community engagement in land use decisions. The level of knowledge and clarity of perspective on the issue of timber supply and forest health proved that much of the wisdom to make the best decisions is in the communities that will be most affected.
The direction that the government should take on managing our forests for the future has been very clearly articulated by British Columbians through this process. And the NDP MLAs on the Timber Supply Committee have worked hard to ensure that the people’s vision is evident within the recommendations put forward in the final report.
New Democrats believe that forestry has a great future in British Columbia. But it is only through a renewed commitment to sustainable forest practices and a respect for non-timber values that we can ensure that our Crown lands continue to provide environmental, social and economic benefit both now and into the future.