Cariboo North NDP MLA candidate Duncan Barnett (standing) shares ideas on the future of forestry in B.C. gleaned from a group discussion during a community meeting hosted by Forests for BC at the Ramada Inn Tuesday in Williams Lake. Also at the table are Peter Atamanenko

Cariboo North NDP MLA candidate Duncan Barnett (standing) shares ideas on the future of forestry in B.C. gleaned from a group discussion during a community meeting hosted by Forests for BC at the Ramada Inn Tuesday in Williams Lake. Also at the table are Peter Atamanenko

Future of B.C. forest industry discussed

Around 50 people gathered in Williams Lake recently to discuss the future of forestry in B.C.

Linda Rowley grew up in a logging camp at Big Creek, is married to a logger, and works part-time as a logger, driving big machines.

At a community meeting held in Williams Lake at the Ramada Inn last week she said she’s noticed for 14 years she and her husband have been paid the same rate per cubic metre.

“Insurance went up, the price of diesel fuel, everything, and we’re still getting paid the same as we did 14 years ago.”

Last summer they were bidding on some ditch trenching contracts.

When she was looking through some invoices, she noticed 10 and 12 years ago she’d submit bills for $770 a hectare.

Now that rate is $550 a hectare.

Rowley was part of the panel for a discussion about the future of forests in B.C., hosted by unions representing forestry workers.

City councillor Surinderpal Rathor was also on the panel.

He said when he moved to Williams Lake in 1974 he began working at what was then P and T mill.

“Ever since then the name has changed so many times. It’s now Tolko, Soda Creek division,” he said.

At the beginning of his career, 46 people were needed to start a mill.

“Today you need nobody. I started working as a cleanup guy and then through my career drove every machine that was available in the mill. Then I took an apprenticeship and became the head electrician in the electrical department.”

Several mills have closed in Williams Lake since Rathor arrived.

“In the old days I could go to any mill and ask for a donation of a minimum $5,000 cheque and it was no problem. Today there are two companies and if you go there you’re lucky if you get $500.”

Globalization has taken autonomy from the communities away, he added.

In 2009, Rathor did some research around the “wood first” initiative and learned between 2001 and 2008 78 sawmills closed in B.C.

“Those 78 mills never mentioned Creekside, Jacobson Brothers, Jack Pine, and  how many mills like that were closed that weren’t in the list?”

Jobs are being cut and production is up, he added.

Council of Canadians Williams Lake council member John Dressler recalled moving to Williams Lake when it was a “robust” forestry town, and as a young student working in the Lower Mainland for the Inventories Division of the Forest Service in the summers between 1958 and 1961.

“In those days the attempt was to have total inventory,” he said.

Today he considers the forest his church, his place of worship, and advocated communities need to have more control over their forests.

Panel member Ben Parfitt with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has participated in meetings throughout the province and said he is constantly hearing a strong call for more community control of timber, water protection, and the threat of forest fires.

As a former journalist, Parfitt said when he first began writing on forestry issues more than 30 years ago, a very controversial policy was introduced by the government of the day called the tree farm license roll over proposal.

“Here today at the 11th hour and 59th minute, we have a government that’s proposing to do exactly the same thing and we’re hearing almost no discussion.”

If the province is going to make fundamental changes to the way forests are allocated and used, then there needs to be a broader discussion with a broader range of interests, not just a few. It’s critical to have a government listening at the community level, Parfitt said.



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