During the Special Committee on Timber Supply hearings in Vancouver there was a very telling exchange between Liberal MLA Eric Foster (Vernon-Monashee) and the representative for the Association of Professional Biology that likely reflects the frustration other MLAs on the committee have about the process they’ve been engaged in over the past two months.
Like many other organizations (including the Professional Foresters, the major forest companies, the Council of Forest Industries, and major environmental organizations), the Professional Biologists told the Special Committee that B.C.’s land-use plans should not be re-opened in order to meet timber shortfalls in the near term. Before asking a question of the professional biologist, Foster quipped that it would have “saved a lot of time and energy” if the many organizations that felt this way had simply written a single letter to government. The committee was told time and again that logging in reserves is not an option; it’s clear from the committee’s hearings there is no interest in creating another potential war in the woods by opening up B.C.’s land-use plans. Industry also argued such a move would put B.C.’s reputation as a sustainable forest manager at risk and threaten their third party certification.
Another clear message to the committee was that British Columbians do not have confidence in the government’s forest inventory system. Despite assertions by ministry staff to committee members that government has sufficient data to make “strategic decisions,” every presenter who spoke to this issue indicated a significant lack of confidence in the government’s data. Bottom line, the answer to the main question the committee asked is a resounding “no.” It can’t advise government to log in reserves to get more timber in the short term. In the absence of obtaining the social licence to advise government how to increase mid-term timber supply by encroaching on set aside areas, I hope the committee will choose to advise government to do what it should have been doing all along: immediately begin to work with affected communities to plan for the transition to a smaller traditional forest sector and the job losses that may come as a result. The committee’s final report will be presented on Aug. 15.
Bob Simpson is the Independent MLA for Cariboo North.