Two tales from B.C.’s forests

Hoarding of wood in timber licences hurting rural communities

By Dan Hines

What do two unfolding British Columbia forestry stories – 1,400 kilometres apart – have in common?

What about these stories should be getting our attention?

As the Vancouver Sun and Merritt Herald reported this past September, in Merritt, Tolko Industries is shutting down the Nicola Valley Sawmill in December.

Two hundred jobs will be lost in a matter of weeks.

What’s the reason for the closure?

It isn’t being driven by market conditions or the price of lumber. The problem is the lack of available timber within Tolko’s forest licenses.

There will be no changes to Tolko’s logging operations in the Merritt and Kamloops area.

The company will continue to log and ship the logs to different facilities as opposed to Merritt.

CBC News reported earlier this month that in Fort Nelson, with oil and gas jobs gone, the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality wants to kick start its failed forest industry.

The council claims that forestry company Canfor is in its way. Canfor used to operate two mills in the community from timber harvested under their licenses, but shut them down in 2008.

Yet, Canfor retains the rights to harvest most of the timber supply in the area.

Now, city council says Canfor should either start using that licence to create jobs or move out of the way so someone else can,” CBC wrote.

The council claims that B.C.’s tenure system has supported the speculative “hoarding” of wood by companies, and the export of unprocessed logs, and jobs, away from B.C. communities.

These two stories in Merritt and Fort Nelson raise common ongoing questions facing the BC forestry sector; questions that have been asked in B.C. for decades.

What responsibility do profitable forest companies have to the communities within which they harvest timber and operate?

Who owns the resources of BC’s forests?

Who benefits from the current tenure system: local communities or big forest companies?

What provincial, regional and local plans are guiding these decisions?

How do we begin to reform the boom-and-bust economy of B.C. forestry?

Who is managing B.C.’s forests and how can they be managed in an ecological and sustainable way?

In their press release issued Nov. 15, 2016, the Fort Nelson council express what the BC Greens are hearing from Merritt and from all other regions of the province.

We are listening to these voices from B.C. communities.

We need a new approach to forestry in B.C.

That new approach includes a reform of the tenure system. Wood hoarding by companies needs to stop. We need greater local community and First Nations involvement, flexibility and adaptability to changing realities.

We need rewards for innovation.

We need to repair the broken links between resources and communities reliant on the forests and sustainable development.

Dan Hines is the BC Green Party candidate in Kamloops-North Thompson.