COMMENTARY: MLA Michele Babchuk talks the future of forestry

‘These forests are important to every single one of us, myself included’

North Island MLA Michele Babchuk. Photo contributed

North Island MLA Michele Babchuk. Photo contributed

People across British Columbia have been raising their voices and expressing their concerns about old growth logging, including right here in the North Island.

These forests are important to every single one of us, myself included. It’s where we love to spend our time. We also have a lot of people working in our forests on the North Island, and we know that our communities depend on them.

And these forests are on the traditional territories of 27 First Nations here in the North Island.

Everyone in the North Island, those who work in the industry, those who play in the forests, and those whose communities have been here since time immemorial, know that we need to do more to conserve them. Our forestry practices are in desperate need of an update, and Indigenous communities who have been ignored by governments need to have their voices heard. That’s the work our government is doing now.

This week, at the request of the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations, we deferred another 2,000 hectares in Fairy Creek and Central Walbran. In September 2020, we protected 200,000 hectares of old growth across the province after consultations with local First Nations. That’s over four times the size of Quadra and Cortes Islands combined. And this summer, more deferrals will be announced after consultations with the impacted Indigenous communities.

Our government was elected in 2017 on the promise of making the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples law, and that’s what we did. What is happening now is the work stemming from that law. That means no unilateral decision-making, and no more deciding what is best for Indigenous communities or people in their territories without their consent.

Our government also recently announced the Forestry Intentions Paper, our plan outlining the conversations and consultations that need to happen to modernize the industry so people in our communities can keep working.

This includes more Indigenous, local government and community decision-making over the forests that surround us, not just major tenure holders.

It also means finding a way to keep our resources local and the industry both thriving and sustainable. Up until now it’s been our grandparents’ forestry industry, and now it’s time to make it an industry for our grandchildren and beyond.

Change is hard, but in this case, not changing will be much harder. We need forests that work for all of us, forever.

As your MLA and a member of your community, I am passionate about this work and recognize that there is much more to do. And I am confident in our government’s ability to get it done and do it right.

Michele Babchuk is the NDP MLA for the North Island

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