Earlier this month, the B.C. Government announced its plans to defer logging in old growth forests in the province, however, what that looks like will depend on consultation with local First Nations.
The government is currently in the process of asking Indigenous groups who are interested in taking part in the consultation to submit expressions of interest, and will proceed with consultation over the next few months.
“One of the misconceptions here is that Indigenous communities only have 30 days to get back to the government, but in actuality, the 30 days is just to see if they are willing to engage on the topic. There were some communities that thought they had to have the whole package ready by 30 days, which is an impossibility,” said North Island MLA Michele Babchuk.
The goal of the program is to make sure that the forest industry is viable going forward, while not having the same effect as the previous BC Liberal government’s forestry changes back in 2003.
“We do know that there are ecosystems in our B.C. forests that do need to be protected, but at the end of the day this is about making sure that we have a viable forest industry to continue moving forward,” she said.
“We’ve watched the degradation of the forest industry in these communities for quite a long time,” she said. “After the (BC) Liberals did what they did in 2003 with their red tape reductions… we watched those jobs float by us and leave when our mills all shut down and we lost 30,000 people in the forest sector.”
Though Babchuk said that there would be challenges, the goal is to ensure that the small communities that are dependant on the forestry industry are not left with nothing. The government has mentioned some options to help workers, including pension bridging and retraining, but Babchuk said the on-the-ground solutions for specific communities will come after the consultation phase with First Nations is done.
“This is not new to the North Island. We’ve watched these resources and industry just get slammed in the last while, and then communities get smaller and smaller, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy where because it’s so small we’re having a hard time maintaining service levels,” Babchuk said.
While ensuring the economic sustainability of the region is important, Babchuk said that climate change and environmental protection were also concerns, particularly in light of last week’s landslides which were exacerbated by a combination of climate change, wild fires and logging practices.
Earlier this year, the Sierra Club of B.C. published a report saying that “clearcut logging disrupts local hydrology, increasing the risk of flooding at peak periods, but also resulting in higher peak temperatures and periods of drought. Roots of stumps begin to decay, losing their grip on soil, causing erosion and water turbidity, slope instability, and increasing the likelihood of landslides.”
“It’s a holistic piece,” Babchuk said. “It’s not just about not cutting down a tree, it’s about the ecosystem and these watersheds that we’re looking to do this protection.
“It’s also about making sure that these forests come back under some regulation with government control, because a lot of that was stripped when the Liberals did their (revisions). Bringing back in logging plan approvals and cut block site levels and restrictions. Government has the ability to reject a plan that they don’t particularly think is in the best interest of the forest.”
“I won’t mince words. This is transformational and transitional. It won’t be without its challenges for sure, but until we’ve actually had those discussions with our Indigenous partners to see what things look like we won’t know what we’re actually trying to transition to.”