Forestry workers rallied in Port Alberni last weekend against potential logging deferrals that could have a “devastating” impact on the community.
A group of forestry workers and their family members braved the rain on Saturday, Nov. 27, gathering outside of Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne’s office on Johnston Road. They waved at passing motorists and carried signs that read “Save the working forest” and “Support responsible forestry.”
At the beginning of November, the province announced a deferral of logging on up to 2.6 million hectares of forest identified as rare, ancient or sustaining big trees.
The provincial agency B.C. Timber Sales has stopped advertising and selling timber rights in the areas identified by a five-person independent panel. Talks continue with Indigenous land rights holders on the final logging plans.
The province estimates that the deferrals will result in 4,500 jobs lost, but the Council of Forest Industries says the number is closer to 18,000 jobs, as sawmills, pulp mills and manufacturing facilities will be forced to shutter.
Mary Ann Cheetham, who helped to organize the rally on Saturday, said she attended the legislature as a guest and was “appalled” by the province’s decision to defer without consulting forestry workers.
“That’s going to destroy whole communities, whole businesses,” said Cheetham. “If they want to do this right, at least have a panel with forestry involved, First Nations involved.”
The province has promised support for forest contract workers who are put out of jobs, including skills training, short-term employment and bridging those 55 and older to retirement. But Cheetham said the supports fall short.
“We’re losing jobs now, and there is no support in place,” she said.
Forestry supporters in Port Alberni originally planned to travel down to Victoria on Nov. 18 to rally in front of the legislature, but this was postponed after heavy flooding closed roads across the province, including the Malahat.
“Our province is in a state of emergency and we don’t believe it’s the right time to do that,” said Cheetham. “Yes, we’re fighting for our livelihoods, but when we see other people who are devastated, losing everything they own, it’s just not the right time.”
Huu-ay-aht First Nations also planned to hold an Old Growth Summit in Anacla, with an opportunity for 25 Indigenous nations to hear from forestry and resource experts before deciding whether or not to approve the old growth deferrals. This summit was also postponed due to flooding, and is expected to take place in 2022 instead.
Although the rally in Port Alberni on Saturday took place with short notice, a crowd of approximately two dozen received honks of support from passing cars.
“This town wouldn’t be here without forestry,” said Cheetham. “And I think the community knows that.”