Horgan warns forestry sector, but no mention of old-growth

·4 min read

Though the battle to protect ancient trees is brewing in his own backyard, B.C. Premier John Horgan did not utter the word old-growth when talking to logging industry leaders Thursday.

Horgan — keynote speaker at the Council of Forest Industries conference — did not highlight what steps the province is taking on its promise to meet recommendations from the strategic old-growth review, which calls for a radical shift from timber extraction to protection of at-risk ecosystems.

Meanwhile, increasing numbers of people, frustrated by the rate at which the province is protecting old-growth, are heading to the Fairy Creek blockades near Port Renfrew in Horgan’s Vancouver Island riding.

Demonstrators at roadblocks to various entry points to Teal-Jones' Tree Farm Licence (TFL) 46 were served an injunction on Tuesday, although the RCMP had not arrived as of Friday morning.

However, Horgan said Forests Minister Katrine Conroy had a mandate to modernize forestry, and she’d issue an intentions paper in the weeks ahead.

“Our vision for the forest industry is very clear. It's going to be diverse, it's going to be competitive, and it's going to be sustainable,” said Horgan.

“One that places people first, and one that works directly with Indigenous peoples.”

The shrinking supply of timber from the pine beetle infestation and forest fires is an undeniable challenge with too many people chasing too few trees, Horgan said.

The premier expressed disappointment on the lack of progress by large companies holding most of B.C.’s forestry tenure in reaching deals with First Nations and smaller communities, so they could access timber to create value-added products and add jobs.

He sent a salvo over the bow of the sector, warning his government would step in to make it happen.

“There’s no magical solution to the lack of fibre,” Hogan said, adding work can be done to encourage companies and Indigenous nations to reach agreements.

“And those who do have tenure, and do not want to share it, well, we'll have to step in and ensure that there is fair compensation,” he said.

Horgan reiterated the province’s pursuit of value over volume, citing Wednesday’s announcement of a $4.2-million investment to develop mass timber for the construction sector, and the establishment of an advisory council to help facilitate that goal.

“An essential part of our approach to the industry is to make sure that we do focus on that value-added marketplace, and we stop chasing every stick to get it out as quickly as we can,” Horgan said.

He cautioned industry to put money away now with the “staggering” prices for lumber for rainy days associated with a cyclical sector.

“We all need to make sure that we're taking advantage of these extraordinarily high prices,” Horgan said.

“So, when the market starts to stabilize again, we're not looking back to government or out to workers to make concessions to make sure that the companies can continue to be profitable.”

Environmental groups pushing the province to act on the old-growth strategic review said Horgan’s desire to ensure small communities and First Nations are involved in forestry is positive.

But it does not address the problem that only three per cent of the remaining old-growth forests in the province support massive, ancient trees.

“Right now, all it sounds like is a new way of dividing the pie for logging without acknowledging it’s becoming smaller and smaller,” said Jens Wieting of Sierra Club BC.

“Action must be tied to acknowledging that we have an ecological crisis and what old-growth remains is so important for our survival from a climate risk perspective.”

The all-time high prices for lumber paired with the looming expectation in the industry that government will increase old-growth protections mean companies are motivated to log big trees as fast as they can, Wieting said.

“As the province continues to talk and log, companies will try to get as many big trees as possible,” he said.

“So we really have to find those mechanisms — now — to preserve what’s left.”

Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

Rochelle Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer