National Forest Week celebrates 101 years of commemorating Canada's forests from September 19-25, 2021. For Alberta's Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Devin Dreeshen, celebrating Canada's boreal forests fills him with a sense of pride, not just for the sheer beauty of the landscape or recreational aspects forests offer but also for the huge part they play in the economy.
For him, the week is an opportunity to highlight the importance of the industry and the tens of thousands of jobs it supports, not only across the country but throughout the province of Alberta. "When you saw record lumber prices last year, we saw about $300 million in royalties that came into the province, and we are actually anticipating $340 million in royalties coming to Albertans this year as well. It's a huge economic benefit to regions that rely on the forestry industry and have mills, but it also helps to preserve our boreal forests and make sure that there are proper forest management practices, (of which) we have the most sustainable in the world, here in the province."
Those management practices include the Harvest Management Plans set every ten years by forestry companies in conjunction with the Province of Alberta. There are also annual plans submitted to finer tune the process. "In an area that a forestry company is allowed to operate within a public forest because Albertans own the forest, they still have to work with the government to know where exactly they are going to be harvesting. When they are done harvesting, they have to plant two trees for every one they have harvested. It's set up, the system that we have here, to be completely sustainable," explained Dreeshen.
Beyond the replanting, he said that the management practices mimic the effects of wildfires in that they allow natural replenishment without harm. "We are keeping (forests) young and healthy. Our natural high-altitude boreal forest here in Alberta naturally replenishes itself through wildfires. In 2019, we lost about two million acres of forest due to wildfires, which emitted about 123 megatons of CO2. An interesting fact of harvesting our forests is that we can mimic a wildfire without having those CO2 releases and damaging effects on wildlife habitat and communities. It's good for our forests to be able to replenish. The 200+ year plans we have to make sure that our forests are always constantly replenishing themselves is just a huge success story and isn't something that happens in other parts of the world."
Those practices are also part of the conversation for other provinces and beyond, as others look for better ways to find a harmonic balance between industry and the land. "We have seen tremendous investment here in the province of Alberta in the last couple of years of forestry companies wanting to expand mills, upgrade mills and going into more value-added investments, making more product with our lumber and trees that we have here. To me, that's exciting to see the industry say that they know the province of Alberta has a system that is extremely sustainable but also it's a great place to invest and to grow these companies and grow economic opportunities from our forests," said Dreeshen.
He pointed to British Columbia as one example of investments leaving rather than growing. "You don't have to look very far, over to British Columbia or other provinces where they've seen investment flee. We're seeing a big uptick in the investments in our forestry sector, which is great for our economy and great for our communities that rely on the forest."
Dreeshen pointed to the Forest Job Action Plan on how Alberta focuses on the future while living in the now. The action plan aims to increase annual allowable cuts while remaining sustainable across the province. "Our forests will constantly be sustaining themselves. So, we want to make sure we have good-paying forestry jobs today and into the future. We also really want to promote the good work that happens with our forestry companies and the Department of Forestry to make sure that people are aware and take pride in our forestry sector. (We want) future Albertans to view the forestry industry as a great place to work and to take training and schooling and make sure that our forests are healthier than ever. To me, it's a really exciting industry, and it has tremendous growth potential as a renewable resource in the province."
Dreeshen has had the role of Alberta's Minister of Agriculture and Forestry since April 30, 2019, and said that combating some of the misconceptions about the forest sector is important. "There are some special interests' groups that, every now and then, try to slander or put down our forestry industry. You'll see attacks on our forestry sector to say that it's not sustainable or that it's mass clear-cutting and sterilization of the landscape, which is so far from the truth. It is something that with good public communication, we can tell the real story that's happening in Alberta's forests and that we do have a sustainable sector. When you compare it to other places around the world, we have the best forest sector here, and Albertans really should take pride in it. I think combating a lot of those misconceptions is, unfortunately, a consistent, ongoing thing that needs to happen because, a lot of times, perception can become reality. If you don't counter these types of attacks, then it's not good for the industry," said Dreeshen.
Part of the week-long celebration includes answering the question; What does the forest give to you? For Dreeshen, he answered it as both minister and an Albertan. "As a minister, (it gives me) hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties which makes me popular with the president of the Treasury Board," he chucked. "As for myself, what the forest gives to me is tremendous sense of pride to know that we have a beautiful forest that we can play and recreate in but also that we can create essential everyday products for not just Albertans and Canadians but also people around the world." Use the hashtag #NationalForestWeek and submit your answer.
Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press