There has been a lot of chatter in the public about the collapsing British Columbia forestry industry. In every community I visited this summer, forestry issues were central to the concerns of the people I met with.
Many people had worked a full career in the forests and they had very little positive to say about the state of the industry and the state of our ecosystems. There was harsh criticism of how this critical resource has been mismanaged over the years.
So many people and communities have depended on logging and mill jobs that were once plentiful across the province. Year-by-year small family owned businesses were consolidated into fewer and larger multi-national corporate interests. Less care was paid for the people and towns in rural British Columbia as the CEO’s focus was on short-term profit and placating shareholders. Over the past two decades the BC Liberals oversaw this transfer of wealth and at the same time were pounding the table claiming they were the defenders of the forests and forestry jobs. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The people on the ground, who depend on the livelihood lament the loss, now they are put through consultation exercises and community engagements to develop management plans. As I’ve said before, this is a euphemism for logging plans.
My colleague Andrew Weaver has asked the Forest Minister about the spraying of glyphosate to manage broad leaf species deemed undesirable nuisances. Everyone that I’ve talked to thinks this practice is absurd for a variety of reasons, not the least of which, wildfire management.
A look at forestry from a different perspective
While on my most recent trip into Shuswap territory I met with local Indigenous leaders. In those discussions, I heard another take that needs be considered by the Ministry of Forests. Kukpi7 (Chief) Ron Ignace (Skeetchestn Indian Band) said clearly to me that he considers the spraying of herbicide “an act of cultural genocide, because you are killing our foods and medicines.”
“The birch and poplar are the irrigators of the mountainsides,” he continued. “Destroying these trees is also an act of cultural genocide because we can no longer collect the barks and other items to make our baskets and other products.”
His criticism did not end there. He made an important point about tree farming that was also made in one of my recent reads, The Hidden Life of Trees. In that I was introduced to the integrated communities of forests. While this is new information for many of us, the Indigenous people of British Columbia have been told of these relationships through the teachings passed down from their ancestors.
“When they plant tree farms they are planting orphans,” Kukpi7 Ignace stated. “Old trees do not know how to look after the young trees. These are all reasons we want to work with the province to co-manage our forests. To restore them and to share our knowledge with the government.”
We can learn from our wise Indigenous leaders. Or, we can learn from the European forester and author Peter Wohlleben. Pick whichever one makes you feel most comfortable. It matters little though because their message and teachings are the same.
As I and my B.C. Green colleagues are deeply troubled by tree-farming and the practice of spraying herbicides in our forests, the Chief’s words raise the stakes on the provincial government. Both the Greens and the BCNDP have voiced our support for a new era of relations with Indigenous people. If the government is serious about acting on that commitment then they cannot ignore these words.
As we look to nurturing a more sustainable and resilient future for communities across our province in the face of climate change, we have to work together toward restoring the biodiversity. Single species tree farms loaded with “orphans” is not good enough.
I’ve come away from this summer’s listening tour with a deeper understanding of the passion British Columbians have for nature and their communities. Rather than focussing all our effort on how we are going to manage the remaining fibre supply to zero we need to get on with transitioning to our future. Even though many of the jobs extracting fibre have already been lost there is a massive opportunity in replacing those jobs with an incredible effort of ecosystem restoration, tourism and value-added manufacturing. More of this will be unpacked in future posts.