Forest issues demand urgent action

Liberal voice absent from forum at TRU

A three-pronged strategy for tackling a morass of problems confronting B.C. forest management drew enthusiastic applause at a political forum on Wednesday.

Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson, a former NDP forest critic now sitting as an independent, said the next B.C. government should immediately strike a committee on forestry, restore the function of the province's chief forester and consider holding a royal commission of inquiry.

"I think B.C. needs to have a truly independent chief forester who is a servant of the legislature," said Simpson, who appeared via Skype from Victoria because the legislature is in session.

A succession of royal commissions scrutinized B.C. forest policy over the past century and there may be reluctance to hold another, but Simpson said the depth of the issues justifies such a thorough review.

He was joined in discussion by New Democrat candidate Tom Friedman and two Shuswap candidates, Tom Birch of the B.C. Conservatives and Chris George of the Green Party.

"We would like to think that it will be like Question Period, only with content," quipped columnist Vaughn Palmer, who moderated the two-hour forum.

There was no representative of the Liberal Party, but Palmer acknowledged that this is one of the most critical weeks of the year in the legislature and all MLAs must be present.

"Most parties obliged (the forum invitation) and I'll leave you to reach whatever conclusions you want," he added.

Birch, who worked in the forest industry for 20 years, said he doesn't like to hear it described as a "sunset industry."

"That is a very disturbing view, that we could so badly manage our forest industry," a renewable resource, he said.

He said he favours area-based tenure, a form favoured in pending leglslation, to ensure companies reinvest in the land base over time. The $8 million recently announced for forest inventory is inadequate, amounting to $2.25 per hectare over 10 years, he said.

Friedman said ad-hoc policies need to be replaced with science-based evidence and expert knowledge. Communities and stakeholders deserve a greater say local decisions that affect them.

"Everyone understands that not enough work has been done over the past 12 years," he said. "An NDP government would proceed carefully because, for long-term benefits, we need to get it right."

Non-timber values, including water, wildlife and other human uses, need to be weight equally with timber supply, he said.

The Green Party views forest policy as part of a broader vision of stronger, healthier communities and stresses ecologically sustainable practices, George said.

"Diversity leads to resiliency and gives us the ability to take the shock coming from climate change and the ability to take the shock from cutbacks," he said.

Simpson said area-based tenure is no guarantee of sustainable forest practices. He said there are simply too many demands on the land base to continue down the same path of corporate concentration.

"I believe, in the name of good government, we need to address that issue, not in a blame game, but sitting down and saying we've created a lot of problems," Simpson said. "The structure of tenure and licensing has given so much control of the land base over to those five companies. It's going to have to be a partnership."

The forum was hosted by the Southern Interior Silviculture Committee and the Canadian Institute of Forestry as part of a workshop at TRU.

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