Forest policy must change, forum hears

Continuing crisis should be election issue this spring

B.C. forests are in crisis for a multitude of reasons and politicians of all parties must be held to account in the spring election, a union-led forest forum heard Wednesday night.

"We're all here tonight because we care about the future of our forests," said Brenda Brown, a vice-president of the BCGEU and a resident of Quesnel, hit hard by the industry difficulties of the past decade. "We care about the future of our families and about the future of our communities."

Brown said logging trucks leave the community filled with raw logs for export.

"We're tired of being told that everything is great in the forest while logs are shipped overseas."

Jointly organized by the B.C. Federation of Labour, BCGEU, United Steelworkers and CEP, the forum stopped in Kamloops as part of an eight-community tour.

"We're working with all politicians, all candidates, all parties, to address the issues," said BCGEU co-ordinator Carol Adams.

All candidates were invited, but only NDP nominees Tom Friedman and Kathy Kendall attended, along with about 30 others, including mill workers and retired forest service employees. They were shown a short video about Mackenzie, a northern town that has suffered greatest losses through the crisis. A panel then sought to put the issues into local perspectives.

Policy analyst Eric Hamilton-Smith said there is growing pressure to log marginal forest - including old growth - to compensate for the shortfall due to mountain pine beetle. He also pointed to increased volumes of waste wood, policies absolving companies from having to build mills in communities and a draft policy to convert forest licences into tree farm licences.

If government were serious about developing secondary manufacturing in the sector, it could create tens of thousands of jobs, he said.

Rick Turner of the Council of Canadians said he saw life sucked out of Barriere due to forest policy changes when he lived there. Students used to skip class to work a shift at a mill.

"Policies have change and, in effect, one-third of those guys aren't there anymore."

Biodiversity should be a priority and the general public needs to stand together with First Nations to demand sounder forest management, said Skeetchestn Chief Ron Ignace.

"I call upon you and I implore you not to fear us but to stand with us," Ignace said.

A Domtar worker, Charlie Fraser, said he watched the Mission Flats sawmill dismantled and shipped overseas a few years ago. Now the pulp mill's about to let go of another 107 workers.

"We've been in discussions with the employer, who could care less about people," he said. "All they care about is the bottom line."

Participants broke up into tables to come up with three priorities for change.

"It goes round and round," said Bob Gray, a semi-retired forest service employee. "Everything's been tried." Yet he feels government must be made responsible again for reforestation.

"By virtue of you not having that obligation to reforest, that tells me you're not managing."

There was also agreement about a need to restore community input in forest management decisions.

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