Friday, February 01, 2008

Liberals look to have run out of forestry ideas

These are tough days for the forest industry. The future doesn't appear much better.
And the government looks like it has pretty much run out of ideas. When Premier Gordon Campbell made his eleventh annual speech to the Truck Loggers Association convention last month, the contractors were hoping for a meaningful announcement.
Instead, Campbell announced another round table to look at the problems and report to cabinet every three months. The membership and terms of reference were still to be set, he said.
The effort can't hurt, but it looked like one those announcements that governments make when they really don't know what to do. It might have been unfair just to focus on the lack of ideas in Campbell's speech.
But two days earlier, the provincial Forest Practices Board had released a report that indicated companies and government no longer considered forest sustainability the top priority.
The board looked at 54 helicopter logging sites on the coast. In more than half, the companies were taking out the most valuable cedar trees and leaving the aged hemlock around them. There was no replanting or thinning. The forests were being mined, not sustainably managed.
The board found logging plans were often shoddy, but the companies were following the province's rules.
It was another indication the industry has moved into its twilight, at least in terms of government attention.
Then, a few days after the premier spoke to the truck loggers, the auditor general released a report on safety in the forest industry. It too was grim.
Back in 2003, the government expressed concern about the death and injury rate. Campbell pledged to cut them in half in three years. He appointed a task force (which is somehow different than a round table).
Auditor general John Doyle's review attempted to look at the results. But there weren't any. The death and injury rates are unchanged. Government policies were part of the problem. Safety inspections had been cut sharply.
Policy changes meant responsibility for safety shifted from the land leaseholder or owner - usually a big company - to hundreds of contractors with a few employees. They didn't have the experience or resources.
And there was "race to the bottom" in forest practices because of economic pressures, the auditor general found. That, combined with the lack of enforcement, led to unsafe practices.
The bottom line? "The goal of eliminating forest worker death or serious injury has not been achieved.''
Taken together, the three developments are discouraging. Then add the government's decision to shift vast tracts out of the working forest on Vancouver Island, because companies want to make more selling it for real estate development.
And throw in the slow response to the coming disaster when timber supplies are slashed because of the pine beetle devastation. The government has been pretty good at salvage efforts and Interior mills have improved their efficiency.
But beyond some vague hopes for wood-based power, there are no plans in place to help the industry and communities cope with the decades required for pine forests to regenerate, even with aggressive replanting efforts.
The provincial government's big forestry overhaul in 2003 seemed to make sense. Companies gained more freedom to do what they liked with Crown timber. The change meant mill closures and job losses, but government and industry said it would bring investment and a more competitive industry. A shift to market-based stumpage was supposed to help resolve the softwood dispute. But the measures didn't work and the government didn't adapt to their failure. There are no easy solutions. We've stripped the best parts of the forest - ones that took at least 500 years to grow - in about 40 years. Everybody involved grabbed the easy money.
And B.C. faces competition from other regions that operate more efficiently. But still, this is an extraordinary resource. It should provide jobs, in the woods and mills and pulp and paper towns, for thousands of British Columbians for decades to come.
And while the government will point to lots of funding announcements and initiatives like the round table, the fact remains that the Liberals' policies over the last seven years haven't worked and there's no change in sight.


Anonymous said...

typical Campbell policy - rape and run. Donate a dollar and loot the environment.

Anonymous said...

I wonder just how much it costs for all the round tables, discussion groups, eminent committees etc that Gordon dreams up, actually costs us, or if they end up being of much value. Watching Voce of Bc this week indicated to me that the ecuse of red tape being cut is sort of phoney and the round table wasn't going to prove much

Maysilzaf said...

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aware of this GOOD information.The information is very
meaningful to whom needed. Interesting!! tHANKS !!

Maysilzaf said...

Thanks for all the info. More people need to be made aware of this GOOD information.The information is very
meaningful to whom needed. Interesting!! tHANKS !!

Gazetteer said...

Maybe all those OIC'ed public information officers can take a break from monitoring the non-existent LedgeTrial coverage for wee bit so that they can come up with some new names for even newer (newsier?) table designs.

If they need some help, I am available for consulting work to come up with stuff that's even better than the following:

'inverted trapezoidal informational receptacle table'.



Anonymous said...

Some problems are so big that there is no good solution. BC's forest industry was maintained in a pseudo-socialist managed economy for decades, and the system began to unravel in the 1980s. Instead of letting the economy change, the governments of the day postponed the inevitable, leading to a bigger adjustment shock now. Crying for government to provide a solution is just another attempt to postpone the day of reckoning.