Forest mismanagement hurting economy

Recent sawmill closures in British Columbia have brought to light the need for renewed focus on the mismanagement of B.C. forests over the past decades, which is having a significant effect on the B.C. and Canadian economies.

If you are living in the B.C. Interior, where over 820 job cuts due to permanent mill closures have been announced in the last week alone, the effects could be devastating.

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When we take in the local multiplier effect of 2.5 jobs for every job created by industry, we realize the possibility of economic hardship hitting 2,050 families without work and tight on money.

According to some reports, these recent mill closures could just be the beginning of a further trend.

It is estimated that another 12 mills could close in B.C., putting another 2,000 people out of work.

So what is the problem?

Undoubtedly, there have been some challenges in recent years with timber supply, including the pine beetle epidemic in the early 2000s, which led to an unprecedented amount of timber being cut by 2005 and the subsequent years of forest fires devastating significant swaths of marketable timber.

But this could hardly be considered mismanagement or could it?

There is evidence that suggests that the pine beetle epidemic could have been averted had there been less forest fire suppression in affected areas during the early years of infestation.

Logging practices that included allowing the trucking of the beetles through uninfected areas to distant mills and the logging ban in Tweedsmuir Park when the pine beetle problem first became an epidemic have all been criticized as mismanagement of the forests. Yet the problems go much deeper.

Deeply ingrained in the forest practices of British Columbia are problems that have contributed to the recent years of wildfires.

These include a lack of diversity of species in reforestation practices, which have concentrated on the planting of coniferous trees and the spraying of herbicides to kill deciduous trees that are naturally more resistant to forest fires.

These practices, which have been ingrained for decades, have resulted in a lack of variety in our forests. This has definitely contributed to the spreading of forest fires.

But the lack of diversity doesn't stop with just trees. We have a significant lack of diversity in the types of products that are being produced by our trees, with a significant lack of value-added products. This is compounded by the fact that small manufacturers lack access to wood and timber supply.

Failure on the part of government over the years to demand investments into strategies that would diversify our product mix to protect the economy has now become disastrous for families in the interior of British Columbia.

A report several years ago demonstrated that Sweden, a country with a commercial forest land base similar to the one in B.C., employed double the number of people in forestry and produced almost 2.5 times the value in wood products.

The tenure system, where large companies have been given the access and management of large regions of forest in exchange for jobs, is a system that is fraught with problems.

Like a third world country, we have essentially given our trees away for a pittance.

Not only that, these companies have grown their mills over the years to consume more and more of our forests in exchange for fewer and fewer jobs while we turned a blind eye.

Shame on us.

Now these companies are selling their tenure, taking their money, shutting down their mills in Canada and buying up others in the U.S. or in Europe.

It might be too late to act to change our forest practices and protect the economy in the short term, however in the interest of future generations we need to start making changes. These changes need to start at the university level, where our future leaders continue to be taught forest practices that have led to our present situation.

We need voices to be heard that want to consider ecological practices that enable our forests to be healthy.

We need changes to the distribution of timber rights that allow smaller companies to have access to timber.

Finally, we need to think about how tenure should revert back to the Crown when forestry giants close their doors instead of allowing them to sell to others who continue down the similar path where British Columbians and Canadians fail to benefit.

This is a complex matter. Unless we stand up and demand change, however, change will never happen and we will continue this cycle of boom and bust for generations to come and continue negatively affect our economy.

Dave Fuller MBA, is a certified professional business coach and the author of the book Profit Yourself Healthy. Feel lost in the woods with your business? Email dave@profityourselfhealthy.com.

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