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Words hide truth

In Nineteen Eighty-Four , George Orwell describes a dystopian society in which language is used to control people.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell describes a dystopian society in which language is used to control people. In Orwell’s fictional world, vocabulary is constrained and new words are created in order to simplify and manipulate people’s understanding of the world around them. Orwell suggested that the well-known connection between language and worldview could also be used to manage human behaviour.

Not having worked in industrial forestry, it was only three years ago that I started hearing the word fibre used instead of forest with confusing frequency. This word appears on industry and government websites and it is used regularly by timber company representatives. Last week, Minister Doug Donaldson described the lands he is in charge of as feedstock in my community newspaper. One could be forgiven for thinking that the timber industry, with the province’s help, is attempting to replace the notion of a forest—and everything that word means —with vague abstractions.

The term fibre conjures up Metamucil, while feedstock summons the mental image of food for livestock. Why are government and industry employing these euphemisms, rather than just saying forest? The purpose is two-fold: to change how we view these complex living systems and to prevent us from acting to defend them.

If forests can be rebranded as stands of consumable objects (which the terms fibre and feedstock achieve), then the work of obtaining social license to destroy them has already been done. If an ecosystem is merely feedstock for a pellet plant, what on Earth else would you do with it? If a tree falls in a fibre, no one will hear it because it doesn’t exist.

Natural forests, including those that have burned or are full of decay fungi, provide food and medicines and mitigate floods. Forests also store and sequester carbon in soil and plant tissues, and old forests are particularly good at this, while beetle-killed forests provide critical structures for wildlife.

The founding belief of modern forest management - that natural forests are a commodity - is among the root causes of declining ecosystem health in B.C. Under this belief system, old growth is in the way of plantations that can provide a predictable flow of wood and revenue. Burned or beetle-killed forests are waste. Paired with corporate control over public lands, the conceit that people can and should manage complex ecosystems has led us to where we are today.

Emerging research confirms that B.C.’s productive old growth forest is all but gone. Companies are being awarded licenses to harvest in remaining primary forests to feed pellet plants. The Council of Forest Industries, whose member companies have levelled most of the economically valuable old growth on the coast and in the interior, are demanding that the province set aside the remainder in a “working forest landbase” (read: available for harvest), according to their Smart Futurereport. 

As a part of their ongoing efforts to ensure continued access to B.C.’s last primary forests, those in power are trying to reduce these ecosystems to objects so that the public won’t fight for them. We will not abide lies of omission that obscure the truth of what natural forests are and we won’t stop defending them. Natural forests will always be more than fibre or feedstock; and in nature, there is no such thing as waste.

Michelle Connolly, Conservation North

Prince George