Invest In Rather than Bail Out Forest Sector; Consider Forests As Infrastructure

The term ‘bail out’ is a relatively recent addition to the political vernacular and popular lexicon. It generally means to rescue something that is at risk or in distress.

But there are two senses to the metaphor the expression is built on. You ‘bail out’ a boat intending to save the boat and its contents. And you can also ‘bail out’ of a nose-diving aircraft to save yourself, leaving the plane and its contents to their own fate.

Jim Pattison Letter.doc

That ambiguity poses the question of just which of the two senses might be intended by our political leaders as they consider remedies to the present financial crisis. In fact it leaves open the option of switching from one sense to the other as circumstances play out. For instance, you could ‘bail out’ of bailing out the boat once that proved futile. In the present political and economic predicament that application of ‘bail out’ may be apt; even likely. Just whether ‘bail out’ becomes a durable addition to the language or goes the way of the short-lived shallow parlance of fads and other political and popular folly remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, ‘bail out’ was very much in use at the end of last year’s political season. That presumably hasn’t ended. Late in December the WSCA wrote to the strategic Archons who have been appointed to oversee whatever economic bailing is developed by government. The forest sector had petitioned Ottawa then for assistance to that ailing corporate structure. But the WSCA is taking the position that much good could be done by directly investing in the country’s forests as infrastructure. In fact strategic efforts along that line would not amount to either kind of ‘bail out’, but would instead stimulate long term economic benefits and virtuous circles.

Letters have gone to both David Emmerson and Jim Pattison. The sample attached should also be used by contractors and other interested parties as a template for letters to MPs and MLAs; something that should happen just after reading this to keep pace with current events and make sure our leaders are getting good advice.

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22 December 2009

Jim Pattison
Managing Director and CEO Jim Pattison Group

Dear Mr. Pattison:

In your advising government regarding the economy and the forest industry, particularly British Columbia’s, please consider the forests as infrastructure. Seen through this perspective, government-directed remedies for the forest industry become less about bailing out and more about investing in the forest sector. The investments the WSCA would propose would be large scale ecosystem restoration projects involving harvesting, site preparation and reforestation. In British Columbia there are 13 million hectares of forests under assault from pests and pathogens to which the strategic response so far can best be described as incremental, if not just embroidering the edges. The outcomes of a bolder restoration investment would be immediate job creation to sustain capacity in our harvesting side as well as the critical nursery and silviculture sector which I represent.

Our proposal would make the bio-mass removed in these operations available for auction stimulating the emergence of a viable bio-energy market with obvious benefits and returns for labour, new investors and environmental strategies. Meanwhile, from the forests-as-infrastructure perspective, these strategic investments would reduce the growing wildfire threat communities face while promptly restoring ecological resilience to the landscape so that it can continue to provide water and water flow, air quality, habitat preservation, commodities and other environmental services we are now learning to more fully appreciate. The final benefit would be the timely regeneration of quality forests and the materials they will provide sooner for the future forest industry in this province. This kind of stimulus is capable of creating a virtuous cycle between the economy, the environment and the communities throughout B.C. that rely on the forests; which I think may include just about all of us directly and indirectly.

There is, of course, some urgency attached to this—not just the general burden of necessity that weighs on most of us in this economic downturn, but the particulars of growing seedlings. To plant trees next year, and possibly even this summer, we need to sow those trees now. We have just a few weeks in the 2009 sowing window to plant a contingency crop of, we estimate, 50 million seedlings to address 40,000 hectares. This is a modest increment, but it would keep our sector just busy enough to avoid further losses in the nursery and planting sector. The projects we would undertake would begin to address the immediate necessity of breaking up the contiguous fuels that are accumulating on forests floors throughout the B.C. interior. This buildup currently threatens communities, transmission and transportation corridors, future timber supply and vital watersheds. The costs of restoring this lost infrastructure in the wake of future disasters is considerably more than mitigating those effects today. I estimate we are talking about a $50-million dollar investment today to set in motion an array of tangible returns likely to exceed that initial stimulus in fairly short order.

One other return on this, shorn of any pretense, is the obvious potential political benefit. What we are proposing here answers to a demand that many here in B.C., particularly in the rural communities, see as self-evident; we need to address the mountain pine beetle with some immediate conviction. Our proposal is not about social programs, or transition or economic adjustment or other programs that tend to signal lost causes. Nor are we talking about more studies or action groups or modest municipal improvements that fall under “regional investments”. Our strategy consists of workboots in the woods, funding hitting the various targets and actual changes occurring on the landscape and in the economy that will be lasting and meaningful. Voters will appreciate that.

I know you are being petitioned by every other group with a stake in this: which I imagine is quite a group. Thanks for considering this short note. If this interests you, I look forward to talking with you in more detail in the new year.

Yours truly,

John Betts,
Executive Director
Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association
hotpulp@gmail.com
Ph: 250-229-4380