The discouraging prospect of seeing experience and talent leave the silviculture workforce is hardly anything employers want to encourage. But in this depression that may be inevitable. Silviculture employees then, should be eligible for the transition and tuition benefits that are available to workers in the harvest and milling sector under the Community Development Trust Fund.
The WSCA has taken that position to the then Minister of Community Development Blair Lekstrom arguing that the silviculture industry is part of the primary forest sector and its workers are not lesser participants. The WSCA received a sympathetic hearing in the Victoria meeting held in December last year attended by the minister and senior bureaucrats. A reply was promised for the new year.
B.C. Silviculture workers are not eligible for transition or tuition assistance under the Federal-Provincial Community Development Trust Fund Agreement. The WSCA is requesting that government reconsider its position and make these forest workers eligible for the same benefits and in the same way as harvesting and milling workers.
The WSCA estimates there are approximately 8000 silviculture workers in B.C. involved in tree planting, stand tending, site preparation, seedling production and wildfire suppression. Reliable demographic surveys indicate the average age for tree planters is 25 with ten percent of the total population over 36 years of age. In 2006 about 20 per cent of the tree planting workforce described themselves as career silviculture workers indicating a long term attachment to the industry.
This number is in decline as experienced workers leave the sector due to its bleak prospects. Two years ago approximately 265 million seedlings were planted in B.C. Next year the number is 200 million and in 2010 it will fall to between 150 to 180 million—the lowest level in 20 years. Other silviculture activities mirror this decline and there are no strategic or economic indications we will recover from these levels within the next five years. We expect to lose significant worker, entrepreneurial and nursery capacity within the next two years. These predictions and trends were in place before the ongoing economic downturn.
We don’t know how many silviculture workers might apply for assistance if it were available to them. Likely the number would be in the low hundreds. Those few that have applied and been turned down have been writing your office, the media and the WSCA. There is a public relations aspect to this story that may play out and the WSCA would be sympathetic to its workers’ position. The government position against involving silviculture in the worker assistance program appears to be: silviculture workers are seasonal workers; the industry was consulted on who should be eligible; silviculture is not considered part of the primary forest sector; there is a demand for silviculture workers in the province. However the WSCA was not consulted.
Without a careful definition of seasonal work, disqualifying this category seems to be justified more by prejudice than fairness. Saying that reforestation work is not part of the primary forest sector is not consistent with the present position, led by the Premier, that B.C. will be known for its reforestation efforts. And there is no significant commitment to silviculture work that will offset the present trends.
Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association