A Parliamentary Secretary for Silviculture: Stewarding forests gets deserved recognition

Premier Campbell’s recent appointment of John Rustad MLA Nechako Lakes as Parliamentary Secretary for Silviculture under the aegis of B.C. Minister of Forests and Range Pat Bell is good news.

Parliamentary secretaries are typically chosen to assist their ministers and with Minister Bell holding a dual post including Integrated Land Management he will likely need the help. But what is most interesting is the specific designation of silviculture as Mr. Rustad’s purview. It reflects the Minister’s wish to see more concentration on forest stewardship in the province; a theme he had advanced with some conviction in the last parliament.

Mr. Rustad’s terms of reference as Parliamentary Secretary for Silviculture have yet to be defined. But whatever they turn out to be they must be wide enough to include the full scope that husbanding forests these days in this province calls for. In the past silviculture has primarily been an adjunct to the harvest: a custodial rather than a creative function. And that attitude has led to some of the lowest levels of silviculture practice in decades. At the same time we face an unprecedented assault on forest health across the province. Not only bugs and blight; but wildfire, as this spring has shown, pose threats to the economy, ecosystems, and communities.

Restoring health to the province’s forests has to be the government’s paramount imperative as we head into a very different future for our forests and the communities that depend on them. We must manage for ecosystem resilience and diversity first and from that over-arching priority generate the commodities, eco-system services and stewardship activities that drive our rural economies and preserve our communities. This approach would make forest stewardship, silviculture in effect, the driving strategic force behind the new emerging forest economy. We might even begin to see planting trees and tending forests not as something we do after we harvest; but something we do in order to harvest. In fact the harvest itself would, in many cases, become a silvicultural activity.

Mr. Rustad has gone on record as supporting the development of a robust bio-energy sector as part of the new forest economy. He has suggested we need to look at “potential tenure reform.” And he has recognized the need to harvest more of the mountain pine beetle-attacked stands. As chair of the Northern Caucus of B.C. Mr. Rustad has toured the north and will not need to be reminded of how dire things are throughout B.C.’s rural communities. All this background should favourably dispose him to recognizing the expansive mandate of Parliamentary Secretary for Silviculture. Bio-energy, tenure reform, the pine harvest and the plight of rural communities have very strong links to restoring the practice of silviculture in B.C. Stewarding our forests towards health can create virtuous economic and ecological circles: while a strategic harvest reduces the wildfire threat, allows for restoration and creates forestry jobs the bio-mass by products can fuel the bio energy sector and its benefits.

Mr. Rustad has a forestry background. This may work against him if he subscribes to the assumptions that have driven forest practices to the place we are at today. But if he is willing to challenge the status quo and recognize the future forest sector will need future foresters who think differently; then his background will be an asset. Regardless of what he brings to his position if Mr. Rustad can take us forward with the sense of urgency and responsiveness that the current conditions for silviculture demand, there is reason to be optimistic.

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