Elections are lousy times to have any serious discussions about policy. But that doesn’t mean we should abandon raising forestry as an election issue over the next few weeks.

Some advice and notes on how WSCA members and silviculture workers can get forestry discussed during the B.C. election:

Elections are lousy times to have any serious discussions about policy. The partisan tub-thumping generally drowns out any attempt to engage in any civil or civic discourse. And we are already seeing that, with warnings from both sides of the future tyranny we can expect if our votes don’t add up to the right party in power after May 12th.

But that doesn’t mean we abandon raising forestry as an election issue over the next few weeks. With town-hall meetings, all candidate debates, and individual meetings with the candidates we have a chance to at least educate some of the future MLAs in the province. At the same time we can add to the rural forestry groundswell across the province that is not just living with the economic downturn, but is appreciating the growing environmental consequences we face as well.

What can you and your employees do?

Silviculture contractors and their employees need to attend as many debates and meetings in their communities as they can. You also should meet the candidates one-on-one. Letters to the editor are important too. Your principle strengths are that you live in the community, you have a good story to tell, you are credible because of your experience in the sector, and you care. Emphasis on that last point.

Try to keep above the partisan fray by asking questions of all candidates that will draw them out enough to expose how much or little they understand forestry issues and how much or little they are prepared to invest in the public resource. Usually when politicians don’t like your question they will try to answer by changing the topic. Hold them to it by repeating the question if you have to.

Once more on the partisan stuff; look at just how tight the races have been in this province. The last election was actually decided, looking just at the numbers, by 1,297 votes in key ridings. Many swing ridings are in rural areas where forestry is a key issue.

Setting the scene:

B.C.’s forests are in crisis. Not just the industry. But the forests themselves. As forestry contractors and workers we have seen it first hand. Not only have we seen forest health suffer an unprecedented assault from the beetle plague and other blights and pests over the last decade, but we have seen investments in forestry decline as well. You can measure that decline not just in the number of trees planted annually, but in all indicators of reforestation activity such as stand tending, surveying, fertilizing, site preparation and so on. (The WSCA 2008 annual report documents all these trends.)

Across the Interior there are approximately 15 million hectares of dead trees that no longer provide the social, economic or ecological services and values we take for granted. That is an area the size of England; a fifth of the productive forest base in the province. It is equivalent to the destruction of 37,000 Stanley Parks. (Fun with numbers: if we spent an estimated $5-million restoring the park that would be equivalent to spending $185-billion on the MPB area provincially.)

Our forests require regular and consistent investment in order to provide benefits into the future. The current level of investment is not consistent with the high value British Columbians place on their forests nor does it provide the assurance the forests will continue to be managed sustainably.

Symptoms of this crisis in our forests are:

• Changed hydrology of the Fraser River and other significant watersheds throughout the province resulting in increased flooding (in high snowfall years) and drought (in drier years).

• Substantially reduced economic value of the forest for the forest products industry and the eroded ability of communities to sustain their economic and social well-being.

• Increased threat of wildfire over large areas of the province including more than 1.73 million hectares of wild land-urban interface.

• Large areas of forest land no longer serve as a carbon sink that can offset greenhouse gas emissions.

• Reduced aesthetic, recreational and wildlife values that are so important to both local residences as well as to tourists.

• Reduced ability to contribute financially to the sustainability of health, education and other cores services on which our citizens depend.

As this crisis has gained momentum the Western Silvicultural Contractors Association has:

• sponsored a major international conference on wildfire,

• proposed a Green Plan to provide an overarching strategy to guide the restoration of forest ecosystems across the province

• proposed a mountain pine beetle harvest pilot to kick start bio-energy opportunities, create jobs, mitigate the wildfire threat and generate revenues to pay for these activities

• worked with government at all levels to encourage an active response to the forestry crisis.

The WSCA recommends that during this election those who would have us elect them commit to:

• Treating forests as a critical infrastructure and investing accordingly; recognizing that our forests are the true ‘green infrastructure’ providing watersheds, flood control, air filtration, bio-diversity, commodities, carbon sequestration, tourism etc. Infrastructure is not just pavement and cement.

• Increasing public and private investment in the forest resource immediately to reflect an urgent response to this ecological and economic crisis e.g. sowing 50 million additional seedlings in 2010 to keep the silviculture sector viable and in preparation to meet the government’s commitment to carbon neutrality.

• Investing in the emerging bio-energy economy by providing incentives at the municipal level to build infrastructure (bio-energy boilers, community heating and so on) and create a home-grown future demand for energy (mostly heat) from biomass.

• Laying out a clear and comprehensive restoration strategy to the mountain pine beetle plague that uses silvicultural science and practices to ensure the best value for our investments. Our current strategy seems to be that natural generation is occurring in the MPB stands and that will ensure mid-term supply. But if this is the strategy, it is one that ignores a number of critical considerations such as future disturbance (wildfire, pest), climate change, the uncertainty of just how the regeneration will perform as a future forest and the possibility that this strategy may work against government’s commitments to carbon neutrality.

A list of probable ‘swing’ ridings considered to be within forestry dependent communities:

BDS – Boundary-Similkameen
CBC – Cariboo-Chilcotin
CBN – Cariboo-North
CLR – Columbia River-Revelstoke
CWV – Cowichan Valley
FRN – Fraser-Nicola
KAN – Kamloops-North Thompson
KOE – Kootenay East
KOW – Kootenay West
PCN – Peace River North (vacant)
PCS – Peace River South
POR – Powell River-Sunshine Coast
PRM – Prince George-Mackenzie
PRV – Prince George-Valemount
SKE – Skeena
SKN – Stikine
NEC – Nechako Lakes
NEL – Nelson-Creston
NOC – North Coast
NOI – North Island

John Betts,
Executive Director
Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association
Ph: 250-229-4380