Op-Ed: Let’s have the hard conversations about forests on Vancouver Island

The vast majority of Vancouver Island’s original forest has been logged.

Last March, we travelled to northern Vancouver Island and hosted four public meetings about logging in the span of five days.

The topics? The loss of old-growth rainforests, raw log exports, and how unsustainable forestry is impacting ecosystems and communities up and down the Island. The meetings were tense, emotional, and exhausting. There was pushback against a lot of our message, and many conversations were raw and difficult. We learned a tonne.

In a few weeks, we’re going back to do it again.

The vast majority of Vancouver Island’s original forest has been logged. One way or another, the end of old-growth logging is coming. We have to talk about what this means. We have to talk about how communities adjust so that the trend of shuttered businesses and shrinking logging towns doesn’t continue to grow. We have to talk about what the consequences of cutting down the last remaining old-growth will be – for Indigenous cultures, ecosystems and endangered species, water and the climate, and local jobs in a diverse economy including tourism.

These are really hard things to talk about, but we have to talk about them anyways.

How do we make the forest industry work in this new reality, and stop mills from closing, small businesses from going under, and communities from drying up? How do we address the facts that most of the Island is unceded Indigenous land and that these Nations haven’t fairly benefited from the wealth that’s been extracted from their forests? Why are Island mills laying off workers and shutting down while corporations export millions of raw logs? And how can forest management address the climate crisis and keep carbon accumulated over thousands of years stored in old-growth trees and soils?

We don’t have all these answers, but we want to find out.

From a record wildfire season in the interior to a trade conflict over softwood with an erratic and unpredictable US administration, BC’s new minority government has a lot on its plate when it comes to forestry. Everyone can appreciate that.

But ignoring the situation on Vancouver Island won’t make it go away.

The government must develop a science-based Island forest strategy that makes up for lost time and protects an adequate amount of original rainforest, recognizes Indigenous rights and authority, and prioritizes local production and sustainable livelihoods in forest communities.

Additionally, no effective BC climate strategy can overlook the role of coastal rainforests in absorbing and storing carbon. The Island’s forests are a huge opportunity in the fight against climate change – an opportunity we cannot afford to waste.

These issues impact people outside of Victoria and the lower mainland, and so we have to get out to forestry-dependent areas and connect with the people there.

Between November first and tenth, we’ll bring these questions and ideas to back to Port Hardy, Campbell River, and Courtenay, and we’ll visit Port Alberni, Nanaimo and Duncan. We’ll ask community members – forest industry workers, tourism operations, municipal governments and others – for their perspectives, and together we’ll look for common ground and shared values on making forest management work for ecosystems, Indigenous Nations, and local communities.

The only thing we’re sure of is that the forests and the industries they support are changing on Vancouver Island. Let’s talk about how we can make this change positive and just. We hope to see you soon.

Torrance Coste is Vancouver Island Campaigner for the Wilderness Committee. Follow him on twitter @TorranceCoste.

Mark Worthing is Conservation and Climate Campaigner for Sierra Club BC. Follow him on twitter @OrcaCedarbough.

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