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Kervin’s Corner: Our region’s communities heavily rely on the forestry sector — Let’s not change that for now

“Any transition out of our forest-based economy would take years along with careful planning…”

Recently the Sierra Club visited Cafe Guido in our local community.

Conversations stemmed from interpretations of data they had collected from the BC government. To make it short: they called for protecting old-growth trees from what they’d claim to be unsustainable practice in the logging industry. I won’t go into the details of what constitutes old-growth or offer personal interpretation of data on the topic since many others have already debated this point in previous articles.

The one thing that is certain is this — Port Hardy was built on logging and it continues to rely on it as a strong foundation for our local economy. In fact, the forestry sector alone provides roughly $26 million annually to our regional economy. Port Hardy is just one of many communities in British Columbia leading the sale of wood products in Canada.

So far there are 50 license holders in our region accompanied by 20 forest companies. These businesses hold a collective value of $40 million on the North Island alone. These same companies offer roughly 650 jobs in the Regional District of Mount Waddington, too.

A profile on North Island resources stated that “1,800 jobs within the district are directly supported by the forest industry.” Meaning that, on top of those 650 jobs directly involved in the forestry sector, there is a whopping 1,800 jobs created around the business of logging. And this isn’t even counting other large businesses such as pulp mills or saw mills.

In fact, as the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations puts it, “[t]housands more British Columbians outside of the district depend upon the area’s natural resources for their jobs in primary sawmilling, the pulp and paper industry.”

Further, “employment in the sector remained at approximately 11,000 [with] an increase in employment related to Forestry and Logging activities,” according to “State of the Island Economic Report 2016” produced by Vancouver Island Economic Alliance. The Alliance goes on to state that there was steady growth in the forest sector, despite the closing of the Port Alice pulp mill.

Finally, as RDMW aptly stated in their 2013 Regional Strategy, “[t]he forestry sector and the public sector are our largest employers,” second only to the marine sector. Found in the strategy is a vision of “processing and manufacturing [which are] highly competitive economic areas internationally, but are [also] necessary for a healthy mixed economy in any rural region. Greater timber milling opportunities are strongly desired.”

Sure, the question could be framed around whether this is sustainable, and it needs to be stopped, but who would personally want to be the one to tell those some thousands of forest sector workers that they’re out of a job? So instead of regulating the companies more, we could offer long-term solutions such as diversifying our economy in addition to the industry continuing its business.

The question is this — what could we even diversify into? The only other obvious options are in our second and third most prominent sectors in our economy, namely the marine sector and the service industry. The marine sector faces the same issue as forestry, that is, whether it is sustainable. And there can be only so many retail stores, restaurants, and so on in the service industry which could open in our town until it gets oversaturated. Surely tourism can’t offer consistent jobs in our region either because we all know that it is seasonal.

However, I agree that forests are not just there to extract. It’s what makes our communities beautiful, but at the same time the sector provides so many jobs. Any transition out of our forest-based economy would take years along with careful planning to develop another viable sector. So it’s best to stay business-as-usual, at least for now.

Thomas Kervin is a recent political science alumnus from Simon Fraser University. He was born and raised in Port Hardy. He’s also a First Nations person who wants to address issues facing Indigenous communities today.

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