The downtown area of “Tree Farming Country” was taken over Wednesday by a large group of forestry workers, family members, politicians and other supporters of the industry.
Due to the B.C. government announcing an old growth deferral back in November, roughly 60 to 80 people gathered together on a chilly afternoon in Port McNeill across from the IGA parking lot to show their support for the forestry industry.
According to the B.C. government, the policy will cause the deferral of logging on up to 2.6 million hectares of forest identified as rare, ancient or sustaining big trees, an area that represents about half of the identified old-growth forest in the province that is not yet protected.
While B.C. environmentalists and Indigenous leaders have criticized the policy as not going far enough in terms of protecting old growth, those rallying in Port McNeill were definitely in the corner of business interests who say it will be devastating.
Port McNeill mayor Gaby Wickstrom and longtime councillor Shelley Downey were both in attendance at the Stand Up For Forestry rally.
Wickstrom noted her family has strong ties to the forestry industry, her husband is a long-time heavy duty mechanic, and that she and Downey were at the rally holding signs “to support the industry and the men and women that work in it.”
Downey noted the sign she brought with her says ‘forestry feeds my community’ and that includes many other areas in the region.
”Without forestry, we saw what happened during the labour strike in 2019 and we don’t want to go there again,” she said.
Wickstrom stated it feels good to be representing the town at the rally, “but it’s also extremely frustrating. We shouldn’t have to be here when we have such a sustainable, renewable resource.”
Wickstrom added that forestry practices are always changes and evolving.
“What we did in the ‘80s we are not doing now, and so I feel [the deferral] is being rushed — it needs to be considered more carefully and more people need input.”
She specifically pointed out local First Nations, municipalities, industries, and registered professional foresters as those who should have more of a say in the matter.
Wickstrom said while she feels she can confidently say that activists who are against the industry are not going to change their mind about protecting old growth, “I want them to go and look in the eyes of the men and women in the industry that they are trying to put out of work.”
Downey pointed out there are actually many benefits to harvesting portions of old growth, with one prime example being that it enables mills to run.
“There are 29 mills in the south Island that will be shut down if old-growth logging goes away, that’s a lot of jobs that will be impacted.”
Wickstrom added the issue of old growth is not a simple one, primarily because the actual definition of it is subjective, “and that’s where the problem lies.”
Tamara Meggitt, a representative for the Stand Up BC Forestry lobby group, said the government failed to do any socio economic studies on the impacts its decision would have on rural communities like Port McNeill.
Meggitt added she feels some old growth needs to be protected, “but we also need to have a working forest and a working forest base, which does include some old growth.”
Dan Jorgenson spoke at the rally for the steelworkers union, requesting for people to stand up for the industry and to not be misled by the media and people who live in larger communities down-Island.
Lemare Group president and CEO Eric Dutcyvich also spoke, demanding accountability from the B.C. government and adding that what the government is doing to the forestry industry “is not right and we can do something about it.”
– with files from Black Press