Over ten days in November, Sierra Club BC and the Wilderness Committee hosted six public meetings in six different communities to talk about forests on Vancouver Island.
All six communities are – or were – forestry towns. The meetings were well-attended and full of passionate people. It’s clear that forest ecosystems and forestry rank as some of the most vital sectors for improved management, reconciliation and a renewed vision in the scope of climate change and land-use planning in BC.
This tour was a follow-up to a similar initiative our organizations undertook in March. We feel that when it comes to the remaining endangered original rainforest on Vancouver Island, the future of second-growth forestry and decision-making over forests, much more public conversation is needed.
One of the most important discussions is about reconciliation between Indigenous communities and non-Indigenous systems of governance with regard to resource extraction.
Our hope is that this tour will help advance existing conversations and shine some light on long overdue conversations around benefits to the public and to Indigenous communities from the forest sector.
We heard from hundreds of people from many different backgrounds and experiences. We met citizens, mayors, city councillors, Indigenous community members and leaders, tourism operators and small business owners.
The forest industry was present every single night – as it should be. We heard from professional foresters, forest technologists, fallers, professional biologists, mill workers, private forest landowners, woodlot license holders, Ministry of Forests staff and corporate logging executives.
Most folks who identified themselves as part of the forest industry acknowledged that we can do a better job of managing forests when it comes to protecting ecosystems and creating more local jobs. There were varying opinions about how to do this, especially with higher levels of management.
Among the public, however, there is a huge amount of mistrust in large logging corporations and a strong perception that these corporations aren’t managing forests in the best interests of local communities.
There was a desire for more local processing of coastal timber and more local production of wood products. The Nanaimo event featured Arnold Bercov, president of the Public and Private Workers of Canada, a major union representing mill workers. Workers from the value-added sector were present at most stops. Many lamented the large number of raw logs sent directly overseas and unfair mechanisms that create a lack of access to timber for local needs.
In Port Hardy, a regional district director asked about returning to appurtenance: rules that require companies that hold tenure to operate mills near the tenure area. Little of the timber harvested on Vancouver Island is processed here, and our communities are missing out on solid, family-supporting jobs as a result.
It was widely acknowledged that all forests exist within the territories of First Nations and that both conservation and forestry must do a better job of respecting Indigenous rights, title and authority. At the Port Alberni stop, our guest speaker Kekinusuqs Judith Sayers of the Hupacasath First Nation and president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council spoke to the deep connections Indigenous peoples have with forests, the loss of sacred sites and the need for more involvement of First Nations in forest management.
In Port Hardy, Kwakiutl Chief Rupert Wilson spoke of the violation of the Douglas Treaty in forestry practices and how we need to work together to bring the issue of unsustainable logging directly to the highest levels of government.
We framed these conversations in the context of climate change and spent a lot of time discussing the challenges that this global threat poses. We highlighted that BC’s coastal old-growth forests can hold more climate-changing carbon than any other on Earth and discussed the tremendous responsibility this places on us to manage these forests better.
Now comes the work of deepening the connections we’ve made, and building new partnerships to advocate for the protection of remaining old-growth and for a just transition to sustainable second-growth forestry. We’ll be reaching out to the folks we met – those who agreed with much of what we said, and those who didn’t – and we’ll continue to try to find common ground.
We’ll also continue calling on the new provincial government to engage in this work. The premier has a lot on his plate, but forests and forestry on Vancouver Island must be a priority. Policies that protect ecosystems and Indigenous rights while charting a path forward for sustainable livelihoods in forest-dependent communities must be developed and implemented as soon as possible.
Torrance Coste is Vancouver Island Campaigner for the Wilderness Committee. Mark Worthing is Conservation and Climate Campaigner for Sierra Club BC.