Communities deeply concerned by state of forest sector, says BCGEU

B.C. residents should be worried about the future of their forests, according to a report recently released by the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union (BCGEU).

  • Jun. 8, 2011 7:00 a.m.

B.C. residents should be worried about the future of their forests, according to a report recently released by the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union (BCGEU).

Titled “B.C. Forests in Crisis: A Community Call for Reform,” the report is a compilation of issues discussed in four forest-dependent communities this past January.

Various people in these communities, which included Castlegar, came together to ask questions and provide input to the BCGEU for this report.

Chris Bradshaw, a forest communications officer with the BCGEU, said the report started with the initiative of union members and activists.

“Over the last decade with the number of cuts that have taken place especially in what they call the ‘dirt ministries’ … the members have really seen an erosion of the mandate for public oversight in our resource industries — the forest sector in particular,” he said.

“And there was a growing sense that the communities themselves, the resource communities, really weren’t getting much attention and much play. There was a disconnect between urban B.C. and the more rural communities that are more dependent on the forest sector for the local economy.”

Communities were identified by their reliance on forestry and their location geographically. Aside from Castlegar, residents in Kamloops, Campbell River and Prince George were also polled.

“We wanted to get the anecdotal information and direct input but we also wanted to find out and get a snapshot from the communities themselves,” Bradshaw said. “We went to them for their input on several key issues connected to forestry to see how the community was feeling.”

Even though the communities were spread across the province, Bradshaw said the results were very similar.

“For the most part it was quite surprising as to the amount of uniformity of the results,” he said. “People are quite concerned as to how the forestry sector is doing in their communities.”

Bradshaw said the main problem is the policies within the provincial government that leave no protection for the industry.

“The policies really, in some ways, are not just exporting jobs but they’re really pitting loggers against sawmill workers,” he said. “Jobs are created in the woods … but many of those trees are not making it to local sawmills.”

Most of the trees are now going to the U.S. or China for processing, he said.

“In the past, for decades, the forest timber licences that are given to the forest companies, there was a clause attached which said that trees that are harvested in a local area must be processed in that local area so they created processing and manufacturing jobs,” he continued. “The provincial government has eliminated the clauses, so now the trees are going out of local communities to be processed elsewhere.”

Bradshaw said as a result of these policy changes, 70 mills have been closed down in the last 10 years.

Fifty per cent of people polled in Castlegar said they or someone they knew had lost their job or had their hours reduced during the past two years, and 79 per cent said the industry is critically important to the economic well-being of the community.

“People are having to move away from these resource communities to find work,” Bradshaw said. “That’s not in the long-term interests of our province. Local communities should be seeing a better return on the investment.”

Bradshaw said the point of the report is to serve as a wake-up call to the government.

“The government is out there saying the industry is doing well and that it’s efficient and on the rise again, but they’re ignoring the local communities and the communities aren’t seeing the benefit.”

To read the full report, visit bcgeu.ca/forestry_report.