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  • How to protect forest-dependent communities

    Anthony Britneff

    The hidden agenda of industrial forestry companies in BC is privatization of publicly-owned land. Rural communities dependent on forestry need to resist that and support changes that would increase local, public control of the working forest.


    THE FOREST SECTOR has deep roots in rural British Columbia with multi-generational families working in the industry either directly in logging or in related businesses like selling logging trucks. Continued forest industry decline threatens a long-established way of life for those relatively few people remaining in the sector.  

    The forest industry’s decline began in 1988.  Since then, that decline has been exacerbated by the impacts of the mountain pine beetle epidemic and by a shortage in timber supply owing to unsustainable logging, wildfires and forest health issues related to clearcutting and climate change. 

    Since 1988, the forest industry has contracted radically. The pulp mills that once stood in Prince Rupert, Kitimat, Ocean Falls, Port Alice, Campbell River, Gold River, Tahsis and Woodfibre are long since gone.  Since 2000, over 80 sawmills province-wide have been shuttered. Mining, not forest products, is now B.C.’s largest export sector.



    The Elk Falls pulp, paper and lumber mill at Campbell River on Vancouver Island is one of many major forest product manufacturers around BC that have closed permanently since 2000, cutting forest-related employment in half.


    Rural British Columbians have dealt with, and adapted to, massive job losses in the forest sector over the last three decades. In 2000, jobs in forestry, logging, support services and wood products manufacturing numbered 101,000. Since then, over 55,000 jobs have been lost.

    The industry’s once-proud claim that forestry paid for healthcare and education is now illusory. Government revenue reporting shows that forestry does not pay its own bills never mind underpinning social service expenditures. The forest industry now accounts for a mere 2 percent of provincial gross domestic product.



    The once vibrant Ocean Falls (inset), now all but abandoned.


    The choice for industry was clear and it decided on its strategy years ago: maximize short-term profit; invest profits in mills overseas as the best of the old-growth forests are logged; shutter mills; and sell associated assets and working forest (tenure).  

    Forest-dependent British Columbians have a choice between two options for their future: to maintain the industrial status quo and suffer further decline, or to collaborate with government in changing how forestry works in B.C. and reap the rewards of forward thinking.  

    Ninety-four percent of B.C. remains public land. By retaining public ownership of the land, British Columbians keep open their options for land use compatible with timber production. This allows for diversified local economies. 

    The forest industry has had a “working forest” since the beginning of the 20th century. It is called the “tenure system.” Unlike the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), from which land can be removed for other uses, timber volume or land cannot be removed from a forest tenure holder for other uses without compensation.  

    So, with security of timber supply in place, why do some rural British Columbians sign petitions for a “working forest” at the behest of the Council of Forest Industries and the BC Forestry Alliance? They do so not recognizing that the forest industry already has a working forest and blind to the industry’s hidden agenda, which is to privatize forest land. 

    That said, the present working forest or tenure system does badly need revamping to take away control of public forests from an oligopoly of multinational corporations and to place it in the hands of local forest trusts. This would require removing large corporate industry from the woods and having it do what it does best, which is manufacturing, not forestry. 

    Regional log markets would allow mid-sized and small manufacturers to access the available supply of timber. Local residents would find employment both in the woods under the administration of local forest trusts and in private sector manufacturing plants—niche, value-added and primary. 

    A forester general would report to the legislature and have powers to set standards for regional forest practices, to audit the activities of local forest trusts and regional log markets, to oversee regional research, and to provide the legislature with detailed, annual forestry reports. 

    Change in the governance of forests along these suggested lines would preserve a rural way of life now badly threatened by maintaining the industrial status quo. Such change would be focused on local economic and environmental well-being. 

    This vision would be achieved by re-writing forestry laws based on the principles of sustainability and conservation, of local forest administration, of open access to timber, and, last but not least, of reliance upon the will of rural British Columbians to change, survive and succeed.  

    Anthony Britneff worked for the B.C. Forest Service for 40 years holding senior professional positions in inventory, silviculture and forest health.

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    Thanks Anthony and Focus Magazine for describing what is happening now in BC's Public Forests, located on 94 % of BC. The tasks ahead includes political direction on (1) What needs to be done (2) Doing what is right for our public forests  ( 3) Development of actions plans that stop doing what is not working and continually improving what is. (4) Taking responsibility for what has happened and what will happen  (5) Saying "we" instead of "I" in followup communication.   Keep up the good work. Ray Travers 

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    Are these so-called forestry dependent communities not more accurately described as forestry subsidy dependent communities?

    The urgently needed legal reforms will require massive public education of all BCers as well as retraining of forestry workers to enable them to produce value added products using fewer trees and produce less so-called waste or work in another sector. As 2020 and 2021 has taught us  change is a constant. To think that life, especially in the face of the climate emergency, can continue with business as usual, is insanity. 

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    Thank you Anthony and Focus on Victoria. Anthony's insights from his years of experience are invaluable. We need to be promoting these ideas in BC's central interior and north, where regulatory capture is visible everywhere one looks in the forested landscapes that surround us. Industrial forestry corporations are rapidly losing their social license to operate here. Local communities, including First Nations, should be in charge of protecting nature and economies because they are best equipped to. Thank you for speaking up for us Anthony.

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    Changing who is running the tenure does not help with the problems outlined I. E. Lack of timber supply running out of accessible resource. You still end up with clearcutting.  I think u need to make a change and move away from clearcutting and too uneven aged stand variable retention which maintains habitat characteristics  when done utilizing the single tree selection system with properly trained crews. This keeps the habitat characteristics intact . Stop clearcutting 

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    All this, yes.  And can we redefine 'sustainable'?  The BC government throws the word around a lot but what they really mean by it is a continuous supply of fiber.    The kind of sustainability that is good from my community is the kind that is focused on ecosystem function.

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