Op-Ed: BC old-growth logging ban

Gaby Wickstrom: Old-growth logging ban would severely damage forest-reliant communities

Opinion: In Port McNeill, 80 per cent of our population of 2,200 earns a living from the forest economy.

Jane Morden of Port Alberni stands beside one of the giant Douglas firs found in a remnant of ancient old-growth forest in the Cameron Valley, just 30 minutes’ drive from the iconic Cathedral Grove Park, a major tourism draw.

Recommendations stemming from B.C.’s strategic review of old-growth logging are due to be released soon and there is a lot riding on the outcome for our province’s forestry-reliant communities. Many are hoping this will lead to a moratorium on old-growth logging. To imagine what this would mean to my community of Port McNeill and others like it, look no further than last year’s crippling USW strike against Western Forest Products.

The scars are still fresh from the nearly eight-month-long strike. The impact was immediate in Port McNeill, where loggers had no work.

As logs became scarce and mills further south ran out of wood to make lumber, people across Vancouver Island started to suffer. Pulp mills, log traders, service-providers, secondary manufacturing and contractors were impacted too. Even people in seemingly unconnected industries, such as farmers, could no longer buy wood chips for livestock. They too felt the shutdown. Not to mention the restaurants, retailers and other businesses who saw their customers reduce spending to save money.

Up-and-down the coast, forestry is the interconnected woven fabric that supports our communities.

The impact of further restricting forestry would be as devastating. In Port McNeill, 80 per cent of our population of 2,200 earns a living from the forest economy. A total old-growth logging ban would likely result in an immediate 60 to 70 per cent reduction in the local workforce.

I moved to Port McNeill for love; my husband is a heavy-duty mechanic who earns his living in the forest industry. I learned much about the nuts-and-bolts of the trade through my first job, driving a forestry tour bus. Many people, when they think about old growth, think of the Cathedral Grove near Port Alberni. Those aren’t the size of old-growth trees typically logged in our area.

Activist campaigns showing stumps photographed with extreme wide-angle lenses to make them look bigger, create misperceptions among people who misunderstand the industry. What I fear most is those misperceptions could result in an old-growth logging ban being imposed without meaningful regard for the social and economic destruction it would wreak on communities like mine.

Provincewide, the area of old-growth forest under government protection has tripled since 1991. Today, of the 3.5 million hectares of old-growth forests on the coast, 73 per cent is unavailable for harvest — it’s protected. Yet we still only hear about what is logged. Sadly, I’m beginning to believe that the only number that will satisfy environmentalists is 100 per cent protection of every tree. That isn’t a balanced approach.

I’m not afraid of dialogue. All of us — community members, industry, labour, environmentalists and politicians — need to have a conversation about the future of the forest industry.

The conversation should be framed with an acknowledgment that forestry is a sustainable industry and B.C. has the highest environmental standards in the world. In every area logged trees are planted and forests rejuvenate. Wood products are part of the global climate-change solution; we need more wood, not less.

We must also consider the loss in government revenue from placing increased restrictions on the land base. My community would lose revenue from the property taxes paid by companies who have operations in town and their employees who own homes. In your community, stumpage fees and taxes help pay for roads, hospitals and education — services you, your friends and your neighbours rely on.

People in urban centres who are tempted to argue for reduced logging should first ask themselves what they’re willing to give up. There will be a personal cost to such a request. They must acknowledge the enormity of the sacrifices they’re asking from people who earn a living in the forestry industry. With that in mind, we can set the framework for a decision that fairly balances the interests of conservation and the economy.

Everything we do as human beings comes at a price. We have to make choices. We can find balance. So, let’s sit down and talk.

Gaby Wickstrom is the mayor of Port McNeill.

See op-ed on the Vancouver Sun website: https://bit.ly/34vZRgy