Three Decades of Forest Debate in British Columbia, But the Friction Continues

old growth forest debate british columbia canada-01

It’s hard to believe it’s been at least three decades that old growth forests in British Columbia (BC) have been the topic of tough, intermittent environmental battles.

Several BC coastal news stories this month could easily have been part of the local front-page news of May, 1991: “Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation; Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident.”

One such story goes on to explain that logging in Tree Farm License (“TFL”) 44 on Vancouver Island has been halted following an incident between forestry contractors and activists, and that the incident comes a day after Huu-ay-aht First Nations announced “it had purchased more interest in the TFL through a partnership with Western Forest Products.”

What’s changed over 30 years, from May 1991 (when Greenpeace, the Sierra Club of Western Canada and other activist groups began their call in earnest for an international boycott of BC forest products) to today’s skirmishes on Vancouver Island?

The answer is “plenty.” Commissions, task forces, panels, legislated codes of forest practice, deep dives into old growth forest characteristics and approaches, third-party verification systems to ensure forest sustainability, endangered species legislation, protected areas strategies and ever-stronger First Nations participation in the sector are a small part of a long list of improvements.

Another change is worth underlining. In the spring of 1991, lumber prices hovered around USD $200 per thousand board feet. Fast forward three decades to today and prices have reached records in the USD $1450 range – an increase of about 625 per cent.

Is anyone truly surprised that investment in forest licences is rising during a time of unprecedented market values? Does anyone begrudge Indigenous interests for exercising their rights and abilities to participate in a sustainable, prosperous forest economy? I would hope not.

Forestry, Indigenous Communities & Reconciliation

pro-forestry protestors in British Columbia

Pro-Forestry Rally in BC

After years of public processes, comprehensive land-use zoning, old growth set-asides and park designations, and a virtual revolution of change in practices and in vigilance, some might be wondering why the messaging from the activists appears to have changed so little.

In the case of Fairy Creek, a valley of about 1,200 hectares of old forest near Port Renfrew on the Southwest coast of Vancouver Island, it’s important to remember that more than 1,000 hectares are currently protected or otherwise not suitable for harvest, and less than 200 hectares is set for logging.

Huumiis Ventures, a limited partnership owned by the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, announced on earlier this month that it has acquired an “incremental” 28 percent ownership interest in TFL 44, which borders the west coast of South central Vancouver Island.

That gives Huumiis a 35 percent interest in TFL 44, with Western Forest Products holding the remaining 65 percent, and Huumiis has said it plans to take a majority interest (51 percent) in TFL 44, subject to approval from Huu-ay-aht citizens and the BC government.

Rightly, Huu-ay-aht Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr has called the recent acquisition “a historic milestone and positive step forward towards economic reconciliation.”

The First Nation believes a campaign to stop harvesting undermines its sovereignty and puts added strain on its community during a pandemic.

Indigenous Communities Want Prosperity

From mining, to oil and gas, to forestry and aquaculture, Canada’s Indigenous communities have said time and time again that they are tired of managing systemic poverty. They want to move on to managing prosperity for their Indigenous community members.

And whether it’s schools or healthcare or housing or cleaner water, Indigenous leaders say they want a safe, secure and sustainable future for their community members, particularly their youth.

Canadians have been watching the vast improvements in forest practices and the increasing sophistication in international markets over the last three decades. We know we have an amazing story to tell.

More and more we see the natural resources sector move along a joint path toward reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous communities. Polling tells us Canadians are in favour of it, and want to see it happen soon.

Global markets are telling us in strong terms that they cherish renewable, carbon-friendly wood as a product. It’s time for all of us, including workers, activists, Indigenous communities and the general public to recognize the work that’s been underway for 30 years and more.

Let’s grow trees, let’s use wood, and let’s celebrate our world-leading work in old growth conservation.

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