Around 70 people came out to a touring forestry meeting Thursday, March 16, in Williams Lake.
Audience members included professional foresters, forestry workers, millworkers, retired resource ministry employees, Mayor Walt Cobb, ranchers, union leaders, environmentalists and regional district directors.
Peter Ewart with Stand Up for the North Committee and Ben Parfitt, resource analyst for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, were the keynote speakers.
Ewart described today’s forestry policies as “petrified thinking,” using one example being the cancellation of the appertancy in 2003.
“Companies don’t have to produce where they log. Since then dozens of mills have been closed, logs shipped out and workers in the communities of the Interior, the North and the Island were hit hard,” he said.
Ewart also criticized big forest companies for shutting mills down in B.C. while establishing new operations in the southern U.S.
“This is called the squeezed lemon syndrome,” Ewart said. “Squeeze the juice out of B.C. forests, invest this juice in some other country and then throw the lemon away.”
There are two opposing trends emerging around the forest industry, he added.
One leaning toward corporate decisions made far away in board rooms and the other where communities want to have more of a say about the forest industry.
Parfitt said if we don’t know what our forests contain we cannot have a healthy sustainable forest sector and healthy vibrant communities that draw some of their wealth from the forests.
“It’s all in our best of interest that we have a government that is showing leadership, that is prepared to grasp the mettle on this issue,” Parfitt said.
He suggested 10 ideas ranging from resetting logging rates, phasing out raw log exports, increasing the minimum payments that companies make to the provincial government for trees logged on publicly owned lands to empowering local communities and regions to have a more direct say in forestry decisions through the creation of new regional management boards.
United Steelworkers Local 1-425 president Paul French recalled a time when there were 15 to 20 people working on a green chain.
“Now there are 15 to 20 people in the entire mill per shift and the amount of logs that are coming in are still the same,” French said. “We had three mills in this town go down, 100 Mile House lost a plywood plant. Our power plant has curtailed production because there is too much power out there.”
French said every time he goes in to talk to management they tell him they have to cut labour costs.
“There were over 2,000 wood workers 40 years ago, now we are down to about 900,” he said, noting he doesn’t have the answers, but wants to continue being part of any discussions about the issue.