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We need to involve communities in preserving their forests

The old form of forestry did not work

Much-needed new policies to shape the renewal of the interior forest industry are now being discussed – unfortunately, these discussions, going on in many communities, involve just the forest companies and First Nations.

While both parties will ably represent their own goals and interests, there is no opportunity for others to do so other than through a government website – that’s unfortunate because we have a common problem.

Our scientists have said with increasing clarity that we only have a decade to radically rearrange the way we interact with our planet or its adjustment to the effects of our industrial activity will be exponentially brutal. So we have to move uncomfortably quickly to managing our forests according to the dictates of the planet’s ecosystem, not our economy.

Happily, for us, there has been a growing body of science on ecosystem-based management. We know how to do this.

Still, however, large-scale industrial forestry, characterized by clear-cutting forests and eliminating old-growth forests, has failed us – lessening biodiversity, contributing to species extinction, reducing the fertility and resilience of our forests so that they cannot grow as much wood, store as much carbon or protect our water sources.

Our forests and communities, and now our planet, have lost health. It is not a sustainable model.

Endless mill closures have taught us that. The most common response to date has been the least helpful, to export the logs elsewhere.

Industrial forestry continues its decline as a significant part of our economy. Why are we listening to a failed model? We all need a more diverse rural economy.

It is way past time to put an end to large corporations creating major ecological and social damage on their way to profit creation and begin to develop community economies that operate in a truly sustainable way within their ecologies. There is no one, clear or easy route to this.

While we share many challenges, each community has its own combination of realities, restraints and opportunities. How can we enable them to develop a supportive forestry? How do communities then mesh their local realities with the global realities with which we all wrestle?

The government consultation was very well designed to gather a wealth of ideas from the hinterland and send them to Victoria for processing into a policy. We have this one opportunity, a rare and welcome one, to take part. If you wish to take part, go to engage.gov.bc.ca/interiorforestrenewal.

However, we would be better served if we had a process that created an ongoing and far more urgent conversation. The government needs to consult with all the sectors of our communities. It’s called democracy.

And there is a model for that, one developed by the NDP in the 90s to end the War in the Woods. They brought multi-stakeholder committees together in each forest district to create consensual land use plans. Municipal and First Nations governments, large and small scale forestry operations, tourism, recreation, conservation and environmental groups put those plans together. And then disbanded.

They need to come together again, this time permanently, this time to rebuild the forest ecologies and the economies that depend on them. The old form of forestry did not work. Neither did the old form of democracy where the fate of our surrounding forests was in the hands of people who did not live in them.

Community by community we can create a healthy, diverse economy that includes manufacturing based on ecosystems, a forestry industry that is based on rich biodiversity, no species extinction, carbon storage and clean water, one that includes First Nations and the recreation and tourism sectors as equal partners.

Corporations that can adapt to this more resilient model can join us in this.

Robert Hart chaired the committee to monitor the Kalum land use plan for over ten years and is a contributor to the Northern Sentinel in Kitimat.

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