Province lacks vision for future of forests

Input: Community needs voice in determining priorities and use.

Whispers of change are rustling through B.C. forests, sounds the creator of a Healthy Forests-Healthy Communities: A Conversation on B.C. Forests initiative is hoping will grow loud enough for government and industry to hear.

In the Shuswap last week to attend a “conversation” in Salmon Arm, Bill Bourgeois noted many such meetings are taking place throughout the province, organized at the grassroots level by citizens concerned about how B.C. forests are currently being managed.

Bourgeois, who spent more than 35 years working in forest land management in both government and industry positions, walked away about two years ago.

“I got very frustrated and angry and said ‘I’m outta here,’” he declares with passion. “I was frustrated with what both government and industry are doing.”

Last fall Bourgeois, a professional forester with a PhD, was invited to a number of meetings with environmentalists, professionals and First Nations members where he discovered he was not the only one frustrated and concerned with the state of forest management in the province.

Now a natural sustainability consultant with his new company New Direction Resource Management Ltd., Bourgeois cites several issues of concern in an August 2011 paper:

• Leadership: No long-term forest lands vision exists to guide policy and management decisions in B.C; the government’s The State of the Forest Report did not include a vision to evaluate the success of existing forest management.

• Re-stocking: Regeneration levels (40-70 per cent) in mountain pine beetle (MPB) impacted areas; this level of regeneration is expected to significantly compromise future productivity if not corrected, especially with increasing global external influences.

• Monitoring: Staff reductions (25 per cent in 10 years) in B.C. Forest Service, much in the area of monitoring; current levels of oversight are expected to challenge the ability to both adequately determine the state of B.C. forests and ensure sustainable management; no evidence exists that other efficiencies or delegation have compensated for the staff reductions.

• Resource inventories: Funding levels of resource inventories (45 per cent of the estimated essential staffing levels for inventories maintenance; 75 per cent of the inventories are 25 years old); lack of updated and readily available resource inventories is expected to limit managers’ ability to evaluate and manage forest conditions appropriately.

“I think the key to moving things forward in our forests is through communities saying what they do and do not want,” Bourgeois says. “There is a role for them to play. They may need help and that could come from foresters, academics and others.”

Bourgeois believes that if voters tell their MLAs they feel strongly enough about the issue, politicians will listen.

Conversely, he says if enough companies relay customer complaints to industry, they too will listen.

“And there’s a strategy that needs to be developed around both those issues,” he says. “The stronger the voice, the more likely the decision-makers will listen.”

Bourgeois says the meetings will wrap up this fall and a report will be completed by the end of the year.

Co-ordinator of the local conversation, Randy Spyksma, says issues raised are similar to meetings held in other communities: need to recognize a broad range of values,  a larger community voice for what happens in local forests; a need for a viable forest economy that will then be able to support conservation efforts; emphasis on sustainability with a view to forest health in the long-term.

Salmon Arm Coun. Kevin Flynn deemed the meeting and initiative worthwhile.

“Forests are a significant asset to all citizens but we have no input into their priority and use locally,” he said, noting communities should be able to prioritize to best achieve community objectives, be they based on employment, recreation, backcountry use, etc. “It is evident neither government or industry won’t change without a groundswell of a grassroots demand for a voice.”

Columbia Shuswap Regional District Area E Rural Sicamous director Rhona Martin said the meeting, attended by close to 40 people with a variety of perspectives, provided a “loud and clear” message.

“Environmental and recreational values in the forest are held near and dear by those in the room.”