Bulkley Valley forestry industry representatives presented a united front to Smithers town council last week seeking a letter of support to push back against the provincial government’s old-growth deferral strategy.
At a special Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting March 23, town council heard that although actual deferrals have not yet been implemented, the Nov. 2, 2021 announcement that 2.6 million hectares of old-growth forests could be subject to deferrals over the next two years is already affecting local businesses.
Peter Tweedie, owner of Tyhee Forestry Company, said his revenues have suffered because the announcement is hampering his ability to hire.
“I have since, in my hiring process, discovered that the news carried across the country,” he said, noting 13 of his 15 employees have come from outside the province making him a net importer of citizens to the valley.
“I’m continually now, since November, being asked, ‘why come to B.C., forestry’s dead?’”
He said an inability to hire has a direct impact on his bottom line.
“We’ve now got this psychological impact to our entire industry at a time that we can least afford it.”
Shari Smaha, whose family has owned and operated Fink’s Sawmill in Smithers for four generations and who has been an outspoken critic of the deferral process, also spoke to the psychological impacts.
“With the recent old-growth deferral, the government has declined to quantify how much volume we stand to lose and what will be the financial impact to our livelihood and to that of our employees,” she said.
“Operating in this deferred environment is always on our minds and it adds extra pressure and stress to an already high-risk job.”
Smaha added her family is nervous to invest any more capital because of the uncertainty.
Council heard from a number of others from various stakeholders, including woodlot owners and the Wetzink’wa Community Forest.
The last word went to David DeWit, natural resources manager for the Office of the Wet’suwet’en. Dewit also criticized Victoria’s top-down approach and encouraged everyone in the valley to work together to create a local solution to forest management.
“I sympathize with some of our speakers that shared that they felt like they were on their heels or there’s a torpedo that’s coming at them,” he said. “I’m way too familiar participating in reactive processes. These processes are not effective, most of them are not effective, and they instill fear and that clouds reason.
“We need to do something different. I think we have the ability to create the solutions ourselves, so let’s do something different.”
Prior to industry comments, Cam Bentley, a district manager for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, presented background information on the proposed old-growth deferrals and stumpage harmonization.
He said deferrals are currently a recommendation and the process now is about consultation of what will be implemented and what won’t.
Council also heard from Karen Price, one of the scientists who did the review that led to the recommended deferrals.
Price used the first part of her presentation to unequivocally deny a persistent complaint that the five-member technical panel who prepared the report was biased with ties to American environmental activism handpicked to support the BC NDP’s environmental agenda.
“Contrary to what you may have read… we are not members of the Sierra Club, we have no ties to the Sierra Club,” she said.
She also indirectly disputed claims that nobody was consulted in the process.
“The old-growth strategic review heard a surprising consensus from thousands of people from all different walks of life that we need a paradigm shift from managing for timber subject to constraints to managing for ecosystem health and biodiversity recognizing that we have ecosystems in B.C. that are already at high risk,” she said. “They also recommended that we defer harvests in these areas to give us a pause to allow time for collaborative land use planning with First Nations and to manifest the paradigm shift.”
The B.C. government said the process — led by Gary Merkel, a professional forester, natural resource expert and member of the Tahltan Nation and Al Gorley, also a professional forester and former chair of the Forest Practices Board — engaged First Nations, industry, stakeholders and communities.
Furthermore, the province said, over the two-year period ending Jan. 31, 2020, the consultants conducted 200 meetings in 45 communities, reviewed 400 published articles and papers and received 300 written submissions, 9,000 emails and 18,500 completed surveys.
Nevertheless, Bulkley Valley industry representatives feel left out. Matt Sear a registered professional forester with Pacific Inland Resources (PIR) and chair of the local Community Resources Board said they felt blindsided. Usually, he said, with a policy change like this, the company would expect to see some sort of transition provision and/or grandfathering of existing tenures.
He said the uncertainty created by the announcement was unnecessary and has already had a direct short-term impact, but the greater concern is what the long-term impacts might be.
“It’s really not clear to us what the full impacts will be, which is also causing us some uncertainty and… we don’t think it needs to be that way,” he said. “There’s been a long history of land use planning in the valley with the Community Resources Board.
“It’s one of the last community resource boards still in existence from the land use planning days. I think that’s a testament to the interest in this valley in local planning. And that’s the one thing I see missing from this old-growth program is really the community not being involved or having a chance to say anything.”
Following all of the presentations, Mayor Gladys Atrill thanked everyone and said council will need some time to digest the information before deciding if they will provide a letter of support and if so, what it will say.
The matter will be brought forward again at the next regular council meeting on April 12, she said.