The future of forestry didn’t look much different, year to year, for decades on end. Sure, there were sometimes new machines to improve harvesting or hauling, but as an industry, the evolution was slow.
Now, the changes are evolutionary and revolutionary. It’s not just hardware that’s developing, it is the financing of forestry, the governance of forestry, the partnerships required to operate, and instead of just lumber and pulp, the product possibilities are reaching the realistic point of shocking.
If the many players in the forest industry are wrestling with these changes, Quesnel is the mat on which it’s happening. Being the epicentre of the mountain pine beetle disaster, followed by mega-fires that decimated what forests were left, made Quesnel a natural place to ponder what this beleaguered but exciting industry now represented.
Add to that all the different kinds of forestry production that goes on in Quesnel, most of it thanks to West Fraser’s diverse holdings in its original hometown, and it makes even more sense that this was the place where the Quesnel Future of Forests Think Tank was launched in 2018. Another edition was held, but then COVID shut down the dialogue, and this past week it started again, with a roomful of experts at the North Cariboo Community Campus.
Panels of specialists would give short presentations, then the room would talk out the topics, one by one.
“We strategically invited decision-makers, people in leadership, who could effect the changes that we need to see. And then we also invited funders so that they could see in real time how we understand the problems and how the funding needs to match that,” said Erin Robinson, the forestry initiatives manager at the City of Quesnel, and one of the three founding organizers, along with professional forester and facilitator Mike Simpson, and forestry consultant and former MLA and mayor Bob Simpson (no relation to Mike).
“I think we covered more than I even expected,” said Robinson. I think the different voices in the room from their respective organizations brought such a cross-discipline and cross-organizational mix of people that the synergies are really going to be productive.”
Unlike events like the BC Natural Resources Forum held annually in Prince George, or the upcoming Minerals North mining conference also hosted in Quesnel this month, this gathering was not about looking under the hood of industries as they are. The think tank is entirely about blowing the fog away from the crystal ball to see as clearly as one professionally can the visions of the future, centring on realistic goals and solidifying practical dreams. What can be done – really done – to take the forest industry to the next level? What are the obstacles? What will it cost to achieve ? Who will do it?
Mike Simpson was the central facilitator, charged with ensuring the flow of the proceedings, and keeping the focus clear on each discussion point.
“What stood out for me, and this was the theme for today, from what a lot of people said: where is the action? Where are the commitments? That’s what today was about, to reiterate that,” Mike said.
“This whole think tank process is located in Quesnel, the Cariboo,” added Bob Simpson, “because as Mike pointed out, we talk about transformation provincially. We can’t. So what’s the transformation here? Think about what do we land on to keep the innovation going here?”
The think tank does maintain that local goal. As much as it is a conversation about the forest industry in general, it is specifically about Quesnel’s forest industry. That’s not to be patronizing to other forest communities, it is out of recognition that actions must start somewhere if they are going to radiate broadly, and Quesnel has a lot of the forestry amenities needed to pull off the dreams starting to become reality.
“This is actually the beginning. The next step is we take the material, and further the projects and collaborations that have already started. But this was a re-set because a lot has changed in four years since the last think tank,” said Robinson. “Mike, Bob and I, as organizers, will collate all of the information into a short summary. And then we will work at the staff level, and also at the elected official level, to lobby and advocate for the changes we need to see.”
The think tank organizers plan to hold these large forums every couple of years, with small working groups meeting more frequently to advance the objectives that emerge.