When it became evident in 2002 that the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic was going to devastate the interior lodgepole pine forests on a scale never seen before, the BC Liberal government of the day chose to turn a blind eye to this data and glossed over the long-term implications of this unprecedented, climate change induced event.
When the Liberal’s 2003 changes to forestry regulations and deep budget cuts to the forest ministry resulted in massive waste piles being left in the bush, they refused to deal with this issue in any meaningful way. The combination of large tracks of MPB-killed forests and years of accumulated slash piles are now feeding the unprecedented wildfires we’ve experienced over the last two years.
We had the luxury of time to manage our way through this transition period. We could have developed a comprehensive forest health strategy that took climate change into account. We could have moderated wildfire behavior and minimized timber losses through proactive management of our timber resources. We could have worked with the forest sector to entice and enable them to invest in alternate forest products manufacturing in BC. But, under the BC Liberals, we did not have the proactive political leadership needed to make this possible.
Mill closures on the scale we are now experiencing were predicted as early as 2010, but no plans were put in place to deal with this scenario, instead the political leadership of the day chose to pretend we would simply find the timber to keep feeding these mills. We can’t and we shouldn’t. We’ve run out of commercially viable timber to keep all the current mills operating and many must close if we are to avoid overharvesting our forest resources.
The predictions the former Liberal government dismissed as “sky is falling” negativity are now coming true with shocking accuracy and forest dependent communities, workers and contractors are bearing the brunt of the pain while all the former governing party members can offer them are petty partisan blame-game politics.
Missed opportunities aside, we’re here now and we need to move even more aggressively on our transition strategy.
We’re fortunate that Quesnel City Council developed and began to implement our community transition strategy in 2014 and the steps we’ve taken to date will help mitigate the impacts of the job losses we’ll experience here. We will continue to make investments and engage in strategies to reposition our community so it remains a vibrant and resilient place that continues to attract visitors, residents, and investors.
We’re also fortunate that the two companies we have left, West Fraser and C&C Wood Products, are willing and engaged partners in our Future of Forestry Think Tank process. They’ve been actively engaged in this process from the outset. With the help of our local First Nations leadership, our industrial partners, and the local Ministry of Forests staff we will continue to drive our strategy to reinvent our local forest sector so that, despite the current challenges, it will continue to be a major job creator and contributor to our local and regional economy.
Alarmist partisan politics won’t help us get through this current situation. “Town Halls” that only feed people’s fears are not helpful. We need productive and proactive leadership now more than ever. To date, the current provincial government has been much more open to engaging us and providing us with the resources we need than we experienced with the previous one and that bodes well for Quesnel.
-Mayor Bob Simpson