“One thing is clear. No one knows what is going on. It was a botched announcement.”
That was the reaction from Peter Milobar, MLA for Kamloops-North Thompson, to the B.C. government’s announcement earlier this month that it is looking to defer logging on up to 2.6 million hectares of the province’s most at-risk old-growth forests.
Milobar pointed to a report from the Council of Forest Industries that suggests the deferrals could cost roughly 18,000 jobs. An analysis by the province put the number at 4,500.
“The potential impact could be massive,” Milobar said, noting that these days the majority of forest-related jobs are in the bush and not in mills. “The government’s strategy seems to be turning functioning, working forestry towns into retirement towns.”
The province said in its announcement that the logging deferrals are a temporary measure – recommended by 2020’s Old Growth Strategic Review – to prevent irreversible biodiversity loss while First Nations, the province and other partners develop a “new approach to sustainable forest management that prioritizes ecosystem health and community prosperity throughout B.C.”
It added the move is necessary if the forests are to continue to provide essential benefits, such as clean air, clean water, carbon storage, conservation of biodiversity and timber.
However, Milobar said while he agrees there should be better habitat protection, he believes the province is reacting to the ongoing demonstrations against old-growth logging at Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island. About 1,000 protesters have been arrested in what has been described as one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in Canadian history.
“It seems very rushed. It feels like the government has been feeling the pressure,” Milobar said. “To take steps without consulting people, without socio-economic modeling, was very irresponsible of the minister and of the premier.”
Clearwater Mayor Merlin Blackwell raised similar concerns during a district council meeting Nov. 16.
“We’ve been having a lot of calls with the minister and with industry,” Blackwell said. “We’ve been looking at a lot of maps with their red blotches showing deferral areas. I call it the ‘measles map of B.C. logging’ at this particular point.”
The mayor said it appears to him that government forestry officials at the regional level haven’t been fully briefed on how the deferrals would work.
Questions such as whether existing logging roads through deferral areas could continue to be used or how log salvage would be done in the event of bug kill within a deferral area have not been answered.
“The announcement was put out ahead of the logistics by quite a distance,” Blackwell said.
The mayor said there appears to be a slow work stoppage in the woods because no one knows what will happen next.
“Uncertainty is the biggest issue at this particular point … not knowing what direction it is going to go in and how it will affect the community,” he said.
Blackwell said he would continue consulting with the relevant ministers, with industry, and with other nearby communities.