Communities’ perspectives on B.C.’s coastal forest industry
By David Elstone
Oct. 13, 2016 - With our roots inextricably linked to the B.C. coastal communities where our members live and work, the TLA recently reported on the outcome of two surveys we conducted, one in 2004 and the other in 2015, benchmarking changes in attitudes and expectations of coastal mayors.
By David Elstone
Our study, Communities Perspectives on the B.C. Coastal Forest Industry, found that most of B.C.’s coastal communities feel the forest industry is in worse shape today than it was a decade ago. Not surprisingly, mayors are concerned about job loss and the economic impact it’s having on coastal towns and cities.
When we conducted our 2004 survey there was a strong sense of optimism about the future: 88 per cent of community leaders were optimistic about the future of forestry compared to only 56 per cent today. In 2004, communities hoped changes in forest practices and policy would help transform a flagging forest industry. Since then, the provincial economy continued to diversify, yet many rural coastal communities remain heavily dependent on the forest industry and are vulnerable to its downturns.
Mayors are quick to acknowledge the importance of forestry to their local economies and some noted a recent market recovery in the coastal forest industry. Nevertheless, it’s clear policy changes from 2003 have not, for the most part, yielded as much of a positive impact on our coastal communities as expected. B.C.’s shrinking forest industry has seen a transformation resulting in tenure consolidations, mill closures, and timber harvesting contractors and forestry-related businesses closing their doors. The gradual erosion of Bill 13 is another serious culprit that has caused many contractors to go out of business at the expense of the communities they support.
The solution lies in levelling the playing field for logging contractors so that they will have a secure, stable and safety trained workforce, which will help B.C.’s forest industry be competitive in a global marketplace. With this, communities could feel confident that local timber harvesting contractors – who support the community and employ local people – will have security of work to sustain a stable economy.
Interestingly, there’s even stronger support for the working forest with 86 per cent of community leaders supporting the concept compared to 80 per cent in 2004. In a province rich in natural resources this support acknowledges the important role forestry plays in our communities, but also recognizes that the multi-use of our forests “leads to a more diversified economy.”
Log exports remain a hot topic in British Columbia. Community leaders show guarded support for log exports with 62 per cent supporting them today as compared to 60 per cent in 2004. However, many see the logs leaving their communities as a missed opportunity even though exported logs support local forestry jobs. For the majority of mayors the goal is to ensure an appropriate balance between domestic manufacturing and log exports.
First Nations are an important part of the TLA as both members and partners in the coastal forest industry. Mayors also show strong support for First Nations involvement in the sector, which has generated new opportunity in business and employment since our last survey.
Community leaders continue to recognize the need to improve the image of the forest industry to attract young people to fill the projected 4,700 job openings between now and 2022, and the TLA looks forward to playing a greater role in raising awareness about the importance of the industry and the benefits it has to offer young people.
There is consensus that more needs to be done – and I’m pleased to report it’s getting done. In late September, Minister Thomson attended a TLA hosted forestry dinner for B.C.’s coastal mayors and talked to them about our study and his government’s response: Strong Past, Bright Future: A Competitiveness Agenda for B.C.’s Forest Sector. This new agenda shows the Liberal government is walking their talk when it comes to supporting B.C.’s forest industry now and in the future. To learn more about this, visit www.tla.ca/competitiveness.
David Elstone is the executive director of the Truck Loggers Association.