As it looks for ways to shore up the province's timber industry, the B.C. government is in danger of not seeing the forest for the trees.
The harvesting of pine beetle-damaged logs is winding down, and now lumber mills in the Interior face a shortage of logs. The government, as it should, is looking for the means to save jobs and keep the industry viable.
Among the remedies considered are reviewing restrictions on logging environmentally sensitive areas and marginally economic stands, and giving lumber companies more leeway to manage forest lands.
The possibility of opening previously protected old-growth forests to logging has stirred concerns - with reason. B.C. groups and residents have fought for years to protect old-growth forests, and the case has already been made for preserving these irreplacable resources. The public will not stand for invading these special places.
The government plans to re-examine areas where logging has been considered economically marginal, and to take another look at restrictions on forest reserves.
What is needed is a full-scale forest inventory. Much of the data available is decades old, and has likely been thrown out of whack by the pine-beetle infestation.
No business that sells a commodity can get by without taking inventory regularly. You don't know what you can sell until you know what you have.
The calculation should not be how many trees are needed to support a certain number of jobs, but how many jobs will be supported by trees available through sustainable harvest. The hard truth might well be that logging should be scaled back.
Forests Minister Steve Thomson said any decisions to cut old-growth forests will be based on science, but the science used should be forestry, not political science or economics. It should look not only at the quantity of lumber, but the entire ecosystem. A forest is more than a certain quantity of two-by-fours, it's a system that supports wildlife, generates tourism and recreation and protects watersheds.
Is it possible to have a healthy forest and still harvest timber? Of course - not only is it possible, it's essential. Using up the timber supply faster than it can be replenished means the end of the forest, the killing of the goose that lays the golden egg. No forests, no lumber industry, no jobs.
Noted forester Merve Wilkinson proved the worth of good forestry practices on his 28 hectares of forest near Nanaimo. After 60 years, he had taken twice the original volume of lumber from the property and was still left with 110 per cent of the volume. Wilkinson, who died in 2011, sold his property, known as Wildwood at Yellow Point, to The Land Conservancy so it could continue to be a showpiece of forestry.
The methods used in a relatively small parcel might not translate easily to large tracts, but the principles should be closely examined to see how they can be implemented on a larger scale.
If forests are depleted for short-term profit, you can be sure the result will be long-term pain.