The Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada and the Wilderness Committee are organizations with deep roots in Canada’s forests.
Since its inception more than 50 years ago, the PPWC and its members have relied on abundant and resilient forests for their livelihoods. In turn, since it was founded 34 years ago, the WC has tirelessly advocated for the protection of old-growth forests and other key ecosystems, and for the sustainable management of second-growth forests.
We believe the B.C. government has gradually abandoned the province’s forestry heritage in pursuit of an unsustainable pipe dream: liquefied natural gas exports to Asia. The better option — for a resilient economy and for our climate — is to rebuild an innovative, sustainable forestry sector.
That’s not to say that forestry doesn’t have its own problems.
The current industrial model that has dominated forestry in western Canada is based on endless extraction and minimal domestic processing of timber resources. This approach has harmed watersheds and degraded entire ecosystems.
At the same time, we’ve seen more unprocessed or under-processed timber leave the province, resulting in a downward spiral of mill closures and layoffs. Clearly, this model is failing our forest ecosystems and forestry-dependent communities and families.
British Columbia lags far behind other jurisdictions in terms of jobs created per unit of timber harvested. In B.C., to create one full-time, year-round job we must cut 1,189 cubic metres of timber — one cubic metre roughly equals one city telephone pole. In Ontario, the forest industry produces one job for every 205 cubic metres of timber harvested, meaning they can cut the same amount of trees and employ almost six times as many people (or cut one-sixth of the trees and provide the same amount of jobs).
B.C. simply has to find a way to provide more jobs while cutting at a sustainable level. The WC and the PPWC believe this is not only doable, but necessary.
What B.C. needs is legislation that supports an innovative and adaptable forest industry that creates local jobs and moves products up the value chain. Raw-log exports must be banned. Strong laws should also be enacted to protect the ecological values of our working forests for future generations.
Instead of addressing our shortfall in sustainable forestry jobs, the B.C. government is narrow-mindedly fixated on the extraction and export of liquefied fracked gas. It is an unavoidable fact that B.C.’s proposed LNG industry would have to be fed by gas extracted using hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
The impact of this industry is already visible all over the province’s former wilderness: In certain parts of B.C., the oil and gas industry clears more trees than the forest industry.
Due to the nature of unconventional gas-extraction methods such as fracking, vast swaths of forests are eliminated for pipeline clearways and toxic wastewater ponds. All of this oil and gas development results in disastrous consequences for water, wildlife and forestry resources in northeast B.C.
B.C.’s carbon tax demands that all companies account and pay for the climate-changing gases they create. From Lululemon shirts to Okanagan plums, the carbon tax is applied to almost every producer, with one glaring exception: The gas industry is exempted from taxes on flared gas, a byproduct of the production process and a big contributor to climate change.
We already know what climate change looks like here in B.C. The mountain pine beetle infestation has destroyed more than 18 million hectares of forest in impacted regions. It is difficult to assess the financial damage incurred, but it’s estimated we’ve lost billions of dollars in timber sales and stumpage to an insect that could not have thrived here without climate change.
Even if we set aside the many other negative impacts of an altered climate, the short-term value we hope to gain from the sale of cheap gas is dwarfed by what we’ll lose from our forests.
B.C. needs to phase out fracking and abandon plans for LNG.
British Columbians deserve a bright and hopeful future. We deserve a stable climate and an opportunity for sustainable employment in sectors like forestry. We have the choice between trying to build an industry of uncertain benefit based on a finite resource that is guaranteed to increase our contribution to the climate crisis, or rebuilding an industry that could provide livelihoods on a potentially infinite basis, while preserving forest resources and mitigating climate change.
Why on Earth would we ever choose the former?
Arnold Bercov is president of the Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada, Eoin Madden is climate campaigner with the Wilderness Committee and Torrance Coste is Vancouver Island campaigner with the Wilderness Committee.