Brittny Anderson, MLA for Nelson-Creston. File photo

COLUMN: Forestry, reconciliation and more work to be done

From Nelson-Creston MLA Brittny Anderson

People in the Kootenays and across British Columbia have been raising their voices and expressing their concerns about old growth forests. It is both my duty and my pleasure to bring those voices to Victoria.

I wish I could meet with each and every one of you in-person to talk about these and other pressing issues in our communities. We are so close to being able to do that, but we need to double down on our vaccination efforts to ensure that we can get back to face-to-face meetings and events safely.

If we could gather, here is what I would say:

For everyone who has written me or protested outside my office, thank you for your passion. Our passion is what makes this community so magnetic.

These forests are important to every single one of us, myself included. We all know that more needs to be done to conserve them. The forestry industry needs to be updated, and Indigenous communities who have been ignored since before Canada became a nation need to have their voices heard. This is critical reconciliation work and is exactly the work we are doing now.

In September 2020, we protected 200,000 hectares of old growth in nine at-risk ecosystems across the province after consultations with local First Nations. At the request of the Pacheedaht, Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations, we deferred another 2,000 hectares in Fairy Creek and Central Walbran in early June to give the nations time to develop a stewardship plan.

These are important first steps, but let’s be clear: there’s a lot more work needed to protect the old growth we all love. This summer, more deferrals will be announced after consultations with local Indigenous communities.

New Democrats were elected in 2017 after committing to making the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples law. The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act passed unanimously in November 2019. Although sometimes difficult to see or understand, the current work is the result of that law. Before any decisions can be made about what happens in an Indigenous community’s traditional territory, discussions must take place – even (and especially!) when they are difficult discussions.

The Forestry Intentions Paper, announced a few weeks ago, lays out the vision of where the industry needs to go. This includes more Indigenous, local government and community decision-making over the forests that surround us. It also lays out the path to a sustainable forest industry that keeps rural B.C. communities strong. Up until now it’s been our grandparents’ forestry industry, and now it’s time to make it an industry for our grandchildren and beyond.

Most recently, the Premier appointed me to the Cabinet Working Group on Forestry. I will be a part of central discussions on the future of our forests, and as the Premier’s Special Advisor on Youth, will make sure there are forests for youth to work and play in for generations.

A lot of work has already been done to advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and modernize the forestry industry, and it’s only a small part of the work ahead of us. I feel so grateful to be your MLA and to be working in government to create lasting change for all of us, including future generations.

Brittny Anderson is the MLA for Nelson-Creston.