Should the City of Nelson have a wood policy with regards to purchases of building materials for City of Nelson projects? There has been some negative reaction to this notion, with some letter writers saying that it smacks of political correctness and will just cost taxpayers more money.
My understanding is that this all came about because the province has asked that local governments support the forest industry with a “Wood First” policy, on the grounds that wood is “sustainable.” But what does this mean? There are contradictions between the slogan and the actual practice in this province. Would it be good to develop local wood policies?
As a province, almost half of our wood is exported as raw logs, mostly to China, according to Terry Glavin writing for the National Post. Over 70 sawmills have closed in BC. Exporting sawmill jobs doesn’t “sustain” sawmills or their workers. Further, last week the provincial auditor-general reported that the province lacks the necessary clearly defined objectives, effective management practices, and monitoring capacity to prevent our forests from continuing to decline in health and value.
Several communities in our area have created their own “community forests” in order to establish local control of what happens to local resources. These include Harrop-Procter, Kaslo, Nakusp, Creston, and Slocan. As an example, Harrop-Procter Forest Products has its own sawmilling and value-added operation. Some of the trees cut from their community forest end up as finished products for local and regional markets. The remaining logs are sold to local sawmills, including Kalesnikoff Lumber, who produce their own value-added products. Harrop-Procter Forest Products has chosen to make certain products that are competitively priced compared to non-local suppliers. They often send customers to Maglios or Home Building Center in Nelson for items Harrop-Procter Forest cannot competitively produce. These same building stores also send customers to Harrop-Procter Forest Products for custom items they do not carry.
From the point of view of sustaining jobs in this area, one aspect could be a preference for buying “local” to support the best use of wood to create jobs in this area. It may not be practical for Nelson to have its own community forest — that partly depends on the availability of local timber licenses. However, both the city and its residents can have an effect by working through local building supply retailers to ask for products that support local community forests and sawmills.
Another aspect of local wood policy would be to create consumer demand so that retailers will carry lumber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. As the Harrop-Procter example shows, this can often be price competitive. To be certified, they have to manage their forest according to high standards of wildlife protection, water protection, respect for natural forest processes, social benefits and long term economic returns. “Social benefits” might include not clear-cutting large blocks, thus impacting the vistas for the tourists that bring money to this area.
I think it makes sense to have a wood purchase policy for the City of Nelson, looking at all the issues: local sourcing, impact on jobs, tourism, cost in the short run, and good management for the benefit of animals, humans and the forest itself in the long term.