During the last municipal election campaign the word “sustainability” was used so much, by so many, in so many contexts, that this newspaper’s editor asked me if the word was losing its meaning. I replied that I feared it was, and would continue to unless the integrity of the concept was defended. Enter the Interior Lumber Manufacturers Association (ILMA).
The ILMA and its member timber companies are campaigning to increase log flows to Kootenay mills, arguing that too much forest has been put off limits to protect endangered species and old growth forests. But they don’t say it that way. They say: “Sustainable economic development from the forest industry…is at risk.” They say: “Additional timber is available but ‘constrained’ by regulation.” They say: “It’s about sustainability. You’ve heard of the three legs of the stool: economic, social, and environmental. For us, the economic leg is starting to crumble.”
Except that when you look at their numbers, it’s not. ILMA members have been cutting less than they are allowed to, due to a soft market. What they’re worried about now, with the rebounding US housing market, is the difference between forecast allowable cut levels, and forecast market demand. So they have mounted a lobby to maximize logging activity so mills can run at full capacity. This is not sustainability. It’s a timber grab.
The ILMA is seeking to further deregulate the existing “timber harvesting land base” — scary, given how little regulation is provided by Forest and Range Practices Act — and to open up areas “excluded from development.” That means forests set aside to protect watersheds, viewscapes for the tourism industry, and habitat for wildlife. Unfortunately, on July 18, the Regional District of Central Kootenay — of which the City of Nelson is a member — agreed to join the lobby by resolving to meet with the premier and forest minister in September and push for “a comprehensive review of the timber supply” in the Kootenay-Boundary.
But timber supply reviews are not based on market demand, or at least they shouldn’t be. They are supposedly based on what the forests can provide over the long term, without overly compromising ecosystem services provided by forests, like water, wildlife habitat, and carbon storage. There are plenty of problems with how timber supply reviews are done in BC, but they are not as simple as “what we can sell, minus what we have access to, equals shortfall.”
The problem is that running all the mills at full capacity is not sustainable. The Ministry of Forests admits there is too much mill capacity in the Kootenays. Our ability to make logs into lumber exceeds the ability of our public forests to sustainably provide those logs. Years of over-cutting have already compromised the ability of our forests to support the species that rely on them.
Most of the timber operators in mountain caribou habitat supported the 2009 Mountain Caribou Recovery Implementation Plan. The ILMA fought it tooth and nail.
Our forests and watersheds are also under increased threat from global warming. A local study recently summarized projected increases in forest fires, forest insects and disease, as well as increased drought and flooding. That’s why many scientists are now calling for more ecosystem protection, not less.
It’s not just the Kootenays. The problem of excessive cut levels and inflated mill capacity occurs province-wide, detailed in study after study, commission after commission. But what politician, local, regional or provincial, wants a mill to close on their watch? So when the available trees in an area are used up, the political pressure is on, to open up reserves in the name of jobs.
As a friend of mine said: “It’s like they’ve discovered they are running out of gas, so they switch to the reserve tank and put the pedal to the metal.”
It’s not sustainable. Forests are not fibre farms, they are our life-support systems, and with climate change, we need them now more than ever.
If you care about maintaining our forests, let your regional district area director know. If you live in Nelson, that director is Mayor John Dooley.
Candace Batycki is a Nelson city councillor who shares this Wednesday space with her colleagues around the table