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Public feedback invited on new approach to Interior forest sector

Forests Minister Doug Donaldson.
Forests Minister Doug Donaldson.

The provincial government is accepting public input to help shape the Interior forest sector.

“The previous government failed to help the forest sector when it had a chance, eroding the public’s trust in B.C.’s forest sector operations and diminishing its competitive advantage,” said Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, in a news release. “We are taking action and making different choices by asking for local input and insight into how we want to shape a prosperous, competitive and culturally sensitive Interior future forest sector.”

Lower prices for lumber, pressure from foreign trade action, a shrinking timber supply due to back-to-back wildfire seasons and the end of the mountain pine beetle salvage harvest have resulted in recent mill closures and curtailments in the Interior.

The province is supporting impacted communities and workers through community transition and response teams that liaise with local governments, the federal government, industry, labour, employment support programs and organizations, as well as post-secondary institutions, said Donaldson. The teams respond to the unique needs in each impacted community, including lining up jobs and retraining, to maximize the ability of affected workers to stay in their communities over the long term and to work with impacted communities on economic development options.

The goal is to sustainably increase added value from B.C. forest products, such as mass timber and advanced bio-products, while strengthening communities, maximizing employment and advancing reconciliation with First Nations.

Public engagement on a discussion paper that has been developed is one of two complementary, parallel streams within the Interior Forest Sector Renewal process. Between July 18 through to 4 p.m. on Oct. 11, 2019, members of the public are invited to participate in dialogue on the discussion paper by providing written submissions or feedback through an online survey.

The Liberals, however, say forest communities can’t wait for assistance.

“News flash John Horgan – the forest industry is in crisis now,” said John Rustad, BC Liberal Forestry Critic and MLA for Nechako-Lakes. “For the NDP to declare their intention to sit on their hands until the middle of October is completely unacceptable and downright insulting. The mayor of Fort St. James is pleading for immediate assistance and this government launches a public relations campaign. It’s absolute nonsense.”

Specific policy areas the public is being asked for input include:

* forest tenure and fibre supply;

* climate change and forest carbon;

* manufacturing capacity and fibre use;

* wood products innovation;

* reconciliation with Indigenous communities; and

* fibre and sustainability of timber and non-timber forest values.

To review the discussion paper, find information on how to provide a written submission and/or participate online, visit: engage.gov.bc.ca/interiorforestrenewal

At the same time, ministry staff are holding localized, in-person engagement on the discussion paper in various communities throughout the Interior with representatives of people, communities and organizations most deeply involved and affected by the forest sector, e.g., local and provincial elected officials and representatives, and First Nations, along with key forest sector stakeholders, industry, contractors, professionals and labour representatives.

The first localized engagement took place July 18, 2019, in Williams Lake. Further engagement sessions are scheduled for Interior forest sector communities throughout the summer and into fall 2019. A backgrounder follows that includes scheduling information for these engagement sessions.

In the other Interior Forest Sector Renewal stream, the Province has invited coalitions in each timber supply area, comprised of industry, labour, First Nations and leaders in forest-dependent communities, to work together to develop a new vision for the Interior forest industry at the regional level. The coalitions have been challenged to recommend the complex, sustainable solutions needed in their regions to renew the Interior forest sector so that it remains competitive, supports local communities and provides well-paying jobs.

A What We Heard report on feedback received through the Interior Forest Sector Renewal process is expected to be released in late fall 2019. The ideas received will be considered relative to the four government objectives outlined on the engagement website. Ideas that support one or more objectives will inform recommendation options to government for policy reform. Further policy direction based on the feedback is anticipated for spring 2020.

Revitalizing the forest sector is a shared priority with the BC Green Party caucus, and is part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement.

Quick Facts:

* Possible added-value wood product innovations include pursuing increasing use of residual fibre and increasing use of mass timber.

* Earlier this year, as part of the CleanBC plan to reduce climate pollution, the Province changed the building code to allow wood building construction up to 12 storeys using fire-resistant, engineered wood.

* The Province also requires that engineered wood be used wherever possible for public infrastructure projects, including the new Royal BC Museum in Victoria and the new St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.

* The Province has committed $20 billion in public infrastructure over the next three years, including schools, housing and hospitals.

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