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Sustainable forestry – not carbon credits – key to prosperity




Sustainable forestry – not carbon credits – key to prosperity

Opinion: Industry, employees and communities have given up a great deal in forfeiting long-term timber rights

By: Tom Tevlin and Trevor Figueiredo, special to the Vancouver Sun
February 5, 2013

On this seventh anniversary of the landmark accord among industry, government, First Nations, and environmental groups over land use in the Great Bear Rainforest, there’s hot discussion about where the long-standing negotiation, underway since the day the accord was signed, is heading.

Among many others is the question: Can short-term gains from selling carbon credits make up for long-term forestry employment lost through the current 35 per cent reduction in harvesting in the region, and an additional hit yet to come?

Many watching the talks — including the B.C. government, the NDP opposition, an independent MLA, the entire forest sector including companies, labour, environmental groups and First Nations — are offering their own answers to the carbon credit question, from a hard “yes” to a definite “no.”

But what’s absent in the discussion is the fact industry, employees and communities have given up a great deal in forfeiting these long-term timber rights and the well-paying jobs that go with them.

Readers will know unemployment and social issues represent serious challenges for First Nations communities and the forest sector. The allowable annual cut, which supported an estimated 84,100 direct and indirect jobs in 1997, today supports 38,800 jobs. Over the same period, almost 40 large mills and many smaller ones have closed.

Veteran environmentalist Valerie Langer recently said in a column published in The Sun that industry must re-envision itself. We’d argue industry has been well on the re-envisioning road over the past decade, having agreed to walk away from 84 per cent of the forested area, working with 35 per cent less wood and adhering to some of the toughest environmental requirements in the world.

At the same time, industry still manages to generate salaries for employees, pay municipal taxes and support First Nations in some of B.C.’s most economically challenged communities. Langer further argues that First Nations must be assured they’ll have the means — short-term financial means through the sale of carbon credits, we presume — to achieve a new economy with less industrial logging. But First Nations, as the past few years have shown, also have a keen and growing interest in gaining access to the long-term economic, social and environmental benefits that sustainable forest management offers. As of September 2012, First Nations were participating in forest tenure opportunities across B.C. to the tune of 11.7 million cubic metres annually.

If the carbon credit scheme, the subject of an upcoming review by B.C.’s auditor general, moves forward as part of a local First Nations transition to economic stability with less reliance on forestry, it’s likely those credits would provide only short-term revenue to First Nations.

Revenues would inevitably flow from taxpayers instead of the private sector since history has shown the commercial market for carbon credits can be unpredictable, sometimes non-existent and often in need of public subsidies.

But think of the long-term salaries and tax contributions in support of healthy communities that would be lost through abandoning commercial timber opportunities on the remaining 16 per cent of the forest area where the industry now operates.

Carbon credits are not a panacea for lost forestry jobs and community development. Instead, sustainable forest management, promoted for more than two decades by environmental groups and others as the holy grail of commercial forestry, is by definition a long-term model of socially and environmentally responsible harvesting.

Many British Columbians are rightfully proud of the world-leading model created in the Great Bear Rainforest whose objectives are two-fold: low ecological risk and a high degree of human well-being.

The innovative approaches to sustainable forest management in place in the Great Bear Rainforest play an important role in making these twin objectives a long-term reality.

Tom Tevlin and Trevor Figueiredo are principals of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd., a sustainability consulting firm, and electricPR.coma social media management company, both in Vancouver.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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