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David FullerRecent sawmill closures in British Columbia have brought to light the need for renewed focus on the mismanagement of B.C. forests over the past decades and what to do about it.

That mismanagement is having a significant effect on the B.C. and Canadian economies.

If you live in the B.C. interior, where more than 820 job cuts due to permanent mill closures have been announced in the last week alone, the effects could be devastating.

When we take in the local multiplier effect of 2.5 jobs for every job created by industry, it’s apparent that economic hardship could hit 2,050 families who could be without work and tight on money.

And these recent mill closures could just be the beginning of a trend. It’s estimated that another 12 mills could close in B.C., putting another 2,000 people out of work.

So what’s the problem?

Undoubtedly there have been some challenges in recent years with timber supply. The pine beetle epidemic in the early 2000s led to an unprecedented amount of timber being cut by 2005. And the subsequent years of forest fires devastated significant swaths of marketable timber.

But this could hardly be considered mismanagement – or could it?

There’s evidence that suggests the pine beetle epidemic could have been averted had there been less forest fire suppression in affected areas during the early years of infestation.

Logging practices that included allowing the trucking of the beetles through uninfected areas to distant mills, and the logging ban in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park when the pine beetle problem first became an epidemic, have all been criticized as mismanagement of the forests.

And the problems go much deeper.

Deeply engrained in the forest practices of British Columbia are problems that have contributed to the recent years of wildfires. These include a lack of diversity of species in reforestation practices. This has meant concentrating on planting coniferous trees and the spraying herbicides to kill deciduous trees that are naturally more resistant to forest fires.

These practices, engrained for decades, have resulted in a lack of variety in our forests and have definitely contributed to the spreading of forest fires.

But the lack of diversity doesn’t stop with just trees.

We have a significant lack of diversity in the products produced with B.C. trees, with a significant lack of value-added products. This is compounded by the fact that small manufacturers lack access to wood and timber supply.

Government failure over the years to demand investments into strategies that would diversify the product mix to protect the economy has now become disastrous for families in the interior of British Columbia.

A report several years ago demonstrated that Sweden, a country with a commercial forest land base similar to the one in B.C., employed double the number of people in forestry and produced almost 2.5 times the value in wood products.

The tenure system where large companies have been given access and management of large regions of forest in exchange for jobs is fraught with problems. Like a Third World country, we have essentially given our trees away for a pittance.

And these companies have built their mills over the years to consume more and more of B.C. forests in exchange for fewer and fewer jobs – while we turned a blind eye.

Now these companies are selling their tenure, taking their money, shutting down their mills in Canada and buying in the U.S. or Europe.

It might be too late to change the forest practices in B.C. and protect the economy in the short term.

However, in the interest of future generations, we need to start making changes. These changes should start at the university level, where our future leaders continue to be taught forest practices that have led to our present situation.

We need ecological practices that enable our forests to be healthy.

We need changes that give smaller companies access to timber.

We need to think about how tenure should revert back to the province when forestry giants close their doors instead of allowing them to sell to others who continue down a similar path that results in British Columbians and Canadians suffering.

This is a complex matter. However, unless we stand up and demand change, we will continue this cycle of boom and bust for generations.

And that will continue to negatively impact our economy.

Troy Media columnist David Fuller, MBA, is a certified professional business coach and author who helps business leaders ensure that their companies are successful. David is author of the book Profit Yourself Healthy. Email dave@profityourselfhealthy.com

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