The Big Burn: the future of BC's Forests and Forest Service

This summer Briony Penn interviewed dozens of men and women from the Ministry of Forests and Range, BC Forest Service, and the forest industry and was shocked at what she found. The size of the Forest Service is roughly half what it was in 2001, and their stated mission is now to serve industry and investors rather than the public good. Certain functions the Forest Service has been performing since its inception, like inventory, have virtually disappeared. Forest stewardship as a guiding philosophy has disappeared. As well, the province has up to 9 million hectares of land on which the forest has been logged, burned or killed by insects and has not been "satisfactorily restocked" by planting seedlings or natural regeneration. That's an area three times the size of Vancouver Island.

According to Penn, the provincial Liberal government is under pressure from forest industry leaders to develop a "commercial forest reserve," a form of tenure that would amount to de facto privatization of the most productive forest lands—the rich, humid valley bottoms—in the province. These lands would be set aside for a single use—intensive silviculture. All other values, including ecosystem services and public access, would be secondary to the needs of industry. Some of these lands would be turned over to the biofuel industry and planted with hybrid poplars for production of cellulosic ethanol and wood pellets. And the biofuel industry's new mono-culture forests would be burned in the name of mitigating climate change.

If this all sounds a bit too shocking to be true, that's at least partly because there's been little or no public discussion about all these developments. In order to help ignite public discussion on these burning topics, Focus is encouraging it's readers to join with what Briony Penn calls the "Green Rangers" in creating greater awareness in the public realm about these issues. Maybe it's time for that "uncontrollable controversy" the government fears will happen if people start talking.

So let's start talking!

Leslie Campbell

editor, Focus Magazine