Rob Douglas wants to see forestry managed at a regional level on Vancouver Island and coastal communities as a part of a pilot project to test the concept.
Douglas, a councillor in North Cowichan, said he would like the province to establish decentralized forest management for the region that would shift decision-making power from big corporations and senior bureaucrats to the community level, in partnership with First Nations.
He made the motion, which passed, at a council meeting on Feb. 16, and it will be submitted for discussion at the next meeting of the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities in April.
Douglas told council that many agree that the forest industry is not currently working well in B.C. in a number of ways.
He said the industry has been on a steady decline in recent decades, with regular mill closures, thousands of jobs lost, and once thriving forestry communities experiencing severe economic decline.
“Small manufacturers can’t access logs for their own production and the pulp and paper industry is having issues with access to fibre,” Douglas said.
“Environmentalists have said the forest industry needs to improve its practices, and there are also concerns being raised by First Nations, especially on the south Island, where so much of their traditional land is held by a handful of private forest companies which is making treaty negotiation processes so problematic for them.”
A resolution from the Municipality of North Cowichan calling for the province to decentralize the management of all B.C.’s forests, which was also initiated by Douglas, was passed overwhelmingly at a Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in 2019.
Douglas said that after discussions with members of other municipalities in B.C., as well as the Ministry of Forests, Lands Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, it was decided that best approach was to advocate for a pilot project in a region of the province to test the new management system, instead of the whole province all at once.
“It would be nice to see the management model used province-wide, but with all the drastic changes that it would involve, having a pilot project first is more realistic,” he said.
If the pilot project moves forward, Douglas said the first step is to appoint a forester general for the region who would consult with all stakeholders on current challenges in the industry, and to carry out an analysis of the opportunities to increase employment and value-added products, restrict raw log exports, improve environmental sustainability and advance reconciliation with First Nations.
The forester general would also develop a regional land-use plan for Vancouver Island and the coast based on the input of citizens, and recommend steps for empowering Vancouver Island and the coast in the management of forestry and related resources.