Protection of old growth forests and transition support for forest-dependent communities

A. Olsen: It's three years into this government's mandate, and we await the release of the old growth panel report and the government's long-awaited old growth strategy, which they had promised to be guided by the panel's report.

British Columbians want their government to protect these ancient, endangered ecosystems and stop the devastation that we're seeing in our forests. The destruction of productive old growth isn't uniform across the landscape. In some places, it will be depleted as soon as ten to 20 years. In some places, the next three months, six months, one year make a huge difference for protecting the impact to groves of Ancient Forest. Unfortunately, the rarest and most productive forests are going first.

We need an immediate pause in these critical areas, home to some of the last remaining productive, unprotected old growth on earth, while a strategy for science-based old growth management across B.C. is developed. We can't wait any longer.

My question is to the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development: will he pause harvesting in old growth ecosystems at the highest risk and provide supports to affected workers while he works on the promised old growth strategy.

Hon. D. Donaldson: Thank you to the member. I'm happy for the opportunity to discuss our old forest plans for the province.

We undertook the old growth strategic review because of a lack of action on this topic by the previous government. There is a need for stronger steps to protect biodiversity and to support workers and communities dependent on the forest resource. We are taking a science-based, thoughtful and serious approach. I want to thank the panel for their work. Al Gorley and Gary Merckel, over four months, went to 45 different communities and received thousands of submissions by email and written.

We're committed to release publicly the review panel's report within six months, as the terms of reference said. We are well on track to meet that commitment.

As for actions that will rise from the report, again, I want to quote from the terms of reference: "We will engage in a government to government consultation with First Nations before setting policy direction in response to the report."

That is in the spirit of respect rather than acting unilaterally, and we will also be embarking on a thorough engagement with workers, communities, industry, environmental organizations and other interesting groups in the coming months.

Mr. Speaker: Member for Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.

A. Olsen: The request was simply to pause the harvesting while that plan was in place. It's difficult for people to see the trees continue to pass through their communities, noting that this panel has been doing their consultation.

The debate about protecting old growth is often framed as a choice between protecting old trees and protecting jobs. However, that's not the choice before us. The choice is to pass through their communities, noting that this panel has been doing their consultation.

The debate about protecting old growth is often framed as a choice between protecting old trees and protecting jobs. However, that's not the choice before us. The choice is between a managed transition today and a sudden, abrupt transition when we've cut down the last stand of productive old growth.

Let me be clear. We're not talking about sustainable jobs that will continue to exist for the next generation or two. We know, from a recent analysis published by independent scientists, that the transition from old-forest harvest is imminent. We also know that as the high productivity old growth on the land base is harvested, communities will experience a falldown effect, and jobs will disappear as the volume goes down and the industry logs smaller and smaller second growth. We urgently need a plan to transition forestry workers and communities dependent on this non-renewable resource.

My question is, again, to the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. The time for a transition is now. What specific steps is his ministry taking to transition communities from a dependence on old-growth logging, and how much funding is he demanding from the stimulus spending for this effort?

Hon. D. Donaldson: I want to assure the member that we've begun transition work already, for forest-dependent communities and workers, to diversify the local economy. Really, that's at the basis of his question.

A couple of examples of that are recent community grants that we announced.

Port Hardy, for instance, received $60,000 for a boatyard haul out feasibility study. Port Alice received $80,000 for an interpretive sign project. The First Nations consortium received over $92,000 to expand the cold storage and freezing of local seafoods to fulfil the local market.

I also want to make sure members know that workers who are already displaced from the forest sector on the coast are able to access, through the Ministry of Labour, the offices we opened last year for retraining purposes and for getting support services for themselves to look to the future and other employment.

We have focused on reducing log exports and bringing more fibre — in other words, less waste left behind in cutblocks. An example of that is funding we supplied to the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. for 19,000 cubic metres of fibre around Port McNeill that otherwise would have been left in the forest, an over $250,000 grant. We're also focusing on mass timber to increase value over volume because we know the volume available for timber products will be less in the future.

We are committed to implementing a new, up-to-date and comprehensive old-forest management strategy, in consultation with First Nations, that will address important biodiversity concerns and support workers and communities. That will include a further transition, as needed.

The member knows that we will be putting forth our recovery plans, as far as the economic recovery, very soon, in the coming months. That will include measures to assist forest-dependent communities as well.