Somethin’ Happenin’ Here

In the past few years there hasn’t been much good news for British Columbia’s forests or forest communities. With softwood lumber, the beetle hysteria, and forest deregulation, a handful of corporations have increased their control over public forests by consuming their competition. Meanwhile, forests, communities, and workers struggle with an uncertain future.

But under the radar, two important grassroots trends are building strength. First, a growing number of communities are seeking local control of their forests as an alternative to the government’s corporation-friendly approach. Second, some coastal communities are organizing against raw log exports and mill closures.

While both of these independent trends are positive for the future of forests and communities, if they ever combine forces, politicians and timber corporations had better watch out.

In recent years the community forests movement has grown. It has organized itself and is poised to be a political force. Since forming in 2002, with help from Dogwood Initiative, the BC Community Forest Association (BCCFA) has come a long way. Through the efforts of an amazing group of volunteers and staff, the BCCFA has grown to 42 member communities and has begun to lobby the BC government for laws and policies to enable community-centred initiatives to prosper. The BCCFA is getting politicians’ attention.

Watching the 130 attendees at the recent BCCFA meeting in Burns Lake, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the old Buffalo Springfield lyric:

There’s somethin’ happenin’ here.
What it is ain’t exactly clear.

It was inspiring to watch the community forests movement begin to understand and exercise its budding power. The dedication and resolve of these activists was inspiring, and could be the shot of adrenaline that forest activists in BC need. People like Robin Hood from Likely-Xat’sull (Soda Creek)(see interview, left), Marc von der Gonna from McBride, Ken Guenter from Burns Lake, Ramona Faust from Harrop-Procter, and Noba Anderson from Cortes Island are unrecognized heroes working hard to make alternatives to industrial forestry succeed. And they are making progress against formidable odds and with virtually no help from mainstream environmental groups.

Simultaneously, broad coalitions are forming in coastal communities to oppose raw log exports and the growing monopoly of a few big corporations, notably Western Forest Products, which controls nearly half of the logs cut on the coast.

In former industry towns like Port Alberni and Cowichan, alliances such as the Save Our Valley Coalition and the Youbou Timberless Society are building unprecedented links between laid-off loggers, mill workers, unions, environmentalists, and community advocates. For the first time labour issues of corporate control, layoffs, raw log exports, and mill closures are being linked with environmental concerns such as overcutting, drinking water protection, and habitat loss.

Rural British Columbians from many walks of life are sharing concerns about the growing crisis the government has created by turning decision-making over to logging companies. People realize the pro-corporation forest policies of the provincial government are disastrous for the future of their communities and local forests. They are seeking alternatives.

I am excited to listen to dedicated grassroots activists propose alternatives that could fundamentally change the economic and environmental future of British Columbia.

I’m optimistic “there’s somethin’ happenin’ here” in BC. But a lot of work remains, and more people need to get involved.

Political parties in BC should take notice. If the community-forest and raw-log grassroots trends join forces, perhaps in support of the policies proposed by the BC Coalition for Sustainable Forest Solutions (see sidebar), their political power would be formidable. And the future of British Columbia’s forests and communities would brighten.

As Buffalo Springfield sang, “stop, hey, what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down … .”

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