By James S. Hackett
We all love having wood in our homes. Maybe this is a universal Canadian trait—we love the warmth that wood brings to our living spaces, its look, feel, and smell. At the same time, most of us want some reassurance that the wood we use in our homes comes from sustainable sources—forests that are managed for the future and that will continue to provide an array of goods and services.
In the southern interior of British Columbia, forests and forestry are an indelible part of our communities. We live in our forests, and we depend on them for clean drinking water, wildlife habitat, timber, recreation, and other values. Most of us have some connection to the forest industry, either through direct employment or indirectly through families and friends whose businesses rely on timber harvesting and the revenue it generates.
The Interior Lumber Manufacturers’ Association (ILMA), which represents 14 forest companies from Salmon Arm to Grand Forks and Merritt to Galloway, is challenging southern interior communities to think deeply about their connections to local forests and the benefits of having local forest companies actively managing them. With active forest companies as our neighbours, we can easily see how forests around us are being used. Our forays into these forests, often on logging roads, offer us close-ups of harvesting and related forest management. Logging trucks rumble through our communities, carrying Douglas-fir, cedar, spruce, lodgepole pine—and many other species—to local mills. And when we don’t understand something or don’t like what we see, we can speak to a local forest company.
In addition to local scrutiny, BC’s forestry operations are highly regulated and many of them are independently certified as sustainable, which means that both industrialists and environmentalists can get behind local management of local forests. Hard to believe? Let’s look to some of the facts about forest management standards in this province.
First, to the rigour of our forest management regulations: in 2004, an independent study, peer-reviewed by more than 20 North American and International experts, compared Canada’s environmental policies with other areas of the world. The study looked at protection for streams, clearcut sizes, how yearly harvest levels are set, reforestation laws, road building and management, how biodiversity is managed—and how all of these regulations are enforced. In all of these, British Columbia ranked high among the areas studied—a pool of comparison that included 15 US states, 4 Canadian provinces, Germany, Portugal, Finland, Sweden, Latvia, Russia, Brazil, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, and India.
The study also underlined third-party certification as an indicator of sustainability. Companies interested in third-party certification have various options to choose from, including those endorsed by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). They range from a thorough checklist that ensures regulations are being met or exceeded, to standards that greatly improve existing regulations. While environmental organizations prefer FSC to other third-party certifications, it is important to recognize that any third-party certification provides reassurances that existing regulations are being met or exceeded. Couple this with the fact that BC has some of the toughest forest management regulations in the world, and any company with third-party certification has a strong endorsement of its forest management practices. The study found that BC is a global leader in third-party certification. As of August 2, 2011, more than 52.6 million hectares is certified by one of the three leading certification bodies. This is more than three-quarters of the area managed for forestry in British Columbia—and the number is increasing all the time.
Sustainable development of forests, based on maintaining an array of forest values, makes increasing sense in an era of climate change. As a building material, wood has some amazing qualities: it can be cut, shaped, glued, nailed; and it is strong, light, and performs well in earthquake regions. As we enter a new era, where climate change is a predominant issue in our lives, it’s also important to realize how using wood as a building material helps offset climate change. Few plants outperform a tree for sucking carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in plant tissue—wood. And when a tree is harvested, much of the carbon stays trapped in the wood. If you do the math, building with wood uses 25-40% less carbon than building with concrete or steel.
Next consider the financial return to local communities. Combining direct and indirect employment from the forest industry, every 1000 m3 of timber harvested in the southern interior equates to more than 4 jobs per year. What does this mean to us? Simply put, it means that the decisions we make about how forest land is used around our communities are important.
In the southern interior, where the land base is heavily committed to various uses, and the forest available for timber harvesting is also managed for non-timber values, we need to think carefully about each new request to re-allocate timber land to other uses. Every land use decision that reduces the timber harvesting land base potentially reduces regional income—fewer jobs, less money flowing through the community, and fewer dollars to support hospitals, infrastructure, and schools, unless other economic activity replaces that lost with the reduction in harvest.
Considering all the indicators: direct observation, regulatory framework, third-party certification, benefits of wood as a building material, and community revenue, supporting local forest companies in managing forests sustainably makes sense.
To have a say about the importance of local forests and forestry to a vibrant local economy, we need to talk. And no better time than National Forest Week, Sept 18-24. Check out www.ilma.com for some opportunities.
Biography for James S. Hackett
Jim Hackett is President of the Interior Lumber Manufacturers’ Association, a group of 14 forest products companies located in the southern Interior and Kootenay regions of B.C. Member companies produce an array of forest products that include NBSK pulp, SPF dimension lumber, higher value-added lumber products, utility poles and veneer. Most firms hold less than 50% of their annual log consumption as quota and rely on B.C.T.S. and private sources for the rest of their annual timber needs. Many firms run but one mill and rely heavily on log trading to get the right log to the right mill.