CBC NEWS — For the fourth year in a row, B.C. Premier John Horgan addressed hundreds of people from the province’s forest industry to underscore the importance of the sector to B.C.’s economy, and the need for collaboration as it undergoes a transition.

The industry sounded dear to his heart, having worked at a pulp mill in Ocean Falls on B.C.’s Central Coast in the 1970s.

“It was at an early age that I found and understood the importance of forestry in British Columbia to people, to communities and to the bottom line for the treasury,” said Horgan from Vancouver on Friday, to attendees of the B.C. Council of Forestry Industries’ (COFI) annual convention at the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver. 

Horgan outlined his vision for a new age for the industry in the province, which has currently been buoyed by high lumber prices but faces uncertainty from a regulatory overhaul, the contraction of global paper markets, and ongoing protests around the logging of old-growth trees.

“Forestry is vital to all British Columbians,” he said. “We need to sing that from the mountain tops and we need to be proud of that but we should also not back away from the challenges that we face.”

According to the province, forestry employs around 50,000 people in B.C., while COFI says the sector generates more than $13 billion in GDP annually and contributes $4 billion in payments to municipal, provincial and federal governments.

A significant part of the forestry industry Horgan’s government has been seeking to change is how First Nations are engaged in forestry within their own territories.

This week, the province announced an increase in forestry revenue shared with First Nations, and he encouraged those at the conference to work together to make the industry more inclusive.

“For too long, communities, First Nations and forest workers were left out of the decisions affecting their lives and as we modernize forestry in British Columbia, we need, I believe and I think everyone agrees … that we need to do this in a collaborative way.”

‘Social licence in the 21st century’

Horgan also highlighted his government’s move to have the B.C. Wildfire Service work year-round to help safeguard and manage forests prone to burning, and the deferral of logging in some old-growth forests to protect biodiversity as ongoing protests continue to lead to arrests on Vancouver Island and disrupt traffic in major B.C. cities.

Horgan seemed to reference protesters who want an immediate end to the logging of old-growth trees across the province, some of who affixed themselves to the doors of the convention centre where the conference was held Friday morning.

“But turning our backs on each other ignoring the realities of social licence in the 21st century, I believe we will not meet the grade,” he said.

“And I don’t think we should be frightened by that. A handful of people who believe they are superior to the rest of us, is not the issue, the issue is that British Columbians care about our forests.”

Forestry for tourism

There are some 57 million hectares of forested land as part of B.C.’s land base. Several times during Horgan’s speech, he spoke about those forests not just as timber sources, but as tourism sites.

Several communities in B.C., such as Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, have re-branded themselves as old-growth tourism sites and argue the move is worth more to the economy than the value of cutting the trees down for timber.

Horgan commended the vision of others in past who have worked to protect what he described as “majestic stands” from logging so that they could be part of B.C.’s “vibrant tourism industry.”

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