John McKinley Black Press
A dramatic shift may be underway in Vancouver Island thinking.
Citing the power of old growth trees as a tourism resource, Island communities voted in April to seek a total ban on old growth harvesting on the Island’s Crown land.
And they received support this week from a surprising source: the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, which voted to support the same principle across the province in instances where old growth trees “have or can likely have a greater net economic value for communities if they are left standing.”
Dan Hager, president of the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce successfully pitched the old growth resolution to the B.C. chamber, saying the main motivations were dollars and sense.
“It just boils down to basic math. This is not a comment about logging. It’s about economics and marketing,” he said. “Port Renfrew now has a product people can’t get anywhere else.”
In 2012 the Victoria-based environmental watchdog group the Ancient Forest Alliance successfully lobbied to protect an extraordinary grouping of trees near Port Renfrew it dubbed Avatar Grove .
Hager said that since that summer, demand for accommodations has increased 75 per cent to 100 per cent annually.
“Thanks to the trees, Port Renfrew is no longer a one-industry tourism town and has been able to successfully brand itself the Tall Tree Capital of Canada,” he said.
The Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities went a step beyond the Chamber’s conditional resolution in April when members voted to ask the province to protect all of Vancouver Island’s remaining old growth forest on Crown land.
According to David Elstone, executive director of Truck Loggers Association, that would devastate the industry.
“I am concerned about the tone and the concept. Don’t know if all the facts are being drawn forward,” Elstone said. “I don’t want to fall back on being alarmist, but if you suddenly turn that off there doesn’t take much imagination to see the impact.”
Rick Jeffery, president and CEO of Coast Forest Products Association, was concerned both the AVICC and the B.C. chamber may have made decisions in absence of all the facts.
“I was surprised they didn’t ask us,” he said. “Our take-home message is that we have to sit down and talk. We will bring facts and figures.”
Elstone said 45 per cent of the coastal harvest comes from old growth trees. Forestry accounts for 38,000 direct jobs on the Island and the neighbouring coast.
Would a ban old growth harvesting mean a loss of 45 per cent of the jobs?
“You’d probably lose a lot more than that,” he said.
He said the word “crisis” would not be an overstatement.
“There are still a hell of a lot of communities that rely on forestry. We need to protect our working forests or else there will be significant impact.”
Economist Susan Mowbray, author of 2015’s Stat of the Island Economic Report, said it is impossible to determine the economic impact without further study.
“There are some jobs that get substituted. The difference is forestry jobs are higher-paying,” Mowbray said. “There needs to be a better understanding of what it means. In some communities forestry is all there is.”
A possible test case for such an analysis could be Tofino, the poster child for replacing a resource-based economy with eco-tourism. Mayor Josie Osborne said the AVICC resolution showed the mindset of Island residents has definitely been shifting.
“Yes, I really think it is. Global tourism is on the rise, the role of primary resource extraction has changed.
“I think that 10 or 15 years ago it would have been more contentious,” she said. “When things become rare, we value them more.”
Port Hardy councillor Fred Robertson said communities have to consider that old growth logging may still have a net benefit in some parts of the Island.
“In my mind it doesn’t have to be an either-or,” he said. “It’s important to understand all perspectives. There is an economic and social impact in communities like ours.”
James Byrne, regional managing partner with MNP said some may have lost sight of how valuable logging is in communities like Campbell River, Port Hardy and Woss and how the harvest feeds businesses further south.
“Logging is not what it used to be, but it still has a significant impact up and down the Island,” he said.
Sierra Club campaigner Jens Wieting doesn’t dispute that, only its relative significance.
“We have two trends: there are fewer benefits from logging and increasing benefits of keeping trees standing,” he said.
Wieting said old growth preservation has worth beyond the economy: water conservation, clean air and the spiritual satisfaction of preserving an ecology found nowhere else in the world.
Getting a majority of Island communities, as well as the provincial business community on side is a big step for the environmental movement.
“This is indeed huge. It is a reflection of the shifting landscape,” he said. “I feel very privileged to live in this part of the world. It is really something you can’t find anymore anywhere.”