Revitalizing BC?s Forest Industry: New Opportunities

Tumbler Ridge is very optimistic about the government of BC?s Forest Revitalization Plan. After Tumbler Ridge?s only industry disappeared with the closure of the Quintette and Bullmoose coal mines, the town almost shut down too. But a whirlwind transition period that saw 70% of the town?s previously company-owned homes go up for sale, helped the town pay off its $9 million dollar debt and get back on its financial feet. But that was just the first step of the town?s transition plan. Council and new residents quickly realized that for the town to continue to survive, they would have to diversify its economy by identifying and pursuing opportunities in other industries.

The BC government has undertaken a number of changes to revitalize the forest industry across the province. One major change is a move away from the prescriptive nature of the Forest Practices Code to the results-based management system that will be incorporated under the Forest and Range Practices Act. Another change is the re-allocation of timber from major licensees to more community based, small tenure holders. This will see eight million cubic meters of wood re-allocated into community forest licenses, woodlots, salvage programs, BC Timber Sales, and First Nations. These types of tenure holders are more community-based; they hire locally, purchase locally, and support local communities. These new access points for entrepreneurs like horse loggers and salvage operators ensure a greater opportunity for them to access timber. ?By providing greater access to timber, people who want to invest in either the milling or value-added sector will now be able to secure timber either through direct involvement or purchase agreements with other harvest contractors,? said Blair Lekstrom, MLA for Peace River South.

Under the FRP, new opportunities will open up for communities and First Nations in the forestry industry. Tumbler Ridge has already applied for a share of the 2% of the 20% of logging rights that have been reallocated from major licensees to communities. ?Council and the McLeod Lake Indian Band submitted a letter on November 25, 2003 to the Ministry of Forests expressing our interest for the joint acquisition of secure forest tenure in the surrounding area. This tenure will be for local producers who currently have to import their lumber. We have already received a response to our letter from the government and we expect the Ministry of Forests to request a formal proposal from us some time this April,? said Ray Proulx, Economic Development Office of the District of Tumbler Ridge. Any tenure awarded to the DTR and the MLIB will be jointly administered by both parties.

On November 14, 2003, the District of Tumbler Ridge and the MLIB signed a ?Protocol on Working Relationship? agreement. This agreement was signed so both parties could ?commit to the sharing of information and business contacts for the purpose of establishing common business and employment opportunities for the members of the McLeod Lake Indian Band and the citizens of the District of Tumbler Ridge.? Proulx explains, ?This agreement was actually a separate issue from the MLIB and DTR?s submission of our letter of joint interest to the Ministry of Forests, although the timing has been perfect with the changes to the forest industry to put this agreement into practice,? said Proulx. Both parties view this document as a ?blanket agreement? for any potential opportunity that may arise in the area that both parties could work together on that would be a ?win-win? situation for both communities.

There are no plans for the provincial government to provide financial assistance to groups that want to start new forestry businesses. Instead, the government expects that the reallocation of 20% of tenure will be instrumental in creating a friendly, competitive environment that will benefit the private sector. And the 8% of the reallocation of the 20% of tenure that will be given to First Nations will assist with the development of forestry businesses within the bands. But just because the government is not providing financial assistance, it doesn?t mean that it isn?t providing any assistance at all. ?Any individual or group that is interested in starting a forestry business is more than welcome to contact me and I will provide them with the information or contacts they need, whether it be on how to start a forestry business, forestry legislation, or environmental issues,? said Lekstrom.

Council?s role in the revitalized forest industry will be that of facilitator. ?The town of Tumbler Ridge will not start any forestry businesses, nor bid on any forest licenses or community salvage licenses. Rather, Council will do the required research, liaise with government officials, raise awareness in the community, identify business opportunities, and provide information, contacts, and assistance to any business or individual who expresses an interest in working in the forestry industry,? said Proulx. Businesses and entrepreneurs who are interested in entering the forest industry are encouraged to get in touch with Council.

New forestry jobs will provide a much needed economic boost to communities in the region. Lekstrom explains his theory on how the more people that work, the richer communities will be. ?The more people who are gainfully employed, the more income those people?s families will have to spend. These families typically spend their money in their own communities on everything from refrigerators to car repairs to school supplies. Municipalities benefit by having a larger tax base with which to fund what all communities need such as medical, education, fire, police, infrastructure, and local small business support. Communities are based on local employment, and the improvements we make in policy are aimed at helping the forest-based communities that need to survive and thrive in order to have a successful province,? said Lekstrom.

Even though the FRP is only a year old, about half of the changes have already been implemented with the remaining changes expected to be implemented this year and in 2005. The changes in the FRP are expected to provide huge economic opportunities in BC. Donald McDonald, Director of Communications for the Ministry of Forests warns that, ?The forest industry is not an easy industry to work in. It takes a lot of talent to run a business in this industry and a lot of hard work.? It will take communities, First Nations, and entrepreneurs time to adapt to the new FRPA and to become successful in this revitalized industry.