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Deputy premier says forestry in transition, but has ‘strong future’ on the Island

Mike Farnworth talks about forestry and other industries at economic summit in Nanaimo
Mike Farnworth, B.C.’s minister of public safety and deputy premier, speaks Thursday, Oct. 27, at the State of the Island Economic Summit at Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island Conference Centre. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)

Vancouver Island’s forestry operations are expected to see a decline this year and remain below pre-pandemic levels of production, as the B.C. government calls forestry an industry in transition.

Mike Farnworth, B.C.’s minister of public safety and deputy premier, was the final speaker at this week’s State of Vancouver Island Economic Summit in Nanaimo and said the province will continue working with industry to move from “high-volume to high-value production.”

The just-released State of the Island Economic Report, prepared by the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance, examined forest industry data from 2021 and noted that while overall production was up compared with 2020, it remained below 2019 levels. Harvest volumes in Campbell River and the north Island in 2021 were actually above pre-pandemic levels, but harvest volumes on the south Island weren’t. Weather in 2021 was a factor, as the report noted that there were extreme fire conditions in the summer and heavy rains and snowfall late in the year that curtailed logging operations.

In late 2021, the B.C. government announced old-growth logging deferrals in 11 areas of the province, with five of those areas on Vancouver Island, and the report said the long-term impact of those deferrals is “uncertain” for now. Meanwhile, protests in Fairy Creek continued “but had little direct impact on logging operations in the area,” the report suggested.

The report noted that employment in harvesting operations was down “slightly” in 2021 and “there are indications that it has continued to decline in the first half of 2022,” though manufacturing employment has been stable.

VIEA calculated that the forest sector supported 9,200 jobs on Vancouver Island in 2021, with 59 per cent in forestry and logging, 23 per cent in pulp and paper manufacturing and 18 per cent in wood product manufacturing.

Close to four million metric tonnes of logs and forest products moved through Port Alberni and the Port of Nanaimo in 2021, up by about a million tonnes from 2020 but down from pre-pandemic.

“Looking forward, limited fibre supply and slowdowns in production are expected to persist. There is also the potential for reductions in allowable annual cuts in some areas of Vancouver Island,” the economic report noted. “As a result, forest operations on Vancouver Island are expected to remain below 2021 levels.”

Farnworth said part of forestry’s transition will be “growing B.C.’s forest bio-economy” and said many Vancouver Island companies are leading the way, specifically mentioning the Atli Chip Plant on the north Island and the Kleekhoot Gold bigleaf maple syrup business on the west coast.

The deputy premier said forestry is one of the primary sectors in which the provincial government is exploring economic development opportunities with First Nations.

“Some of the work being done around forestry [is] ensuring that Indigenous Peoples are front and centre in the decisions that are made on their land, in their territories and working with the private sector and I think we’re seeing numerous examples of where that is working,” Farnworth said.

Also on the topic of consultation, he said the province will be listening to advice from a newly convened advisory council in support of forestry workers, which he assured has plenty of Island representation.

“Forestry has a storied past – it also has a strong future in our province,” he said. “That’s why we share a vision to modernize forest policy in this province. A vision where ecosystem management, reconciliation, community involvement and innovation are top priorities.”

Farnworth’s talk, on Thursday, Oct. 27, covered a range of provincial government priorities and projects. The deputy minister also touched on public safety, affordability and other topics.

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About the Author: Greg Sakaki

I have been in the community newspaper business for two decades, all of those years with Black Press Media.
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