As the B.C. government looks to begin consultations on the Old Growth Review, the United Steelworkers’ Wood Council and the B.C. Council of Forest Industries have joined together to offer a path forward that will benefit all British Columbians.

The Steelworkers’ Wood Council represents over 12,000 forestry workers in B.C. and the Council of Forest Industries represents most lumber, pulp and paper, and manufactured wood producers from across the province — an industry that, combined, contributes nearly $13 billion to B.C.’s GDP, generates $4 billion in revenues to all levels of government, and supports over 100,000 jobs from Prince George to Campbell River to Metro Vancouver.

Like all British Columbians, we cherish our forests and value B.C.’s commitment to conservation. B.C. is already a leader in this regard, with about 52 per cent of the land base — or 95 million hectares — either protected or under some form of designation. However, in addition to conservation values, we also value our renewable forest resource, including old-growth, for the jobs and economic opportunities it provides to people and families all over the province.

Each year, less than one per cent of the area designated for timber harvesting by B.C.’s chief forester is sustainably harvested. About one-quarter of that one per cent is considered old-growth, and this modest harvest of mature timber supports 38,000 jobs and contributes $3.5 billion to B.C.’s GDP to fund health care, education and other services British Columbians rely on.

We agree with our provincial government that it is time to review and modernize forest policy in B.C. It is also important to get this review right and ensure the result is an evidenced-based, balanced, province-wide strategy not only for old-growth, but all of B.C.’s forests — a strategy that ensures healthy and resilient forests, helps tackle climate change, and provides stability and predictability for First Nations, labour, industry and communities.

To achieve this, we believe it is essential to first define a clear vision for B.C.’s forests. We need to know where we are headed in order to create a strategy that will get us there — a refreshed vision for the environmental, social, and economic objectives for our forests. If we all know what we are aiming for, then we can then align policies, practices and programs to deliver on the vision.

With a vision set, we then need to create a province-wide implementation strategy for all B.C. forests. The strategy, like the Old Growth Review, needs to be comprehensive and include all Crown forest lands, parks, protected areas, and special management zones — not just old-growth in the timber harvesting land base. This must be in place before decisions are made about any potential further deferrals so that social and economic impacts are understood and unintended negative consequences avoided.

The strategy should be implemented through a plan that prioritizes forest health and sustainability, recognizing the dynamic nature of forests. Moving to a broader area-based planning process, managing for values across the landscape, and planning for the effects of climate change will help accomplish this.

Getting this right will require input from a wide range of people and organizations. That is why it is critical that First Nations, communities, labour, industry and others be engaged from the outset of the process. We may not always share the same views, but it’s important that the consultation process brings different parties to the table together to hear each other’s perspectives. This is how we can advance reconciliation, and it also gives us a much better shot at finding durable solutions.

It is essential that decisions about our forest resources are grounded in and informed by science, good data and robust socio-economic analysis — ensuring that government’s objectives are met while also minimizing the negative impacts on jobs, families and communities in both urban and rural B.C.

It is time to roll up our sleeves and work together. The United Steelworkers and the Council of Forest Industries remain committed to working collaboratively with the government, First Nations, and stakeholders to build a better future for our workers, our companies, and our communities.