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Thomson: B.C’s forest industry still important player in the province

The bipartisan Special Committee on Timber Supply released a unanimous report last week.

In government, I have often found that the most important events and processes are seldom the most glamorous.

A case in point last week was that the bipartisan Special Committee on Timber Supply released a unanimous report.

The committee made 20 recommendations to increase both the supply and value of mid-term timber.

That may sound like fairly standard news, but as the minister of forests, lands and natural resource operations, I can assure you this was a tremendously significant report.

Let me explain how it affects you directly.

It won’t come as news to hear the B.C. interior has been absolutely devastated by the mountain pine beetle epidemic—just over half of the total pine volume on the timber harvesting land base has been killed.

This has far-reaching consequences for everything from wildlife conservation to tourism to forestry.

This is crucial, both for the provincial economy as a whole, but particularly for the thousands of B.C. families that depend on these jobs.

Consider forestry a crucial pillar of Premier Christy Clark’s B.C. Jobs Plan.

In 2011, our forest sector employed more than 53,000 people—a number that will grow.

In addition to new jobs, in the next decade, as many as 25,000 forestry job openings are projected as existing workers retire.

The very nature of these jobs is changing. Technological advances within the industry mean skill and educational requirements of workers are increasing.

For example, new jobs expected in the bio-economy sector will require a uniquely educated workforce of engineers and scientists.

In other words, these are good, well-paying career options for young British Columbians.

The committee also carefully considered the requests for an early decision on the timber supply to help facilitate the rebuilding of the Burns Lake mill, tragically destroyed by fire in January.

Its recommendation outlines steps for our government to facilitate the economic recovery effort.

The government recognizes quick action is essential for Burns Lake, and an action plan will be developed within a week.

To be certain, a lot of the recommendations reflect actions already underway by the ministry—but it’s always worth consulting with those directly affected.

By the end of September, my ministry will present an action plan to deal with those not already underway. And we will be further engaging with communities, First Nations and key stakeholders on recommendations dealing with the management of sensitive areas and conversion of volume-based to area-based tenures.

The committee’s report and recommendations are the result of a lot of hard work from MLAs on the committee, including Okanagan MLAs Ben Stewart and Eric Foster.

The committee held public hearings in 15 Interior communities and Vancouver, and received input from First Nations, local government, key stakeholders and the public.

During its six-week consultation period, the committee received 650 submissions.

I appreciate the long hours I know went into the consultation process, including those who took the time to make presentations, and the MLAs on the committee from both sides of the aisle.

It was a lot of hard work—and may not get a lot of mainstream attention—but I know it will be worth it.