Recipe for disaster: malpractice followed by neglect

Scotty on Denman left a comment at the previous article, De plan, de plan! and, for me, it resonates. Anyone who reads Recalling BC pioneers will understand why.

Captain Vancouver reported BC timber was virtually worthless because it was too big. CPR didn’t refuse the grant of east Vancouver Island, though, when it extorted its contract “extra” from the pro-Canadian faction— with a value that would boggle the mind even today. Few fully realized the true value of BC forests back then and, after a century of liquidation, we’ve returned to indifferent ignorance of the resource.

I lived in Port Albernout when Mac-Blo had the highest productivity sawmill in the world. In 81 we went on strike for 18% and got a sandwich wrapped in a road map. I saw a convoy of b-trains hauling away the Toyota dealer’s stock, plus the marquis; After about three years the fire marshall ordered vacated buildings in the downtown demolished.

The Socreds worsened the crash with their “restraint” program while business frontages of mill towns began to look like toothless grimaces. I took many sojourns to the woods in Alberta and got a forestry diploma, but real wages continued to drop in spite of skills upgrading. By the beginning of the 90s the wolf-kill program was happening, Socreds planned to open up parks to private concessions, Mac Blo was disgraced by obscene logging waste in the Charlottes and the equally venerable TM Thompson ended their long BC consultancy by lying about it and getting caught. The “War in the Woods” tallied new battlegrounds almost daily: Clayoquot, Lyell Island, Carmanah, Stein, etc.

A prosperous decade began when the NDP took over government. The Forest Practices Code finally addressed smouldering issues: First Nation inclusion in policy-making, increasing parks and protected areas, protecting wildlife, billing for logging waste and reducing the allowable annual cut to sustainable levels. Yet camp culture was in a state of shock with many erstwhile union workers moving —with their long-guns—over to the Reform party. Work was fairly steady, if not well-paid. I realized one night in some cookshack somewheres that at 45 years old I was the youngest guy in camp; when I’d started in my late teens, about 25% to 30% of every camp was under 25 years old.

I’d expected the industry to generally slim down with annual cut reduction, but the elimination of an entire demographic didn’t bode well. The industry had to absorb a 20-year gap in mature timber supply (the result of previous over-cutting). Unable to demand the decent wages of previous years, unions abandoned what little enthusiasm for apprenticeships they ever had, and adopted a policy of orderly attrition of aging workers. I’d gotten a highly regarded BCIT forestry diploma in the early 80s; by the time the BC Liberal government had entrenched itself, BCIT no longer had a forestry faculty. It had died for lack of interest.

The dying mill towns and an industry dominated by trucking are the hallmarks of the BC Liberal government’s raw-log export policy, but the real legacy of this neo-right experiment gone wrong is the fading of the once mightiest industry from our consciousness. The crusty old timers are disappearing and nobody’s replacing them. Like tourism and fishing, forestry is fading from memory—literally: we don’t even know anymore how much timber we have, nor how fast it’s growing, the BC Liberals having neglected inventory for over a decade.

Does it matter that we become less and less familiar with our forests? I suppose it might not if the government’s idea of letting truck-loggers harvest in parks to “compensate” them for timber they “lost” to the pine beetle makes sense to you. But if it doesn’t, the lack of timber inventory, and a parks system now invigilated only by “trail closed” signs might be cause for concern.

Thanx for the brief synopsis, Norm; the longer story is a sad one indeed.

Categories: Forestry, Log Exports

2 replies »

  1. I am the 7th generation of my family to work in the forestry industry and worked at Ebourne Sawmills and Sapperton's P&H (both gone). My father had a Bachelor of Forestry from UBC and my great grand father was part owner of the then largest sawmill at Genoa Bay on the island. Before that they were loggers in Minnesota, Southern Ontario and my first ancestors who stepped off the boat cut pit-props for the mines in Nova Scotia.

    My father worked at Canfor, which at one time was a very good company to work for, but in the late 70's, the accountants took over and soon got rid of the foresters, and replaced them with more accountants and paper pushers, who could fiddle and cheat the system. By the time the accountant took over completely, our forest industry was doomed by people who did not care for the future and did not care about people. After a decade of the “long knives” where almost every forester was removed from the industry by brutal forced retirement and with little or no pensions, the industry entered its sunset years, with the accountants growing fat from quick profits by stripping the land of its resource.

    As an aside; my father was terminated from Canfor one week after my grand mother died. With a small pension and bills to pay, my dad consulted a lawyer who made one phone call and the termination was rescinded, but the person who ordered my dad to be terminated was himself terminated and died on the spot! This lead to a lawsuit and force terminations were stopped. for a while. During this time, my father was excluded from most work and spent the better part of 3 years reading Time magazine and Newsweek in his office and answering the odd phone call, until the phone lines were removed. My dad was treated like a leper and being a sensitive man felt it greatly and spent his lunches in the 'vaults' shredding most if not all of his research. Finally in '82 (about 6 months after his phone lines were removed, the company gave in) my dad was taken for lunch and driven home, his desk contents were delivered the next day as even I was not allowed to enter the office when I went to retrieve his car. He was given a years salary and his pension was boosted so he could afford to live, but those 3 years in office exile were greatly detrimental to his health and he passed away in 1994 a sad and broken man. This is not an isolated story, but very common with the foresters who the accountants deposed.

    This is vulture capitalism as practiced by Campbell, Clark and the rest of the lice that infect Victoria.

    What of the future?

    C'est non!


  2. I'm flattered you featured my recollections, Norm, but I really have you to thank for doing the heavy lifting by way of consistently trustworthy exposes of BC Liberal perfidy —that's what jogs the memories and gets the yarn spinning. And while those recollected points of view you inspire could just as well be prefixed “it is alleged”, or “IMHO”, your perspectives in contrasts are solidly irrefutable.

    Thanx again for keeping us all histographically collated. It's invaluable.



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