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.