Forestry workers took to the streets of Port Alberni on Thursday to protest a recent B.C. provincial government decision to defer old-growth logging for the next two years.
The Dec. 9 rally was the second, and much larger, in two weeks designed to bring attention to the province’s deferral of logging on up to 2.6 million hectares of forest identified as rare, ancient or sustaining big trees. A five-person technical advisory panel came up with the deferral area. Provincial government estimates are that the move will cut 4,500 jobs, but the Council of Forest Industries estimates the number could be as high as 18,000.
Well over 100 forestry workers, family members and supporters lined Johnston Road in front of Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne’s office during the two-hour rally. Port Alberni RCMP members showed up shortly after logging trucks blocked the road in both directions. After explaining to organizer Tamara Meggitt that Johnston Road is technically part of Highway 4 and it was important to give traffic a way to get through, vehicles were moved and the protest continued.
“We support the right to peaceful protest,” said Sgt. Peter Dionne, operations support NCO at the Port Alberni detachment. Members attended because the highway was blocked and presented a safety issue, but Dionne said protesters were peaceful and made adjustments when asked.
Meggitt, from Royston in the Comox Valley, said talking, emailing and small, localized rallies haven’t been effective in grabbing political attention.
“We haven’t had any answers and there are still no supports in place, so we are here in a larger capacity to make a little extra noise in hopes that we can be heard,” she said.
“We’re weeks away from Christmas, many people in the forest industry have already lost their jobs and they don’t have a plan.”
Meggitt said she wasn’t aware if anyone in the Alberni Valley has lost their job as a result of the two-year deferral. She said the stoppage means B.C. Timber Sales has cancelled contracts, and that has left uncertainty for the future.
“The government has passed through blanket policies. They’ve done so without socio-economic studies and without proper consultation,” she said. “That’s across the board when it comes to consultation: that is communities, that is industry, workers, First Nations, all of us.”
Larry Baird, a Yuulu?il?ath (Ucluelet) First Nation member and 40-year veteran of the forestry industry, was driving through Port Alberni when he happened upon Thursday’s rally. He was compelled to stop and support present-day forestry workers. Baird said the provincial government did not consult with any of the Maanulth First Nations, which are already facing deferrals in their territories in Clayoquot Sound.
Larry Spencer of Port Alberni has been working in the logging industry for 45 years and is a part owner in a forestry company. “I’m fourth generation Port Alberni. We’re good, hard working members of the community,” he said.
“There was no consultation—nothing. Just let’s do it because of…a protest movement that was essentially started elsewhere. That’s the Fairy Creek protests,” he said.
“The government wants to take people that are hard working and pay good taxes in their community and the economy and kill that industry.”
Spencer said the effects of the government’s decision is far-reaching: Port Alberni’s sawmills all use old growth timber for processing, as does Catalyst Paper, a mill operated by Paper Excellence. “You want to just stop all that?”
Spencer estimates 50 percent of the timber cut right now is old growth. “Everybody’s going to second growth, but it’s not there yet.”
Brad Cyr moved from Port Hardy on northern Vancouver Island to Port Alberni a week ago in order to take a union job. A third-generation logger working as a grapple yarder, Cyr said he came out to the rally to support his fellow forestry workers.
“I work in the bush. I’m about to retire, but I’m thinking about the people coming up in the industry. Especially in these small communities, it’s sad,” he said.
“It’s going to be really hard on a lot of people. They will lose their homes, they’ll have to move, take a low paying job.”
A faller by trade, Cyr said he only works with old growth. “It’s more labour intensive. I’m old school,” he said. “Second growth is more mechanized. There aren’t as many jobs in it. The younger people…run the machinery.”
Shane Moyen and his two young children, Madison and Keaton, sported colourful, handmade placards proclaiming “Trees are renewable,” “Forestry Feeds my Family!” and “Forestry keeps a roof over my head!” Moyen drives a logging truck for a company at Franklin River and has been working in the industry for 25 years.
“I don’t agree with what the government is proposing,” he said. “I think it’s a little over the top. It’s a small percentage of old growth that is harvested annually and there is no reason why we shouldn’t be able to carry on harvesting sustainably into the future.”
Moyen brought his children to the rally so they could see first hand what he is standing up for. “These guys need to know what it’s about,” he said.
”These guys need to know where their food comes from and how we put a roof over their head.”