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December 2005 & January 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal

 

gUEST COLUMN

In the forests for the long haul

By Jim Girvan

The forest industry on the BC Coast has seen considerable turmoil over the past decade or more. As the voice of the independent Coastal forest industry, the Truck Loggers Association (TLA) was among the first groups in the province to urge a revitalization of this once-vibrant sector.

That’s what you’d expect from an organization that represents some 525 community-based businesses that operate in the Coastal region where communities depend so much on forestry.

When TLA members say that their roots are in these communities, you can assume two things: First, that it is easily shown by the extent to which TLA members—including myself—have chosen to live in Coastal resource communities as opposed to downtown Vancouver (arguably also a Coastal resource community given the fact up to 20 per cent of employment in Vancouver is generated by the forests, but I’ll leave that argument for another day); and second, that it’s been that way for generations.

That’s because family contractors and suppliers are in it for the long haul. Many of my members are family operations now under the direction of the second or third generation—the business passed from father and, in a growing number of cases, mother-to son or daughter. The same cannot be said for the big companies who hold cutting rights.

In the process of keeping many of these TLA businesses in the family, new business operators typically learn the concepts of community loyalty, treatment of employees and just plain old staying power. To some extent, that might explain our success over the years, to the point that our industrial members employ more than 6,500 British Columbians and generate more than $1 billion for the provincial economy, and account for more than 70 per cent of the trees harvested on the Coast. Our associate members contribute thousands more forestryrelated jobs and additional government revenue.

Having said all of that, I look at where the Coastal restructuring process is today and I have to admit to a genuine concern among TLA members. As an organization, the TLA recognizes the fact that there is a great need for the Coastal industry to become more competitive globally. But the fixes, so far, have been extremely tough on our communities, on our membership and on our employees.

It’s been two years since stakeholders convened over a revitalization plan for the Coast, and where are we today? We’re still a very long way from striking the kind of new arrangements that will provide the stability that we so badly need—stability for resource communities facing challenges on many fronts, stability for employees trying to raise families in those same communities, and stability for this province which derives so much economic benefit from the activities of our members.

In times of extreme change, is it enough simply to put the Coastal restructuring issue entirely in the hands of the tenure holders—large companies driven not by community and employee loyalties but by cost-cutting? Do these Vancouver-based companies have a sufficient connection to the land and to the employee base even to understand what the tough new issues are out in the forest?

Wouldn’t we all benefit if the majors, as they moved to a new Coast model, showed some real consideration for our community-based contractor businesses, many of which are at risk of becoming casualties of the current restructuring? Equally important, wouldn’t we all be better off if the big companies changed their focus—as some in fact have already done—and concentrated on manufacturing while we, the specialized contractor operations that have spent our lives on the land, focused on managing the forests?

These issues deserve serious discussion in light of a move toward a restructured coastal industry that for some of our members is already broken beyond repair. New approaches that considered the value of resource communities might encourage seed capital to foster investment in coastal mills, as well as promote innovation in the harvest sector in order to, among other things, lower costs.

What’s very clear to this organization is that our history is one of long-standing commitment to the communities in which we work and live.

The BC Coast region and the TLA membership are enmeshed through generations of proud BC history. We have a chance to do something positive for an industry that needs more capital investment, more streamlined policy approaches and a new commitment to employees, small businesses and resource communities.

Let’s not let the opportunity pass us by.

 

Jim Girvan is executive director of the Truck Loggers Association.

 

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