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Forest Renewal Spending Gathers Steam in BC

Athough slow off the mark, with $500 million a year to spend on revitalizing forestry, Forest Renewal BC is beginning to have an impact. 

By Robert D. Forrest
Copyright 1998. Contact publisher for permission to use. 

When Forest Renewal BC set out to rebuild British Columbia's foests and forest industry, the task looked daunting. The industry-funded agency has projected annual revenues of approximately half a billion dollars through fiscal 2001/02. Investment in programs during much of that period will be $425 million or more annually, with fiscal 1997/98 counting for an impressive $625 million. 

How and where is the money being spent? Will it make things better in the future? Will it guarantee jobs and a work force in the future? 

It is still too early for a definitive answer to any of the multitude of questions that spring to mind. However, a quick examination of some of Forest Renewal BC's target spending and projects which represent that spending tell a good deal about where the agency is going. 

November images In the current fiscal year, 69 per cent of the agency's budget ($431.5 million) is aimed at land use and environmental efforts. FRBC identifies its land-based core programs as enhanced forestry, watershed restoration, resource inventory, research and recreation. 

An example of a resource inventory that has strong implications for recreation and enhanced forestry and which is itself an example of original research is currently underway in the Bulkley region around Smithers, BC, in the north-central part of the province. 

In the Bulkley Forest District, Pacific Inland Resources is conducting a first inventory of fish habitat in all the streams and rivers of the area. The Bulkley Fisheries and Fish Habitat Assessment, a two-and-a-half year, $928,000 project is one of the most extensive and systematic inventories of freshwater fish habitat ever undertaken in the province. It will yield information on fish habitat that will influence riparian regulations in the region but will also provide basic data that will help the recreational and other forest users to plan realistically for the future. 

FRBC is spending another 15 per cent of its budget in helping workers and communities make the transition to a smaller forestry base. Training programs will aid workers to develop additional skills that will help them remain employed, as well as assisting displaced workers in finding new careers. 

When Robson Valley logger Gordon Carson wanted to convert his operation in the Kootenay region of the province to a selective logging system using skyline cable yarding, he turned to FRBC for help in offsetting the high cost of training. A $94,000 funding allowed Carson to have seven workers trained in all aspects of the system. 

The agency has allocated five per cent of its budget ($29.2 million) to diversification through programs from value-added financing to forest community businesses. Late last year, TL'OH Forest Products completed its training of 40 First Nations workers living in the Fort St. James area of north-central BC. The new work force was ready for the start-up of the company's new value-added plant producing finger-joint lumber and I- beams. The operation currently employs 50 workers. 

An additional 11 per cent of the FRBC budget ($66 million) has been set aside for contingency use. 

If the creation of employment is the criterion for measuring the success of FRBC's efforts, the estimated 6,324 person years of direct employment during this fiscal year and the 9,800 projected for next year would be enough to give the agency a high letter grade. 

But it may be the consequences of another effort that FRBC has funded that will bring surprising long-term success to the value-added sector of the forest industry. 

WoodLINKS is the result of two separate efforts that came together at the right moment. Within the wood manufacturing sector, many operators were having to hire workers from other jurisdictions because suitable workers were not available in BC, particularly entry-level workers with a basic understanding of the industry. Whether in the bush or in the manufacturing and remanufacturing plant, the forest industry had lost its appeal as a place to work. Industry people recognized the need to find more suitable workers close to home. 

At the same time, many educators recognized that something had to be done to find work for the many young people who were coming out of school with no apparent job opportunities. 

Representatives of the two groups met and the result was WoodLINKS, a partnership of industry and education dedicated to creating awareness of the opportunities available in the wood products sector. 

"The wood products industry is growing in British Columbia and Canada, but it faces a serious shortage of skilled workers," says Sandy Steward, one of three program directors with WoodLINKS, a Vancouver, BC-based partnership of industry and education which is promoting careers in wood products manufacturing. Steward says there is an annual need for 300 to 400 secondary school graduates with training in this field. 

The group has provided instructors with material for teaching and has set out a program that will give graduating students sound basic skills for the secondary wood manufacturing sector. 

Steward says WoodLINKS has also played a leading role in the development of a CD-ROM for use in the schools which tells students about jobs in the forest industry. The impact and effectiveness of the disk is such that at least one company is talking about using the disk to inform workers already in the industry about opportunities available to them. 

WoodLINKS has set out a carefully planned, well-researched and prepared program that will go a long way to solving future work force shortages in the forest industry at all levels. 

Their program is effective enough that it is being picked up by several groups in the US as the model for their wood products-related educational effort. 

It is innovative efforts like those of Pacific Inland Resources will be the lasting measure far too soon to rate the permanent effect of their programs, but it is safe to say that the innovations they have launched could be far-reaching. 

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