Hundreds of people gathered on the lawn and steps of the B.C. legislature Tuesday to support the province’s struggling forestry sector.
The rally came as B.C.’s NDP government delivered its third provincial budget.
Forestry workers also drove a convoy of large trucks down to the legislature in a show of support.
“I think that sends a strong message that forestry is absolutely critical to the economics in our communities,” said Carl Sweet with the B.C. Forestry Alliance.
Sweet said about 30 per cent of coastal forests are currently available for logging, with the remaining 70 per cent either protected or restricted.
He said forestry workers fear that the remaining 30 per cent will be chipped away, further reducing the amount of timber available to the industry.
The group will deliver a petition with 8,000 signatures from around B.C. to Forestry Minister Doug Donaldson calling for that remaining portion to be preserved as “working forests.”
“There is no entity that says this is a forest that we’re going to continue to harvest for generations,” said Sweet. “It can be slowly eroded and picked away, you know, year after year.”
Campbell River logger Bill Nelson told Global News many people in the province don’t realize what would happen if the “working forest” were to be eroded.
“I think they do understand that forestry is important to them and to the province as a whole. But just just what would happen if you stopped old growth logging today?” asked Nelson.
“The small communities that have generated so much income for the province for the last hundred years, those those small communities are going to just disappear overnight and start to suffer so badly that they’re going to the companies are going to close down,” said Nelson.
Forestry Minister Doug Donaldson issued a statement on the rally saying he’d spoken to the forestry alliance and heard its concerns.
“The B.C. Forestry Alliance and others have made it clear to us that they are concerned about how old-growth forests are managed,” said Donaldson.
“That’s why we commissioned an independent, two-person panel to hear people’s perspectives on the economic, ecological and cultural importance of old-growth trees and forests. We expect to hear back from the panel later this spring.”
B.C.’s forestry industry has suffered a series of body blows in recent years, ranging from a string of mill closures to an unprecedented eight-month strike on Vancouver Island.
Environmentalists and Indigenous rights advocates have both scheduled protests of their own in the city on Tuesday, but Sweet said he does not believe there will be any friction between the groups.
However, Victoria police have warned that the various demonstrations in the city core would lead to significant traffic disruptions.