United Steelworkers backs commitment to working forests, jobs, in British Columbia's Special Committee on Timber Supply's report, but says process took 'far too long' due to lack of timber inventories, crisis planning

BURNABY, British Columbia , August 17, 2012 (press release) – The United Steelworkers (USW) union is supporting the report of the B.C. government's Special Legislative Committee on Timber Supply, which was released today.

Generally speaking, the USW supports the call for investment in healthy forests, a focus on ensuring manufacturing of B.C. timber resources and a formal process to deal with workers and communities in crisis.

"The Special Legislative Committee's report is thorough and we congratulate committee members for their work on this complicated and highly-politicized issue," said USW Wood Council Chair Bob Matters.

"We are pleased that the committee understands the importance of the working forest and forest industry jobs and, in particular, their recommendations to help secure fibre to ensure that there is, once again, an operating sawmill in Burns Lake following the tragic explosion of the Babine sawmill," Matters said.

"However, in supporting the report, we also believe it is an indictment of the forest policy of our current government over the past decade."

The USW specifically cites the legislative committee's assertions that proper timber inventories have not been done, and that many of the recommendations could have been implemented months ago in the case of Burns Lake had there still been a formal process to deal with communities in crisis, such as the former Jobs Protection Commissioner.

"Unlike some observers, when there is a community tragedy such as the Babine mill explosion, the MLAs on the committee, our members and most British Columbians agree that there is a role for government to help mitigate the economic and social impacts," said USW Local 1-424 President Frank Everitt.

"We are pleased that some measures are being taken to secure fibre to help ensure a rebuild of the mill, but this process took far too long for our members and the communities involved," said Everitt, who represents the workers who were thrown out of work when the mill was destroyed.

In particular, the USW supports recommendations to: update timber inventories; better manage "not sufficiently restocked" (NSR) areas and increase fertilization and silviculture to increase harvestable timber volumes; encourage the harvest of economically marginal timber areas; provide timber and opportunities to First Nations; and to re-establish monitoring committees to oversee and update Land and Resource Management Plans (LRMPs) following a proper, inclusive process at the local level.

"As a province, we need to do a better job of dealing with forest health, silviculture, timber supply and protecting communities facing crisis," said Matters.

"For years we have been urging this government to re-institute a jobs and community protection commissioner, to invest more in healthy forests, especially in light of the Mountain Pine Beetle, and ensure that British Columbia resources are used to support and sustain British Columbia communities."

The United Steelworkers are also encouraged that the committee made recommendations that look to the future, such as increased skills training for the resource industry workforce and protecting the working forest through better forest health programs and reduced wild fire risk.

SOURCE: United Steelworkers (USW)

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