Minister's response shows a government in denial over crisis in forests
VANCOUVER, Dec. 9 - A new report tracking the effects of budget cuts in BC's forests ministry supports the BCGEU's call for a commission of inquiry to investigate the state of forest management in the province, the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU) said today.
The union also criticized Forests Minister Pat Bell's partisan dismissal of the report, which uses the government's own data in its analysis.
"We are disappointed that Minister Bell decided to play politics with this issue, instead of addressing the serious concerns facing the forest sector," says BCGEU president Darryl Walker. "Sadly, his response clearly confirms that this is a government in denial over the crisis in B.C. forests."
"Years of budget cuts and reorganization has severely eroded the government's ability to manage BC's public forests," says Walker. "This report raises troubling questions about the management of our public forests that can only be answered by a public commission which would review the current structure and make recommendations to revitalize the sector and restore public accountability."
The report, Axed: A Decade of Cuts to BC's Forest Service, jointly issued by the Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives and the Sierra Club B.C. on December 8, chronicles the legacy of budget cuts and policy shifts in the Ministry of Forests that have created huge gaps in research, management and enforcement of forest policy.
Between 2001 and 2010, 1,006 positions have been eliminated in the ministry, a 25 per cent decline. Field inspections by compliance and enforcement staff have fallen 46 per cent in that time, opening the door to illegal logging, environmental damage and revenue loss.
Many timber supply areas in B.C. have not had tree inventories taken in more than 30 years. And the ministry's research department, which provides invaluable information to establish sustainable cut quotas and tree growth data, has been gutted. The report notes that up to 9 million hectares of land - an area 3 times the size of Vancouver Island - may not be sufficiently stocked.
"Budget cuts, staff layoffs and self-regulation in the forest sector has resulted in the government losing its eyes and ears on the ground," Walker says. "When a cabinet minister publicly states that resource ministries are underfunded and can no longer fulfill their mandate, you know the time has come to change direction."
The BCGEU is also calling on the B.C. Liberal government to suspend the reorganization of resource ministries, pending the results of a commission of inquiry, and as a first step, to restore the funding cuts in the 2008/09 and 2010/11 budgets.