One hundred years ago, B.C. embarked on a new adventure in forest management with the formation of the BC Forest Branch (renamed the Forest Service in 1945). The original intent for this new entity and its first Service Plan serve as a time capsule of sorts that can now be opened as part of the Forest Service’s 100th Anniversary celebration.
The Branch was formed out of the 1910 Forestry Commission’s recommendations to establish a Forestry Act and a professional service to manage and protect B.C.’s forest resources. Its first service plan in 1912 describes B.C.’s forests as one of the few remaining “great bodies of commercial timber left in the world which are not yet materially reduced by destructive lumbering.”
The service plan warns, however, that other jurisdictions that over-exploited their forest resources end up putting more money into simply maintaining what’s left of their resource than they gain from its continued exploitation.
One of the Royal Commission’s intentions for the establishment of the Forest Service was to protect the management of B.C.’s forests from the politics of the day. As the Commission noted:
“(Forest) policy that vacillates, not because fresh knowledge of forests has been obtained but simply because changes have taken place in politics, can have no value.”
One hundred years ago BC’s forest were viewed as a public resource that would remain inexhaustible under the wise management of a professional Forest Service which would steward those resources, protecting them from both wasteful fires and whimsical politicians, in order to feed a growing lumber industry that would return benefits to the public through jobs and revenue to the Crown.
One hundred years later we’re struggling to provide mills with logs. Large portions of the province no longer have any “lumbering” operations. Revenue from Forestry dropped below the costs of publicly administering the resource a number of years ago.
The service’s inventory and research capacities were gutted by successive political administrations, and the entire Forest Service, at the whim of one politician, has been absorbed into the omnibus Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
Professional foresters are now being trained to be “front counter” specialists whose main goal will be to facilitate easier access to B.C.’s natural resources.
As we celebrate its 100th anniversary, it’s fair to say that the Forest Service faces an uncertain future – as uncertain as the forests it was established to steward for generations yet to come.
Bob Simpson MLA Cariboo North