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“I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.” ~~ John G. Diefenbaker

ADAM OLSEN -- Skeetchestn Indian Band Chief Ron Ignace considers the spraying of herbicide ‘an act of cultural genocide, because you are killing our foods and medicines’

There has been a lot of chatter in the public about the collapsing British Columbia forestry industry. In every community I visited this summer, forestry issues were central to the concerns of the people I met with.

Many people had worked a full career in the forests, and they had very little positive to say about the state of the industry and the state of our ecosystems.

There was harsh criticism of how this critical resource has been mismanaged over the years.

So many people and communities have depended on logging and mill jobs that were once plentiful across the province. Year-by-year small family owned businesses were consolidated into fewer and larger multi-national corporate interests. Less care was paid for the people and towns in rural British Columbia as the CEO’s focus was on short-term profit and placating shareholders.

Over the past two decades the BC Liberals oversaw this transfer of wealth, and at the same time were pounding the table claiming they were the defenders of the forests and forestry jobs.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The people on the ground, who depend on the livelihood lament the loss, now they are put through consultation exercises and community engagements to develop management plans. As I’ve said before, this is a euphemism for logging plans.
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My colleague Andrew Weaver has asked the Forest Minister, Doug Donaldson, about the spraying of glyphosate to manage broad leaf species deemed undesirable nuisances. Everyone that I’ve talked to thinks this practice is absurd for a variety of reasons, not the least of which, wildfire management.

A look at forestry from a different perspective
While on my most recent trip into Shuswap territory I met with local Indigenous leaders. In those discussions, I heard another take that needs be considered by the Ministry of Forests. Kukpi7 (Chief) Ron Ignace (Skeetchestn Indian Band) said clearly to me that he considers the spraying of herbicide “an act of cultural genocide, because you are killing our foods and medicines.”

The birch and poplar are the irrigators of the mountainsides,” he continued.

Destroying these trees is also an act of cultural genocide because we can no longer collect the barks and other items to make our baskets and other products.”

His criticism did not end there.

He made an important point about tree farming that was also made in one of my recent reads, The Hidden Life of Trees. In that I was introduced to the integrated communities of forests. While this is new information for many of us, the Indigenous people of British Columbia have been told of these relationships through the teachings passed down from their ancestors.

When they plant tree farms, they are planting orphans,” Kukpi7 Ignace stated. “Old trees do not know how to look after the young trees. These are all reasons we want to work with the province to co-manage our forests. To restore them and to share our knowledge with the government.”

We can learn from our wise Indigenous leaders. Or, we can learn from the European forester and author Peter Wohlleben. Pick whichever one makes you feel most comfortable.  It matters little though because their message and teachings are the same.

As I and my BC Green colleagues are deeply troubled by tree-farming and the practice of spraying herbicides in our forests, the Chief’s words raise the stakes on the provincial government. Both the Greens and the BC NDP have voiced our support for a new era of relations with Indigenous people. If the government is serious about acting on that commitment then they cannot ignore these words.
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As we look to nurturing a more sustainable and resilient future for communities across our province in the face of climate change, we have to work together toward restoring the biodiversity. Single species tree farms loaded with “orphans” is not good enough.

I’ve come away from this summer's listening tour with a deeper understanding of the passion British Columbians have for nature and their communities. Rather than focussing all our effort on how we are going to manage the remaining fibre supply to zero, we need to get on with transitioning to our future.

Even though many of the jobs extracting fibre have already been lost there is a massive opportunity in replacing those jobs with an incredible effort of ecosystem restoration, tourism and value-added manufacturing.


  1. Good article on an important topic. While I believe that BC's unrelenting war on Aspens and broadleafs is nothing more than wild west profiteering under the justification of 'jobs', I understand why it would feel to Kukpi7 Ignace like cultural genocide. The effects are certainly the same for his people, as it is for the 100s of species of mammals and birds whose existance depends on the presence of broadleafs. Did you know that under BCs current forest practices, forest companies are not allowed to leave more than 5% of the area they cut in broadleafs? Without aspens, creatures like moose, deer, elk, beaver and porcupines are starving. BCs government mandated war on aspens has turned natural, balanced forests that teemed with bio diversity into largely monoculture tree farms. Volatile tinder boxes that are prone to drought, disease and wildfires. By systematically spraying and killing aspens and other broadleaf species they are short circuiting the forest's inherent ability to respond to and recover from disasters like fires, floods, landslides and man made disturbances. These species are 'nature's first responders', growing back in profusion to provide vital food and shelter to displaced animals and birds. Natural, diverse forests are a perfect system that has been worked out over millenia. Mankind, in it's conceit, believes that it can upset the balance for oit's own selfish gain without any consequence. This is proving wrong. We need the forest too! REAL forests. Mixed forests with aspens that contain the spread of wildfires, sequester 45% more carbon than pines, retain moisture and preserve water courses, and nourish the soil with decaying leaves. Poisons spread from helicopters are tainting berry bushes and forage for open range cattle. Contaminants are leeching into our waterways, killing aquatic life and endangering our salmon. This has got to stop NOW! Make no mistake, this is not the fault of one political party. Don't bother pointing fingers. They are all to blame. This has been going on for decades under the approval of whichever party has been in power. And we have allowed it. So, we too shoulder the blame. Its time to wake up and demand our government does something about it.

  2. Excellent post Alan and it's great to see that at least some understand the incredible interconnections at play within a complex ecosystem like a forest. It is such a shame that all political parties in BC seem to be simply minions of their corporate benifactors rather than respectful stewards of such a beautiful province.

    I've been in BC for nearly 30 years now and the very first shock that I had was seeing my first clear cut. My second a slow-burn shock from years of hiking in the lower mainland forest trails and seeing mostly second growth monoculture forests. The forests of Modor as I describe them to friends back east. Such experiences have made me realize that the separation between our democratic institutions and corporations, both provincially and federally is but a thin nearly invisilbe line at best. Canada, in their view, is a resource to be harvested and shipped off-shore for processing.

    I've also found Wohlleben's book 'The Hidden Life of Trees' amazing and I'll never look at a forest the same thanks to his insight. If you are looking for several other books that give equally fascinating views of not only how intricate forest ecosystems are but how corporate greed has trumped stewardship I'd recommend 'Empire of the Beetle' by Andrew Nikiforuk and part one of 'Collapse' by Jared Diamond.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences and all the best,

    1. I think it was an excellent post as well Vancouver Doug ... but please note that it was written by Green Party MLA Adam Olsen, who kindly allows me to share his commentaries on this blog


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