Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley. (Submitted photo)

Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley. (Submitted photo)

Op-Ed: Modernizing forestry and prioritizing reconciliation

Doug Routley writes on Fairy Creek and Central Walbran Valley old growth deferrals

As your MLA for Nanaimo-North Cowichan, I am deeply committed to protecting old-growth forests on Vancouver Island and throughout the province.

Having grown up in the Cowichan Valley and worked as both a tree planter and sawmill worker, I understand how deeply connected we all feel to our majestic forests. I feel very fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet and I believe that our government is responsible for ensuring these forests are here for future generations.

I also know that many of you depend on forestry for your livelihoods. Our government is committed to protecting and preserving old-growth forests while ensuring the future of a sustainable forestry sector.

Changes to forestry policy made by the previous government left crucial ecosystems unprotected and led to some of the divides in our community between forestry workers and environmentalists. We are committed to making changes that bridge these divides by creating a forestry industry that we can all be proud of. One that prioritizes Indigenous leadership and environmental protection.

On June 9, our government took an important step in protecting the old-growth forests we all love while recognizing there is much more to do.

Premier John Horgan and Forestry Minister Katrina Conroy honoured the request of the Pacheedaht, Huu-ay-aht, and Ditidaht nations to protect over 2,000 hectares in the Fairy Creek and Central Walbran lands.

This adds to the nearly 200,000 hectares our government has already protected, including in Clayoquot Sound and the Skagit “Donut Hole” in Manning Park. In total, we have now issued deferrals in 11 rare old-growth ecosystems left vulnerable by the BC Liberals.

While a positive step forward, it is only a start.

Our government will announce further protections this summer, following consultations with Indigenous rights and titleholders.

In recent weeks, I have heard from many of you who asked why our government did not act immediately to defer Fairy Creek.

The answer is simple: We were respecting the request from Pacheedaht First Nation not to interfere as they developed a stewardship plan for their territories. The days of making land management decisions without consulting Indigenous rights and title holders are over.

All First Nations have the inherent right of self-determination and are uniquely positioned to be stewards of their territories. The outcome in Fairy Creek shows that when we put Indigenous peoples at the centre of land management in their territories, we can protect old-growth while advancing reconciliation.

As your elected representative, I’ll continue working with my BC NDP colleagues to get this right and move forward on plans that serve everyone’s interests.

There is so much to do. But I am confident that if we continue to keep First Nations at the centre of these discussions, we will protect even more old-growth forests while building a modern forestry sector that puts people first.

Doug Routley

MLA for Nanaimo-North Cowichan