(VANCOUVER) A decade of layoffs and budget cuts, combined with the recent radical cabinet reorganization, have so thoroughly gutted BC’s Forest Service that the door is wide open to abuses of the province’s cherished public forestlands, a new study concludes.
Based on analysis of government employment data, the study reveals that in less than a decade one quarter of all Forest Service positions have been cut (1,006 full-time jobs), and calls for an independent commission to determine whether the Service can adequately serve the public.
No sector of the venerable institution, nearing its 100th anniversary, has been spared, including compliance and enforcement staff, making it difficult to catch companies who are stealing logs, defrauding the public of stumpage fees, or using environmentally destructive logging practices.
“The deep job cuts — combined with October’s cabinet reorganization that cleaved what was left of the old Forest Service in two — are completely contrary to the public interest,” says Ben Parfitt, a researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ BC office and author of the report, which was co-published with Sierra Club of BC. “The work load that we have saddled the Service’s remaining men and women with is past the point of absurdity.”
Parfitt notes that today in the US there are 30,000 national Forest Service employees, each responsible on average for nearly 2,700 hectares of forest. BC’s Forest Service staff is one tenth that of the US, yet the area of land to be covered per employee is 7.4 times higher, or 20,000 hectares. The disparity is even worse in northeast BC: 232,000 hectares per employee, or more than 580 Stanley Parks each.
Field investigations by compliance and enforcement personnel have declined by more than 14,450 visits annually, and are expected to fall further. Meanwhile, Service personnel conducting audits of companies to ensure that they accurately report the value of the logs harvested from public forestlands (thus ensuring that adequate stumpage fees are collected) must now each contend with 7,500 more truckloads of logs, on average, than they did eight years ago.
As a result of October’s cabinet reorganization and the creation of the new Natural Resource Operations Ministry, entire sections of the Forest Service were disbanded, including its renowned 83-year-old research branch, whose remaining scientists (60 per cent fewer than a decade ago) are now scattered among the Natural Resource Operations, Environment, Agriculture and Forests and Mines ministries.
“We cannot continue on this way. The BC government should immediately reverse its dubious cabinet reorganization and halt any further Forest Service layoffs, pending a review by an independent commission,” says George Heyman, executive director of Sierra Club BC.
To arrange an interview with Ben Parfitt contact Sarah Leavitt at 604-801-5121 x233 or [email protected]