The provincial government held its first invite-only engagement session for the Interior Forest Sector Renewal Initiative in Williams Lake.

Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development director for land-based recovery and resilience in the Cariboo region, Rodger Stewart said Thursday’s meeting went really well.

“This meeting, in particular, was local government representatives and the forest sector. Other meetings will certainly involve labour, stakeholders who may be influenced by forest policy, and other interests that have a direct relationship to the management of our forest’s resources,” he said.

“There is some continuous improvements to be able to undertake. For example for the time that we involve the participants in conversation about different topic areas, I think that everybody was very deeply engaged in thinking about ideas that would move us forward around our forest policies in the province of British Columbia and in the Interior here.”

Stewart added that we have a considerable history of impacts from forest health infestation, the fire season since 2009, and currently the low prices for the forest sector’s products that are resulting in the closures and curtailments of mills.

Further engagement sessions are scheduled for Interior forest sector communities throughout the summer and into the fall. Engagement sessions are scheduled to take place next week in 100 Mile House, Anahim Lake, Burns Lake, Mackenzie, and Terrace.

The province is also accepting public feedback until October 11, 2019.

“In the province and in the Interior we’re grappling with the process of rethinking our approach to undertaking forest management and supporting a forest sector with what is going to reduced timber supply. How do we turn that reduced volume into higher value in support of our communities, so government is then as a result is coming out to engage,” Stewart said.

“There is a considerable need to be able to undertake a deliberate balancing of what might be different views and different solutions for the kinds of problems that we’re seeing. In addition, each timber supply area across the province may face a different set of circumstances and being able to take a quick maybe potentially knee jerk reaction might be a potential solution in one part of the province might actually create problems in another area.”

“We need to be able to do a very deliberate focus on what these solutions are, undertake an assessment of the impacts and influence of the potential solutions, and select a very, very deliberate and disciplined pathway.”

(Editor’s Note: Listen to Rodger Stewart in the audio file below)