Community leaders meet to address the forestry crisis in West Kootenays

Community poll shows deep concern over state of BC forests

VANCOUVER, Jan. 28 /CNW/ - More than 30 West Kootenay community leaders gathered in Castlegar on Wednesday for a community dialogue session seeking solutions to the forestry crisis in their region, amid deepening public concern over the state of BC forests.

The working session, titled 'BC Forests. Our Future.' was organized by the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union and included local MLAs Katrine Conroy and Michelle Mungall, representation from local governments and MP's office, forest sector unions and non-profit stakeholder groups in the region.

BCGEU president Darryl Walker set the stage for the dialogue by outlining the challenges facing BC's forest sector - noting that unemployment in the Kootenay region has almost doubled in the last three years, while direct and indirect forestry jobs have been cut almost in half.

"More than 70 mills have closed and over 40,000 forest sector jobs have been lost since the BC Liberal government came to office," said Walker. "Over 1000 forest ministry jobs have been eliminated. Compliance and enforcement has been dramatically scaled back, while changes to legislation allow forest companies to effectively regulate themselves.

"We came to Castlegar to consult with local leaders, identify key issues in this region, and work towards positive solutions that will help to revitalize our forest sector and generate long-term benefits for local communities."

The BCGEU also shared results from a recent poll of local residents showing a community deeply concerned about the effect of forest policy on their lives.

Of the 200 Castlegar area residents polled, 96 per cent said that the forest industry was critically or somewhat important to them personally, and fully 50 percent said they have suffered a recent job loss in their family. A staggering 91 per cent of respondents said that forest ministry layoffs were a bad idea. Tellingly, 79 per cent agreed that the Ministry of Forests is not currently fulfilling its public mandate to protect and enhance BC's forests.

"There is a clear disconnect between the B.C. government's sunny forestry rhetoric and the real experience of the people of the West Kootenays," said Walker. "People who live in resource communities have to live with the results of government neglect every day."

Walker noted that the BCGEU will conduct community dialogue sessions in 3 other BC resource communities in coming weeks, consulting with community leaders and working to develop positive solutions to help revitalize the forest sector.

/NOTE TO PHOTO EDITORS: A photo accompanying this release is available at http://photos.newswire.ca. Images are free to accredited members of the media/

SOURCE B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union

For further information:

Chris Bradshaw at 604-291-9611

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B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union

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