Talking Trees and The History of BC Forest Mismanagement With Tobias Douglas — The Heart of Hollow Tree (1972–2021)
Tobias Douglas loved BC’s forests and created a candle company to share them with the world. In 2009, Tobias ran for the BC NDP in Prince George. Her goal was to take the seat from the BC Liberal’s then Minister of Forests, Pat Bell. I figured that, if she did that, and if the NDP formed government, Tobias would be BC’s new minister of forests and the forests would be in amazing hands. I’ve never shared much about this publicly, but I was very involved with her campaign because, while I wasn’t sure I believed in the NDP when it came to protecting BC’s forests, I believed in Tobias.
A few years ago, Tobias and her partner in life and business, Grant Parnell, launched Hollow Tree Candles and part of their mission was (and is) to share BC’s forests and BC’s stories with the world. I occasionally helped spin out some of these with her for her wonderful candles. My fave candle to write was Amor de Cosmos — BC’s original wacky Premier. That was my baby. Tobias knew I’d written a play about Amor. Heck, as a history buff she actually read it…
In 2009, while I was writing a book featuring interviews about the future of BC’s forests, Tobias was appointed BC chair of the 100-year-old Canadian Institute of Forestry — a group dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of forestry in BC. I remember her smile when I asked her if she’d be part of this book. Right now I’m thinking of that smile a lot.
On January 21, 2021 Tobias Douglas died of complications after surgery. Since The Green Chain is out of print I wanted to post this to share her ideas, her spirit and her memory. And, in her honour and memory, here’s a link to donate to Save BC Wolves — a cause she was always passionate about. Also… dogs… anything you can do to support dogs…
From The Green Chain: Nothing is Ever Clear Cut
Tobias Douglas, Social Contractor
In the 2009 BC provincial election, Tobias Douglas ran for the New Democratic Party in Prince George-Mackenzie against the province’s minister of forests, Pat Bell. And she ran on a platform made out of trees. For Tobias, forestry and the way BC manages forests is a lifelong passion.
She started her working life as a treeplanter, then worked in a sawmill, where her jobs included bin attendant, stacker and operator. She also worked for the BC Ministry of Forests in timber sales.
But her life changed when she volunteered to join the campaign for one of BC’s most colourful and controversial Members of the Legislative Assembly, Corky Evans — a former cabinet minister whose passion was forestry. Douglas clearly made an impression with the NDP because that led to a stint as the assistant to the NDP’s forestry critic and, later, a party candidate.
The more time the left-wing Douglas spent working in and around forestry, the more interested she became in a concept invented by BC’s proudly right-wing Social Credit Party, a concept with a seriously left-wing name: “social contract.” For Douglas, the BC Liberal Party’s biggest sin in forest management was ripping up that contract.
A few days before the 2009 provincial election, Douglas was appointed the BC chair of the 100-year-old Canadian Institute of Forestry — a group dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of forestry in BC. I interviewed her that night at her Prince George home about her love for our forests, the people who work in them and the death of the social contract.
You’ve called forestry “the backbone of the province.” Is it still? Or is that back broken?
The back is broken right now. And the people of British Columbia have to realize the value that forestry does have to the province. If you don’t have a strong forest industry, then what do we have as a province? It used to be the huge economic generator that provided us with our health care facilities, educational institutions, roads and infrastructure. If we don’t have that, where does the revenue come from for the people of BC?
What can we do? What does the future hold for us?
I think we need to go back to a thing called “social contract.” That particular piece of legislation was changed in 2003 [along with the removal of the appurtenancy], and has allowed for 57 mill closures and 30,000 job losses in BC. And if that piece of legislation wasn’t taken out — which was in the Forest Act since 1947 and enacted and pursued by W.A.C. Bennett —
I know that the social contract is your passion. Can you explain social contract?
Tying logs to communities. If a mill is in your area, that community has likely been built because of that mill, which employs the people of that community and those logs stay within that community. Therefore the people spend money in that community, which keeps the community viable.
Before 2003, if you wanted to shut down a mill, companies had to sit down and negotiate with the government. The government and the minister of forest would say, “Okay, if you want to shut down we’re going to take back some of your timber licence, and we want you to reinvest in another community for job creation.”
So that social contract was broken, that piece of legislation was ripped up in 2003, and all the industry has to do now is just give the government and minister of forest notification that “we’re shutting, see you later.”
So is “social contract” the same as appurtenancy?
It’s two different things. The social contract is area-related. So we can look at an area like “the north” and say, “Okay we have mills in Mackenzie, we have mills in Prince George. We have forest licences and tree farm licences and the timber that’s extracted from those licences or firms go into a mill. It’s tied to that mill, it goes to the people in that community.”
Appurtenancy is along the lines of, say you have a community like Wells in British Columbia, which is just outside of Quesnel, and the logs are trucking by the community of Wells. Those logs are probably going to the community of Quesnel because there was never a mill in Wells, so appurtenancy doesn’t apply there.
The appurtenancy broke because there were a lot of small mills that were not economically viable or sustainable. But having mills in communities is very important because, once again, forestry is the backbone of the province and it provides for the rural communities, especially in northern British Columbia. So instead of having 10 mills in a community, or 5, you can have at least 1 or 2. In a community like Mackenzie there are no mills running right now and the social contract is broken.
Can it be fixed?
Yes it can.
The legislation can be reinstated.
What was the rationale for ripping it up?
I think it was for more consolidation and giving the corporations more power.
Is this how the mega-mills happened?
Can you explain the mega-mills?
The mega-mills are the extremely large mills. They chew up all the other smaller mills or medium-sized mills. In BC it’s come down to about five companies who own the mills and I think it’s around 40-something percent of the timber sale licences in the province. Therefore we don’t have competition. These guys are moving toward a monopoly of our forest land base. Keeping in mind that 85 percent of the land in British Columbia is Crown land, that land belongs to you and I.
That water, those trees, belong to you and I. It’s not fair for the corporations to hold the binding contract for what happens to those trees. So these corporations can have other mills in other provinces or down in the States, take their logs out, the legislation can be reinstated and offer no benefit to rural communities, because they can shut down and leave a community hanging and that’s not fair.
If somebody put you in charge of BC’s forests, what would you want to do?
Take care of our forests and bring the forests of British Columbia back to the people of BC. When you look at what’s going on with our water in the province, where it’s being sold off, I feel if we continue on a path like we’re on right now, we’re going to be selling our forests. So it’s getting our forests back on track, bringing back research, bringing back extensive and intensive silviculture, where we’re planting trees again and doing research and brushing and spacing and pruning. And not only that, but moving toward not looking at a tree as a piece of a two-by-four, but looking at it as an ecosystem and moving toward ecosystem management of our forest land base.
Your new job is to raise awareness for our forests and our trees. What else do you think the world should know about BC’s trees?
They are important. Trees contribute to our climate, our environment, carbon sequestering. The dead trees right now are emitting a lot of carbon, which is not good for climate change. It’s really important to get it out there that a tree is not just something that gets milled, it’s something that contributes to your community, your clean air and your environment.
We’ve got to get planting trees because planting trees is sustaining us for the future and the generations to come, for our children and grandchildren to have something in this province.
How do you feel about trees?
I love trees.