Paper is no match for a wildfire or an army of hungry mountain pine beetles – especially if that paper is the Alberta Forests Act, which saw updates come into effect this week. The Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen made the announcement on May 3, the first day of Alberta Forest Week, and claimed the UCP’s new language will fuel timber industry and forest sector success.
But the Minister conveniently culled one of the most important parts of the story: Only a few months ago, the UCP launched a full-scale attack on its own employees, dozens of whom work in Forestry. With one hand Dreeshen penned changes to the law, saying they will "bolster the forest sector’s success," and with the other, chain-sawed 57 Forestry positions. Apparently, he can’t see the forests for the trees.
Throughout the pandemic, front-line workers stayed vigilant and reported concerns over a dwindling Forestry fleet. Senior foresters, wildfire management specialists, wildfire rangers, wildfire techs and information officers – all are victims of the UCP’s clear-cutting, job-killing program.
Back in November, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees sounded the fire alarm when the UCP burned down the province’s Forest Health program by laying off Technicians. This crew of public servants monitors the contractors who conduct aerial and ground surveys and control individual trees to fight the pest population. Playing a critical role in defending our backwoods against the Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB), they shield Alberta from meeting the same fate as Jasper, where the pest has chewed trees into matchsticks, risking wildfires and more climate-change related disasters. In their absence, frontline government workers were left with a tangle of unanswered questions. Who’s next? Who will absorb the work of the Forest Health Technicians? And how vulnerable are our forests?
And then of course, there’s the issue of Dreeshen’s plan to increase harvesting in the province by another 20 per cent. Organizations such as the Alberta Wilderness Association worry that by increasing how much the logging industries can cut, the UCP has given companies leeway to disrupt fragile ecosystems. In April, Treaty 8 First Nations Grand Chief Arthur Noskey slammed the Forests Act, saying that by hurting animal populations, the law infringes on his people’s treaty rights to practice traditional ways of life, and declaring that “the forest is being overharvested.”
As always, the UCP didn’t thoroughly consult with Albertans before milling the law into industry’s image and sought public approval by faking solidarity with private-sector workers. But we know Premier Kenney's only solidarity is with CEOs, not the workers who keep the machines running.
Forest mismanagement, and its environmental consequences, hurts private-sector workers too. When wildfires tore through Fort McMurray for example, the inferno was so intense it left little salvageable wood for loggers, and history shows that MPB-eaten trees are not the same as healthy trees and can pose serious manufacturing problems in mills.
The UCP boasts about building a more “competitive” forest sector. But Albertans don’t need competition – that’s just code for bad working conditions and weak environmental oversight. What we need is a sustainable forestry sector that can meet the needs of all people and allow Alberta’s biodiversity to thrive for generations to come. And the only way we can achieve this harmony is through real solidarity.