Federal funding for on-line forest centre exhibit emphasizes need for balance, fairness
(This article first appeared in the Cowichan Valley Citizen)
The BC Forest Discovery Centre in North Cowichan is receiving $222,000 in federal funding to develop an on-line exhibit on sustainable forestry from pre-colonization to modern day.
Question is: will the exhibit take a biased approach to logging — like the centre’s industry-funded Forests Forever exhibit — or explore a full range of management options, including potentially no logging?
“No doubt, it’s a controversial subject,” says project coordinator Tim Bateman, an education technology strategist at the University of BC.
“We’re hoping that through the exhibit we can come to a conclusion at what exactly do we mean by sustainable forestry.”
Digital Museums Canada (managed by Canadian Museum of History) is funding the exhibit. The UBC faculty of forestry and Vancouver Island University are also participating.
The goal is to have it completed by spring/summer 2026.
The exhibit will include an interactive game — aimed at students, but open to anyone — that allows participants to make their own decisions on how to sustainably manage a woodlot.
The Ministry of Forests says: “The purpose of a woodlot is to manage the forest resource through harvesting.”
The centre’s on-line museum will also include the role of ethnic groups such as Sikhs and Japanese in early logging as well as historic Indigenous uses of the forests.
Make no mistake, the centre does an excellent job of collecting and restoring old buildings and equipment that reflect the history of logging on Vancouver Island. The special Halloween and Christmas train rides are justifiably huge hits.
But the Forests Forever exhibit, opened in 2019, portrays forestry as a model of sustainability — without challenge.
The exhibit makes no mention of all the thorny issues facing the industry, everything from fibre-supply problems to old-growth logging, from mill closures to logging’s impact on species at risk.
The figures used in the exhibit also raise questions.
Under “key facts,” the exhibit asserts that forestry contributes $12.9 billion to the provincial GDP and is tied to 140,000 jobs.
A statistical summary posted by the BC government says the forest sector in 2021 generated 55,715 direct jobs and contributed $5.9 billion to the GDP — less than half what the centre suggests.
Who knows how the inclusion of government subsidies would further diminish those numbers.
The centre’s website lists some 30 donors to the Forests Forever exhibit, including four in the $150,000-plus category — Western Forest Products, Mosaic Forest Management, the Truck Loggers Association, and Island Coastal Economic Trust.
North Cowichan also annually donates $25,000 to the centre.
Despite being located in North Cowichan, the centre makes no mention of the fact the municipality’s forest reserve overlaps the coastal Douglas-fir forest, the rarest forest type in BC. — described as “imperilled” by the watchdog Forest Practices Board. Private land development and logging are contributing factors.
At least two of the centre’s directors have openly lobbied North Cowichan council to continue logging this at-risk forest even though 76 percent of the public has expressed support for conservation in an in-depth consultation.
The Ministry of Forests and some 40 other conservation organizations and levels of government are committed to “promoting and protecting” the coastal Douglas-fir forest.
It’s time for the BC Forest Discovery Centre to recognize the value of protecting the forest in its own backyard and to portray logging with fairness and balance.
The expenditure of almost a quarter million in federal taxpayers' dollars on the centre’s newest exhibit only emphasizes the point.
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— Larry Pynn, Nov. 16, 2023