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Reviewed by the Victoria Times Colonist

The Forest and the trees
Ben Parfitt is on the telephone when I walk into his downtown office. He waves hello and keeps up a rapid-fire conversation discussing his third book, which will be about endangered species. The key word here is "will."

His second book, Forest Follies: Adventures and misadventures in the Great Canadian Forest, was just released, in November and it's classic Parfitt, writing honestly about an industry fraught with controversy. The 10 essays are full of facts coupled with thoughtful analysis that shows both the forest and the trees. And the jobs, the people, the animals.

"If you look at the history of industrial forestry, it's very clear that in the long run, communities and individuals have lost a lot more than they've gained," he says.

"While it's true that people working in the industry have been paid, for the most part very handsomely, there’s no denying the trend: Fewer people working and more of the resource being used. And often being used to the detriment of the community.

The former Vancouver Sun reporter knows his stuff. Parfitt's byline could be found almost daily from 1986 to 1993 when his beat was forestry. For anyone living in the Interior, Parfitt's critical approach was a relief from the propaganda of the forestry companies that dominates small-town B.C. Spend time in a place such as Revelstoke in the late 1980s and you know Parfitt is right when he writes about bear, caribou, fish stocks, water and the impact of the industrial forest machine.

A classic example, Parfitt points out in his book, is the Queen Charlotte Islands. In addition to the negative impact logging has had on wildlife, 99 per cent of the two million cubic metres of wood logged annually leaves the Island for processing on Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast or the Lower Mainland.

A similar problem existed in Revelstoke - loaded logging trucks hightailing it out of town, taking jobs with them. It galvanized the residents to buy a tree-farm licence in 1993, and set up the Revelstoke Community Forest Corp.

Board director Loni Parker says the RCFC cushioned Revelstoke against the massive layoffs suffered by other forest-dependent towns.
"Working with industry partners, we've been able to keep most of the wood in the community, and surrounding area, for processing," Parker said by telephone from
Revelstoke. "Last year, we made money - $470,000 net income.

"The total retained earnings were almost $2.5 million in the first five years of operation, which represents an almost 50 per cent per annum return on the city’s original $1 million investment."

The logging techniques used are variable because the license is within a significant caribou zone. Patch logging, helicopter and small dear cuts are employed. “It really depends on the terrain," Parker says. “The
bottom line is that we must have profit to exist but we try to maximize Profit while addressing environmental and social concerns."

It's those issues that Parfitt is writing about in Forest Follies. Eight of the essays were originally published in the Georgia Straight and include stories of communities that are changing the way Revelstoke is.

Newspapers, with their finite number of column inches, limit the writer. Through books and magazines the journalists can write with more depth, something for which Parfitt is grateful.

"I've had more pleasure since leaving the Sun in terms of writing and analysing issues, than I ever had when I was there," he says.
But that’s not the reason he left.

"The principal reason for me leaving the paper was that I had written some fairly critical articles of the industry at the time and in particular its PR campaign, and was ultimately told I couldn't write about forestry anymore. I made a conscious decision to leave, I wasn't fired."

It opened up a new world for the Ontario-born writer, who moved to Vancouver in 1986 to work for the Sun.

"I think there are real constraints to reporting on these issues in the mainstream press," he says. "There's a tendency to oversimplify overdramatize things."

And relegating forestry to the business section, which often happens, leaves out the social environmental impact of the industry.

The industry is a continuous occupation for Parfitt. He co-authored Forestopia: A Practical Guide to the New Forest Economy with Michael M'Gonigle - a book picked up by three universities – and his bread-and-butter is contract writing with organizations such as the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, Habitat Conservation Trust Fund and occasionally the B.C. government.

After all Parfitt's research and writing, it's tempting to ask whether he's optimistic about the future.

"I'm optimistic that in site-specific a reason of the province there’s an opportunity to do things in a different way.

"Overall, I'd have to say the trend is one in which we are going to see our forests simplified more and more and more, to the detriment of plant and animal communities, and also to human communities."
-Judith Isabella, Times Colonist