The elephant in the room: public engagement

Letter to the Editor

Once again, UBC came to town. On July 30, experts from the Faculty of Forestry presented to council on the management of our community forests. It took a moment to get the slides in order. As other profs sorted out technical difficulties, Dr. Arcese grinned and said, “How many profs does it take to present one Power Point?” Everyone laughed. The five scientists were down to earth, engaging, and presented a vast array of possibilities — including carbon credits as a way to replace business-as-usual logging.

The meeting was not a lecture, it was an invitation to question, explore and discover forest issues as a community. The “community” came up over and over. It was heart-warming to hear these experts make public engagement their number one priority and to hear councillors say the same.

For the first time in a council meeting, it wasn’t entirely frustrating to sit in the peanut gallery with zillions of questions dancing in one’s head but no way to be part of the conversation.

Lack of public engagement has felt like the elephant in the room, even when addressed, because it was incomprehensible to many of us why public meetings hadn’t been offered to date and why logging/salvaging decisions were still being made before public engagement.

I bring this up because now that public consultation is going to happen, how it happens is the big question — it is the million dollar question. After hearing UBC and council, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic. On Aug. 21, council will consider the UBC proposal. The council meeting will be open to the public. Some of us are expecting that great things may happen — we expect the elephant may stand up and walk out of the room.

Icel Dobell