“Escaping into the wilderness was always my release valve. When I was young, I would sit in the forest and look at the animals. But I’m a realist, and I know that my grandkids won’t see that because it’s no longer there.”
Since 2013, Mike Morris has served as an MLA with the British Columbia Liberal Party (now called BC United) for the Prince George – Mackenzie riding in northern British Columbia. Before entering politics, he spent 32 years working as an RCMP officer. When not working or volunteering he would spend most of his free time with his family or getting out into the forests hunting and trapping.
“I brought my family up on moose,” Mike says. “We had moose in the freezer every year for 40 years.”
Thanks to his lifelong retreats into the wilderness Mike feels a strong connection to the land and animals in northern B.C. He also carries a deep responsibility to care for wildlife and its habitat and speak up when both are under threat.
“I’ve been an outdoorsman in the same area the last 50 years, and I’ve seen the cumulative impacts of forestry over the years and the disappearance of wildlife. The clear-cutting we’ve seen has decimated populations because there’s no habitat left for them.”
Like other areas of the province, in northern B.C., people’s livelihoods are directly tied to an industry that has seen its fair share of tough times.
Between a devastating mountain pine beetle infestation in the 2000s, decades of clearcutting, the eradication of an appurtenancy law — where wood harvested had to be milled in the same community it came from — and one community mill closure after another, families who were fed from forestry, have been left behind.
“It’s devastating to see a mill go down and lose 300 or 400 jobs,” Mike says. “The impact it has on families. It’s not fair.”
In 2014, Mike was tasked with doing a review of wildlife habitat in B.C. He traveled all over the province and was shocked with what he saw.
“I looked at oil and gas and mining and all the other resource sectors in the province,” Mike says. “I passed by hundreds of kilometres of clear cuts and saw that we were going to be out of trees and see mill shutdowns. And I came to the conclusion that forest harvesting was responsible for 90% of the cumulative impacts to our wildlife habitat. We need to change.”
Mike believes volume-based logging must end and that an ecological approach to forest harvesting is the only way forward. He wants to see forestry practices focus on forest health, climate change and ecosystem restoration so that wildlife can thrive and mills can continue to operate.
“We should be keeping in mind all the values of a forest, not only fiber,” Mike says. “Water, air, and animals.”
While Mike is passionate about policy change, he is also wary of how new and existing laws can be ineffective without regulation or oversight.
“The Wildlife Act in B.C. says we can’t destroy the nests of Goshawks, owls and other raptors, and states you must retain a 100-metre strip around that area,” Mike explains.
“Well, I have put 10,000 km on my truck driving through the Prince George and Quesnel timber supply areas, looking for these nests and their retention areas, and I haven’t found one. Not one. We’re destroying the environment for the next hundred years for these species, and people don’t seem to understand that.”
Mike’s wildlife advocacy work from within the government is coming to an end soon. He will not be running in the likely 2024 election, and instead, he hopes to, in his own words, “turn into a grizzled old trapper granddad and go trapping and take my grandkids out.”
Free of the constraints that come with being an elected official, Mike may still continue to push for forestry reform and wildlife protection, but in a different capacity. And he is optimistic for a future where if the right policies are put in place today, his great, great, great-grandchildren may see what an old growth tree looks like.
“We need everybody at the table to design a way forward so that B.C. can regain its place as one of the most ecologically diverse places in Canada,” Mike says. “I think the people of B.C. and younger generations, in particular, are becoming awake to a lot of things that are taking place here, and I think their voice is going to be strong during election periods.”