Forestry watchdog group updates Invermere council

Invermere council heard a presentation from the provincial Forest Practices Board at its council meeting earlier this month.

Invermere council heard a presentation from the provincial Forest Practices Board at its council meeting earlier this month.

Forest Practices Board chair Tim Ryan attended the Monday, July 11th council meeting to provide an outline of what the board is and how it operates.

Ryan, speaking after the meeting, told The Echo that the Board is an independent watchdog organization that grew out of the “War of the Woods” of the 1990s between environmentalists’ concern for old growth forests and the timber industry.The Board was created by the provincial government in response to the war, but operates of its own accord, reporting to the public and the legislature, not to a government ministry.

“Essentially, we act like a forestry auditor general,” said Ryan. “We also act as a forestry ombudsperson.”

In its ombuds role, the board deals with complaints from the pubic, follows up on them, and if warranted writes reports on the results.

“For auditing, we typically do 12 audits on big and small licensees a year, each of which takes about five or six months, and we deal with between 70 and 80 complaints, five to ten of which become full blown investigations, which each take 12 to 15months,” said Ryan. “On top of that, we do a number of special investigations, which are following up on trends we see in some of our audits, essentially trying to find out if what we see on a local scale with some of these audits is borne out on a province-wide scale.”

In addition, the Board conducts reviews of key policy decisions pertaining to forestry, to ensure they are in the public interest. “It also deals fairly extensively with Forest Stewardship Plans,” said Ryan, adding those are “the only place wherethe public really gets to provide comments on forest licensees.”

He said recently the Board has been working a lot on the Forest Stewardship Plans, trying to get them to be more specific on outlining who does what, where and when on a range of factors including biodiversity and water management (“the government has responded to these efforts in a positive manner,” said Ryan).

The Board has 21 staff members, including foresters, biologists, accountants and engineers, and often hires other contractors with specific expertise.

“We have released more than 500 reports and made more than 300 formal recommendations in our 20 years of existence,”said Ryan.

During the meeting, he also talked with council about wildfire interface management (which involves reducing the risk of forest fire to communities, by pro-actively managing the forest fuel in the areas just outside the communities), and wasp leased to hear that Invermere has more or less completed all of its interface work.

“Invermere is one of the few communities in the province to have actually done the work. The key looking ahead is toremember that this is not a one-shot deal, and this work will need ongoing maintenance, but certainly Invermere is wayahead of the game on this and that’s excellent,” Ryan said.

He also said Invermere benefits by having a former government forestry official Greg Anderson on council, saying it helps give council some insight into forestry issues.