Unpopular forestry legislation axed for time being

government decision not to proceed with controversial changes

A recent government decision not to proceed with controversial changes to B.C. forestry legislation is music to the ears of Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald and the East Kootenay environmental group Wildsight.

“I’m very pleased that the B.C. government has given up on the tree farm license rollover legislation for the time being,” said Mr. Macdonald. “I see it as an initiative of the B.C. government attempting to further privatize the public lands, and it’s been an initiative that I’ve fought against for the past three years.”

The proposed changes to convert some volume-based forest licences to new or expanded area-based tree farm licences met with strong public opposition when it was initially proposed in April of this year.

According to a government website, volume-based tenures typically allow multiple tenure holders to harvest in the same timber supply area, while area-based tenures, with some exceptions, limit timber rights to one tenure holder operating in a designated area.

It was the province’s second attempt to allow conversions, based on the rationale that more private investments on the land would be made if companies had more private property-like rights, thus enhancing timber supply, much of which was negatively impacted by the mountain pine beetle infestation.

Yet environmentalists regarded the move as a land giveaway to large companies, and Don Kayne, the CEO of forestry giant Canfor which operates both the Radium and Canal Flats sawmills in the Columbia Valley, also spoke out against the proposed TFL conversions, stating it gave unfair advantage to some companies over others.

“It’s an example of the worst type of legislation,” said Macdonald. “It was using legislation to settle political debts, for the BC Liberals and Christy Clark in particular, and it picked winners and losers amongst the companies that work on our public lands. At the same time, it took away our level of public control of public lands.”

“We’re glad to see that the government is not moving forward with this initiative and that they seem to have listened to British Columbians across the province that they didn’t want to see those public lands further privatized through that system,” said John Bergenski of Wildsight. “It’s come up now on several occasions and each time the government has sort of seen the light at the last minute and we’re glad that the research that was done did result in that (decision).”

The decision by Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minster Steve Thomson to not proceed with forest licence conversions was based on a report by former B.C. chief forester Jim Snetsinger, who, after extensive public consultation, recommended that creating more tree farm licenses should only happen with strong First Nations and community support.

“The government backed down for a few reasons I would say,” said Macdonald. “First, there was strong public resistance to tree farm license rollovers and I thank the many from the Columbia Valley who took the time to write government.”

He said namely retired foresters, Rod and Gun Club members, as well as  Wildsight members, were vocal with their concerns.

“I think the second reason was Canfor, a number of times, publicly stated objections to the tree farm licence rollovers and they made really compelling arguments. They were absolutely spot on in terms of what they said and Canfor is one of the biggest companies, they’re respected worldwide. I think that was a powerful part of why the government has stepped away for the time being, and then there were First Nations objections.”

Minister Thomson’s announcement, however, doesn’t take forest licence conversions off the table for good — only for the fall of 2014 and the spring of 2015.

“No doubt they  will try again, but this is twice they’ve been forced to back down,” said Macdonald. “It seems that the right thing has happened, even though it’s for the time being.”

Wildsight’s position is that responsibility for a management area can and should be achieved without resorting to a tree farm license system, and that sustainable management of B.C.’s 55 million hectares of productive forest lands can be achieved through a reduction of the annual allowable cut.

“I am absolutely convinced, and I know this from talking to a lot of professionals within the industry, that they’re really being pushed to go beyond what is really sustainable management in order to continue to maintain the elevated annual allowable cut,” said Bergenski, “and if we bring the annual allowable cut more in line with the values and what’s out there, I think it’s going to lead to sustainability long term in the industry, and I know that it’s going to make the people working in the industry much happier and able to feel that what they’re doing is actually, can be, positive.”