British Columbia is unique in many ways, but one of the most significant is the fact that over 94 per cent of the province is made up of Crown Land. That means that the vast majority of our province is owned by the public.
This clearly is our greatest public asset. In fact, just the publicly-owned timber on these lands has been valued at $250 billion. If you take into account the total value of all the resources on our public lands the figure is near $1 trillion.
As rural residents, we can see daily just how valuable our public lands are. These lands are where we work, hunt, hike and fish. And we know that having this asset comes with responsibility.
Our responsibility is to manage our public lands properly, not just for today but for the future. Our priority must be to protect and promote forest health. A healthy forest has implications for future fibre supply, hydrology, and climate change. And doing the necessary work on our crown lands would create jobs here in rural B.C.
Over the last decade, the BC Liberals have let us down. Since 2001, Forestry staff have been cut by 25 per cent. Last year alone, forest stewardship budgets were cut by 19 per cent even though extra responsibilities for water stewardship had been added to this department. The budget for forest research has been completely gutted.
One key indicator of the state of our forests is a measure known as Not Satisfactorily Restocked (NSR) — deforested land which has not been adequately replanted. These are areas that have been deforested by wildfire, windstorms, disease and pests.
The Minister has conceded that as much as one and a half million hectares of B.C.’s forest land is deemed NSR. This is a shockingly high figure that has led to an investigation by the Forest Practices Board. Instead of dealing with this increasing problem, the BC Liberals changed the rules so that the government would not be legally responsible for replanting and then cut the reforestation budget by 90 per cent.
Yes, improving forest health will cost money, likely $100 million a year. But let’s compare that figure with the $500 million the government just spent on a retractable roof for BC Place, an investment with very questionable value, and certainly none for rural B.C.
Clearly a fancy new roof makes a better photo-op than planting seedlings.
Long-term investment in our public lands is just good policy but unfortunately that seems to be out of favour with this government.
Norm Macdonald is MLA for Columbia River – Revelstoke