Area-based tenures among items for special forestry committee to consider

Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett is pleased she's been assigned to the special committee to examine the mid-term timber supply.

Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett is pleased she’s been assigned to the special committee to examine the mid-term timber supply.

“I was the vice-chair and became the chair of Cariboo Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition and was with the coalition from day one. I understand the issue, I have lots of background and I have also worked with all the other coalitions over the past many years,” Barnett says.

She has seen many timber supplies and adds the declining numbers are not something new.

“We knew this was coming.”

The numbers have been there for a few years. It’s time to go back to the communities, to give them an update and hear their concerns over forestry issues and ask for their input on how to improve forestry on the landscape, she says.

“Is there a possibility we can increase the timber supply or do things differently? We’re out there to listen, we have a mandate, terms of reference, and we will be out there meeting with every stakeholder we possibly can over the summer.”

The terms of reference outlined for the committee are to specifically consider recommendations that could increase timber supply, including direction on the potential scope of changes to land-use objectives, rate of harvest and conversion of volume-based tenures to area-based tenures.

Bob Simpson, Independent MLA for Cariboo North, says he’s nervous about those terms.

“I don’t think they should be considering an increase in the timber supply. I had extensive dialogue with the ministers before the terms were drawn up and have told them we need to focus on the transition to a smaller, traditional forest industry.”

Simpson believes the province cannot avoid a downsizing in the traditional forest sector, so instead of propping up the industry by starting a fight over land-use plans and area based tenures, the committee should be going out to communities and asking what options exist to mitigate the “inevitable falldown in the cut levels.”

Weighing in, the Association of BC Forest Professionals is expressing optimism because the government is doing what it was asked by undertaking consultations in communities.

“We asked the focus to be on sustainability and from our look at the terms of reference it looks like that’s what they are going to do,” says ABCFP chief executive officer Sharon Glover.

Aside from appointing the special committee on timber supply, the Legislative Assembly has also appointed a technical advisory committee that will include former chief foresters Larry Pedersen and Jim Snetsinger.

“I know both of them personally as do most of our membership. They are both held in very high regard among forest professionals,” Glover says of Pedersen and Snetsinger.

When it comes to potentially changing the land-use objectives, Glover warns those plans were made with trade-offs by various people who worked on them many years ago.

She says the committee will have to be careful if it thinks of overriding those plans because people agreed to them in good faith. They weren’t negotiated easily, she explains.

While some area-based tenures already exist in some tree farm, community forest and woodlot licences within the province, the ABCFP membership is divided on whether there should be more of them.

From a stewardship perspective, the members are split on the issue of tenure reform because it’s very prickly, she says.

“If you know that you’re the only one getting the timber off the land then you will invest money in fertilization, thinning and all kinds of treatment to get the trees as healthy as possible,” Glover suggests.

Accommodation of First Nations rights and titles would also be a part of the discussion, says Randy Trerise, ABCFP’s registrar and director of act compliance.

“It goes back to their fundamental needs. If they are going to be getting tenure rights, which they are, would they prefer to have area-based as well? There may be some advantages if there are more area-based tenures available for the First Nations.”

Glover ensures the association will actively participate in the consultation.

“We are also going to encourage our members to participate because they have spent years studying the science behind forestry and are in the actual best position to provide advice on how ecosystems will react when harvesting takes place in areas we hadn’t previously anticipated taking place before.”

In the press release announcing the timber supply committee, the government notes the latest computer-modelling projections indicate about 58 per cent of the pine volume in the province may be killed by 2023, a statistic that is significantly less than the 80 per cent pine-kill that was projected six years ago.

While those projections have gone down, in certain areas like Quesnel and Williams Lake where there are higher percentages of pine forests, those percentages of pine-kill are going to be higher, Glover says.

The newly-formed committee met Thursday morning for the first time and chose John Rustad, MLA Nechako Lakes, as the chair and Norm Macdonald, NDP MLA Columbia River-Revelstoke and forest critic, as vice-chair.

Next the committee will meet two or three times to put together a work plan, schedule, and a website to let the public know what the committee is doing.

While she’s not a forester, Barnett says she’s had 40 years of experience living in the Cariboo Chilcotin and knows people from all facets of the forests — from foresters and loggers to trappers, hunters, ranchers, guiders and tourism operators.

“There’s so much out there that you have to understand and respect,” she says, admitting while it will be a daunting task, she’s ready for it.