Consultation promised on forest license conversions

The B.C. government has no intention of doing anything behind closed doors.

The B.C. government has no intention of doing anything behind closed doors or engaging in a process that doesn’t have full community consultation if any volume-based licenses are converted to area-based tenures, says Forest Minister Steve Thomson.

“We are responding to recommendations of the mid-term timber supply committee,” Thomson said Thursday, Jan. 31. “It was very clear in our response to the recommendations that it would require consultation with stakeholders, First Nations and local communities. That would be one of the requirements of any proposed conversion.”

Thomson was responding to , Cariboo North Independent MLA Bob Simpson’s Jan. 30 column, “Privatizing our Forests.”

In the column Simpson is critical of the government’s plan to introduce legislation in the spring to allow for the conversion of forest licenses because it will give “forest companies exclusive rights over public forests without the checks and balances of governing laws and regulations.”

Thompson insisted there would be a regulatory and policy framework in place to implement any conversions.

He confirmed he wants to bring legislation forward in the spring to allow for converting licenses. However, he suggested any conversions will have to satisfy public interests.

“The ministry’s Mid-Term Timber Supply Action Plan directly responds to all the recommendations made by the special mid-term supply committee. The committee’s report included recommendations specific to Hampton and Burns Lake, as well as recommendations for the larger mountain pine beetle impacted areas. The committee report and the ministry’s action plan recognize that each community is unique.”

University of Northern B.C. professor and program chair of ecosystem science and management Kathy Lewis said the success of any conversions will depend on the objectives and on who holds the tenure.

“If it’s so a large company can make dimension lumber and know what its timber supply is, then they would, according to them, invest more to ensure the timber supply was there for a long period.”

If the objectives are to support communities, then community forests, which are also area-based tenures, can be used to support smaller independent sawmills and non-timber products.

Lewis said there are concerns about large companies having area-based tenures and it will depend on what type of legislation is rolled out and what type of regulations are put in place beforehand or if they are going to be mostly policy driven.

“I think there are some disagreements about what the people who made contributions to the timber supply review committee actually said. When I read through the submissions and the reports, it seemed to me that most people were thinking that area-based tenures may be a good way to go, but an awful lot of consultation is necessary and an awful lot of laying out of how that might work is necessary.”

Lewis said she’s a huge proponent of having more community forests and more First Nations tenures around First Nations communities, so that local people have an input on what is happening on the land base around them, she said.

“I’m not as much of a big proponent of moving to a bunch of tree farm licenses that give sole jurisdiction to a company that’s serving a single purpose. That’s my opinion, but I think those were fairly common opinions in the submissions made to the committee.”