Forestry report recommends mediation, action

One local rancher is frustrated, predicting the recently released Forest Practices Board’s annual report will “fall on deaf ears.”

One local rancher is frustrated, predicting the recently released Forest Practices Board’s annual report will “fall on deaf ears.”

Randy Saugstad’s complaint of logging practices around his Big Creek ranch were highlighted in the report written by the independent body that oversees forest and range practices in the province.

The FPB recommended a mediation process be developed to deal with “direct overlapping interests of tenured land and forest resource users.” The same recommendation was made by the board in another report concerning forestry practices in Vanderhoof.

The second recommendation suggested that the government take action to assist Saugstad should changes in flow conditions in the creek impact buildings and irrigation infrastructure on the property.

Saugstad’s concern is that, during the spring months, run off due to nearby cut blocks wreaks havoc with his operation. He blames forestry legislation, the pine beetle epidemic and a push to cut beetle-kill trees while they are still economically viable, and the economy for what he’s seen occur on nearby Crown land.

Saugstad says he’s witnessed the two extremes of run off throughout the spring that causes flooding and a drying up in the summer because all the water has left the land. More recently he’s seen his creek dry up in the winter months. He attributes both to nearby logging activity.

The Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Resource Operations has indicated the harvesting in that area complies with its legislation.

However, the board’s investigation into Saugstad’s complaint concluded that, “…there is a fundamental weakness in the Forest Range and Practices Act (which governs forestry operations in the province) that allows one tenure holder to hold the power of decision over another tenure holder. This is of particular concern when conditions on the landscape are already highly degraded due to past disturbances such as logging, insect damage or fire.”

Saugstad says the board is now investigating a second complaint on his ranch — the drying up of the creek during the winter months.

He’s not hopeful it will have any impact in terms of a favourable outcome in either case.

“What good is the recommendation if nobody follows it,” he says. “It goes to Victoria and gets put on a shelf and the local Ministry of Forests has no authority to follow it. It has to come from government and they just ignore it. It’s very frustrating and it’s not the Forest Practices Board’s fault. They are doing their job and it’s just being ignored at a higher level.”

Rob Thomson, manager of audits and investigations for the FPB, says the provincial government has replied to the board’s recommendation of mediation, noting that it believes the FRPA framework adequately addresses the competing interests of tenure holders.  Regarding that issue, the board is taking a wait-and-see approach to how forests are managed under the newly created ministry of forests, lands and natural resource operations.

The board’s recommendations are not binding on government.

In its report the board notes that in 2004 there was a change in the process for planning and approving forest practices. Under the current Forest Range and Practices Act, licensees have the responsibility for deciding what forest practices are consistent with government’s legislated objectives; under the former code, licensees were required to receive approval for specific cutblock plans. Under the FRPA the ministry’s only involvement in planning is to review the licensee’s forest stewardship plan to determine whether it is consistent with the government objectives stated in the FRPA.

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