Logging forest reserves shouldn’t be an option: HFHC co-ordinator

The co-ordinator of HFHC is calling on the B.C. government to remove the option of logging "forest reserves."

The co-ordinator of Healthy Forests-Healthy Communities: A conversation on BC forests (HFHC) is calling on the B.C. government to remove the option of logging “forest reserves” in its upcoming public consultations on the mid-term timber supply.

Bill Bourgeois, HFHC co-ordinator, says logging of the forest reserves is an “unwise and short-sighted option.”

He’s written his request to Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations Minister Steve Thomson, but doesn’t expect to hear back anytime soon.

“I haven’t received any response from an earlier letter either. I think he’s got a lot of letters coming in about various aspects, so I don’t anticipate hearing anything back for some time,” he says.

While Bourgeois is relieved to hear that government has agreed to hold public consultations on the mid-timber supply, Bourgeois is asking the government to remove forest reserves from the discussion because it will detract people from generating innovative ideas.

“It’s an emotional aspect for a lot of people and they tend to focus on that kind of issue instead of saying OK, there’s this bigger issue called mid-term timber supply, and what are the things we can do to address that particular one?” Bourgeois says.

Aside from emotions, he suggests it’s not a justified or economically sound decision to open up harvesting previously conserved areas.

“There’s a lot of public views against it so take it off the table. Then, in the public consultation, people will focus on other ideas. But whether the minister is listening or not, I’m not sure,” he says.

Responding to Bourgeois’s concerns, Thomson told the Tribune no final decisions have been made about the possibility of harvesting timber from areas that have been set aside for biodiversity, wildlife habitat and scenic values.

“Communities, First Nations and forest sector stake-holders will have an opportunity to provide input,” he says.

When asked if the option of logging previously conserved areas could be removed from the discussion, Thomson suggests that all options will be considered during the upcoming public engagement process.

“To remove any of the key issues from the discussion table would not be in the spirit of fair and open consultation,” Thomson says.

The Association of BC Forest Professionals (ABCFP) (http://www.abcfp.ca) outlines reasons conserved areas have been set aside in the past.

These include water quality, wildlife refuge and migration, recreation and tourism operations and the protection of old growth.

“We’ve been saying that we absolutely have to continue to practice sustainable forestry in B.C.,” ABCFP chief executive officer Sharon Glover says, adding many companies across the province are committed to sustainable forest management. Their shareholders and the international community understand that commitment.

The ABCFP believes any government consultation on the mid-term timber supply has to be vast, especially in communities that have been devastated by the mountain pine beetle.

If the government is planning on changing any objections, deciding or implying that they might be changing any conservation values that have been preserved by forest professionals, there needs to be wide community dialogue, with a very broad discussion, Glover says, adding conserved areas cannot be harvested without substantial impact on communities.

She describes B.C. as one of the most diverse places in Canada with more than 982 species designated as endangered or threatened by the province’s conservation data centre.

“Many of those are plants, but almost 200 of those are animals. Forest professionals and professional biologists work in very tricky situations in B.C. and they are mindful when they practice the laws concerning what you do around species at risk.”

Those practices are based on science, not politics, Glover insists, explaining there’s a three-legged stool to balance forestry — economics, environment and social values.

“You cannot decree all of a sudden that the rules we have been going by for years are no longer valid,” she adds.

Echoing Bourgeois’s request that the government focus on sustainability, the ABCFP also insists if there are going to be any changes, the public has to be consulted.

“Our members think in hundred-year spans. It’s incredibly important not to bow to short-term economic pressures,” Glover explains.

Anyone who has looked at the devastation of the mountain pine beetle is extremely concerned about what it means for jobs and communities, and the need to have a very long perspective and look at what other areas can be invested in for employment opportunities.

The ABCFP is proposing massive replanting of forests that have been devastated by mountain pine beetle to ensure a good, long-term supply of trees and good, healthy forests.

Giant forest fires have also compounded the problem, she notes.

Referencing programs in the 1980s where governments got together and decided that jobs needed to be created in the short term and forests needed to be replanted, Glover says companies and consultants participated to provided jobs.

“It was a stop-gap, but there’s a lot of precedent for government deciding that this is a direction to go to create jobs. It would be an investment in one of our province’s largest assets.”

One of the suggestions made in the leaked timber-supply document made public last month is the possibility of overriding the chief forester if necessary to make harvesting decisions.

It’s a suggestion that caused the forestry community to take a collective gasp, Glover recalls, adding it’s never been heard of.

“At the current moment the Foresters Act says only those who are members of the ABCFP can practice professional forestry. Things like setting the Annual Allowable Cut are the practice of a professional forester.

At the moment, the law says to implement the Foresters Act, one must be a member of the ABCFP so it wouldn’t be possible to override the chief forester.

However, Glover’s been reminded that governments can change laws, she says.

When Premier Christy Clark was in Williams Lake on May 4 she said “tough decisions” will have to be made.

“She’s right, it’s a complicated area, but I think we need to have consultation first and then figure out what decisions need to be made,” Glover says, adding she believes communities are resilient and will find their way forward so that as many people as possible don’t lose their jobs.

It is really important to separate politics from forestry because forestry is science based and it needs to remain science based, she says.

Bourgeois has posted 80 opinion pieces, letters to government and newspaper articles on the mid-term timber supply on the HFHC website (bcforestconversation.com) and says that in all but three cases views are negative against logging the forest reserves as a means to keeping mills open.