Public input discussed for forestry management

An interim report has revealed what Williams Lake residents and residents in other B.C. communities think about current forestry practices.

An interim report has revealed what Williams Lake residents and residents in other B.C. communities think about current forestry practices.

The report, released by the self-described non-partisan and volunteer-supported Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities group, found in Williams Lake residents expressed a desire for: government and industry to inform the public of forest management decisions and actions; better communication between forest companies and residents; the development of local solutions for local issues; ensuring the Cariboo Chilcotin Land Use Plan reflects the impact of the mountain pine beetle epidemic; encouraging the investment in forest lands management; retaining some revenue generated from regional forest lands; reducing conflicts among overlapping resources and tenures; developing a plan for long-term resilience and implementing Forest Practices Board recommendations.

The community consultation was held in Williams Lake, June 20.

To date Bill Bourgeois, initiative co-ordinator, and his volunteers have visited 15 communities across the province gathering input into current forest practices; he plans to visit more throughout the months of September and October before the final report is completed by the fall.

Bourgeois, a registered professional forester, created the group in January because of what he saw as concerns from forest professionals, environmentalists and First Nations regarding forest management.

“There were a number of people with a wide range of perspectives who were concerned that forest management and the future of the forests was not going to be as desireable as they thought. So, if we continued what we are doing right now then they were not comfortable with what the forests will look like in the longer term.”

Bourgeois says the concerns in Williams Lake were consistent with those heard in other communities.

“People wanted to have more say in the forest and the decisions that are made in the forest. They want to know what’s going on out there and more education and forest management and they want to have a diversified forest sector.”

Bourgeois says a problem with the Forest and Range Practices Act – that governs forestry operations in the province – is a perception of a lack of accountability.

The FRPA sets out objectives, is not prescriptive, allows for flexibility and results in general plans explains Bourgeois. Whereas the former act strictly laid out requirements.

Under the FRPA “…the plans that are submitted tend to be rather general so it’s unclear what the specific actions are going to be taken… It’s not that they (timber companies) haven’t planned out those actions it’s just that they don’t have to submit those to get approval. If you’re a concerned citizen you have to go into the forest company’s office and ask for those detailed plans.”

This, says Bourgeois, can lead to public skepticism about what’s occurring in the province’s woods.

What Bourgeois hopes will come out of the final report is public activism whether condoning or decrying current forestry practices.

“The expectation is that there will be enough people to voice their concerns and identify the issues and what they want as a community or as an individual that the polititicians and the companies will take notice of that,” he said.

“It really depends on how vocal the public are. If they say nothing then the politicians are going to assume that there is not a problem with what is going on. So really it’s up to the people to stand up and say what their concerns are and then the politicians and the companies will listen to that.”