The government’s 11 new recommendations to increase the mid-term timber supply are being met with mixed reactions by Cariboo Chilcotin politicians.
Last week the Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations released a series of recommendations, ranging from more community engagement around forestry, introducing legislation to enable the conversion of volume-based to area-based forest licenses, to perhaps opening up designated sensitive areas.
The recommendations follow a series of meetings hosted by a special committee on mid-term supply that toured the province to hear from a range of stakeholders.
During a press conference held for media Oct. 9, Minister Steve Thomson said now that the mountain pine beetle infestation is running its course, the government will update its forest inventory and reforestation plan.
“The rapidly changing situation in our forests, dictated that we hold off updating those plans until the situation stablized. Now we can proceed,” Thompson said.
Parliamentary secretary for forestry, John Rustad, who chaired the special committee on mid-timber supply, said moving to area- based tenures is something he’s pleased about; however, he cautioned it will have to be done carefully and slowly.
“It will be a great benefit for what we can potentially do for growing more fibre and more value on the land base.”
The utilization of non-sawlog components, is another key point, Rustad said.
“To truly utilize marginally economic stands, which has enormous potential to reduce the impact of the mountain pine beetle epidemic on our midterm fibre supply, will become more important over the coming years for our bio-economy.”
Weighing in on the recommendations, Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson is critical of the government’s plan to rethink the inventory over the next ten years, while proceeding to make decisions right away.
“You juxtapose the fact that there’s an admission here that they don’t have the inventory required to manage the public forest, but they’re going to make fundamental decisions about increasing public access to that forest today to keep today’s industry going,” Simpson said, adding it’s a recipe for disaster.
“We’ve seen this movie before everywhere that we put economics and community dependency ahead of what the natural resource is capable of providing on a sustainable basis.”
It’s not new territory, Simpson said, comparing it to forestry and fishing in Eastern Canada and farming land in the Middle East.
“Throughout history we have always extinguished the resource in the name of economics and stability. That’s what they’re doing today.
“There’s not creativity or innovation here. It’s an eleventh hour panic. I, and I am certainly not alone, have been asking for a more reasonable, thoughtful, forward-looking response since 2005 when I was first elected.”
Simpson said the recommendations are all about justifying rebuilding the mill in Burns Lake.
“Because that begins to establish the precedent for everywhere else, you have this overarching change. Area based tenure — absolutely, I’ve been an advocate, but not the way this government is going to do that, where they’re going to give the cabinet the power to award an area-based tenure in order to get a mill rebuilt.”
It will establish a legal precedent that everyone else will come after them for, he warned.
Tsilhqot’in National Government chair, Anaham chief Joe Alphonse cautioned forestry companies and the government the need to properly consult with all resource users.
“Take for example the amount of fuel out there that has to be dealt with. We’d like a huge fire guard logged around our community and any other community that’s out in the Chilcotin where it’s needed. Companies have to commit to logging beyond the areas close to Williams Lake and quit using the economy as an excuse,” Alphonse said.
His community was evacuated in 2009 and twice in 2010 because of fires. There has to be a plan to deal with the fuel that’s out there, he said.
“BC forests have an estimated value of one trillion dollars,” NDP candidate Charlie Wyse said.
“The Liberal government has failed to invest adequately in BC forest’s inventory, silviculture and tree planting over the last 11 years. The Forest Practice Board and BC’s Auditor General have criticized the Liberal’s inept stewardship regarding BC’s forests and its health. In 2011, the Liberals stood by while a record number of interior logs representing thousands of jobs for forestry workers were exported. Similarly in 2005 and 2006, the Liberals stood by while the coastal logging industry spiraled into crisis.”
Defending the recommendations, Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett said nobody is going to go into any old growth or constrained areas without having local community input.
“Any resource management plans will go back to communities and will be science-based. Other than that we have no intentions of going back and touching these sensitive areas, as the Opposition is saying.”
In rural BC, Barnett said, so many uses of the land have to be taken into consideration.
“Our tourism operators, ranchers, trappers, our habitat, and our ecosystems all have a stake.
“When you take into consideration the pine beetle infestation, it’s difficult to balance,” Barnett added.