Tweets go a long way in public participation, Simpson says

Cariboo North Independent MLA Bob Simpson says a little tweet can go a long way.

Cariboo North Independent MLA Bob Simpson says a little tweet can go a long way.

On Tuesday the provincial government withdrew sections of Bill 8 that would have enabled the conversion of replaceable forest licenses into tree farm licenses.

While applauding the move, Simpson also said he’s learned a lesson on engaging citizens outside the legislature.

“On Tuesday, the provincial government responded to mounting public concerns by shelving its plans to make ‘sweeping changes’ to B.C. forest policy.”

That withdrawal came on the heels of a weekend where Simpson’s constituency office worked extensively with social media to launch opposition against the proposed license conversion.

There were 500 tweets using the hash tag — #stopbill8 —  and an online petition garnered 3,651 signatures within about 48 hours, while potentially as many as 3,000 e-mails were sent to the ministers involved, Simpson said.

“It’s an intriguing aspect because I started raising this before anybody knew any legislation was coming. Slowly we’ve engaged more and more people. My freedom from a political party system enabled me to work on public policy while the two main parties were ducking scandal after scandal.”

Simpson said Dunkley Lumber and West Fraser Lumber are both operating in his riding and both would like a roll-over of forest licenses.

“But when I worked with them through it and looked at the implications, we had a situation where they understood if this was done wrong then they wouldn’t get what they wanted at the end of the day. They agreed reluctantly that as much as they would like the roll over, this was not the way to do it.”

Bill Bourgeois, with Healthy Forests Healthy Communities, welcomed the government’s move because while he believes area-based tenures are a good idea, he said they are also complex.

“Seventy-five per cent of B.C. is in volume-based tenures so it’s not a trivial move to convert them to area-based,” Bourgeois said. “You need to have a fair bit of consultation and thought put into how you do that.”

The government has been wise to have more consultation on the topic before introducing any legislation and the delay will allow for a discussion on best how to convert licenses without rushing things through before an election, he said.

“Without modifications, the conversions won’t necessarily be positive and I fear if the government moved quickly with the backlash that was being generated, that the next government would probably have to remove it and there’d be another decade or more before the tool could be introduced or implemented.”

Under area based tenures, Bourgeois argued companies are given an area to operate in and be responsible for, not under volume-based tenures.

Currently volume-based companies require a company to plan the harvest, harvest, and regenerate to free growing, up above the competition.

“All the management after that resides with the government so government is responsible for that while being subject to four-year terms and annual budgets,” Bourgeois said, adding the forests decline as a result.

Government should be the regulator, but not the manager of the resource, he suggested.

“Government’s not going to have the money to invest in the land base because of the economics now and in the future so we have to find others to invest in the forest, but no one’s going to invest if they can’t be guaranteed a return.”

Simpson called on both the BC Liberals and the BC NDP to commit to a full independent public inquiry of forest policy and the state of BC’s forest resources, to begin immediately after the May election.

“The last inquiry into B.C.’s forests and forest policy was in the 1990s, and given all that’s happened with the mountain pine beetle epidemic, our shrinking timber supply, corporate concentration and control of log supply, and climate change’s threat to our public forests, we need a full public inquiry before considering any forest policy changes.”

Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Steve Thomson said “there is no need for a public inquiry.”

“Over the last 12 years, ministry policies have adapted to account for the mountain pine beetle infestation and climate change. For example, the Future Forest Ecosystem Initiative, Stewardship Action Plan for Climate Change, ongoing assisted migration trials, changing the Chief Forester’s standards for seed use.”

Simpson also renewed his call for the establishment of the Chief Forester as an independent officer of the legislative assembly.

“We need to stop politicizing our public forest,” he said. “It’s still our biggest renewable asset.”

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