Thursday, September 18, 2014
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Norm Macdonald: B.C. Liberals are giving away our forests to their business buddies, NDP critic says

The Province blogs

Opinion

Residents and First Nations of British Columbia must not acquiesce to the B.C. Liberals’ agenda for privatizing rights to public timber on Crown land through the creation of more tree-farm licenses.

British Columbians own 93 per cent of the forests in B.C., a commons without parallel for size and abundance of ecosystem wealth, almost entirely comprised of unceded First Nations’ land.

The provincial government is the public’s trustee of this vast forest commons charged with administering and caring for it in the public’s interest — not in government’s interest or in private interests. But the B.C. Liberals have plans to reward their financial supporters.

Those plans are similar to what they sprang on the electorate for B.C. Rail, a publicly owned railway for 92 years until 2004.

Without social license, the B.C. Liberals privatized the assets of B.C. Rail while retaining public ownership of the rail tracks and the land beneath them. They leased exclusive rights to the use of the tracks to one company, the Canadian National Railway, essentially forever.

Likewise, in April 2013, the B.C. Liberals tried to pass legislation (Bill 8) that would enable government to rollover replaceable forest licenses into tree-farm licenses, effectively granting long-term, exclusive private rights to publicly owned timber while leaving the land under public ownership.

The public has always rejected the creation of these licenses. For half a century, the public has never realized the promised benefits from the licenses that were created.

When a public outcry once again roundly rejected the legislation to create more tree-farm licenses (Bill 8) prior to the 2013 B.C. election, the forests minister promised full, provincewide public consultation on tenure options to move away from the current volume-based system of allocating rights to public timber to a more area-based system.

The consultation now underway is not full, it is not provincewide and it is not public. It is designed to obtain feedback only on the government’s predetermined scheme to convert replaceable forest licenses (to cut timber) into tree-farm licenses — a proposal that will benefit only a monopoly of large companies and one that the public has repeatedly rejected.

The consultation also consists of only one-on-one conversations, predominantly with parties whom the government has selectively invited to participate. No opportunities exist for in-person public debate of this critical issue in the form of public hearings or town halls other than for First Nations.

If the government truly wanted to create more area-based tenures, the forests minister already has the legal authority to do so in the form of community forests, First Nation woodland tenures and woodlots — the creation of which would result in a more comprehensive forest management approach (incorporating non-timber values) and in a more diverse timber supply for local log markets.

When the minister intervened in the Burns Lake region in order to create “certainty” to get the Hampton Affiliates’ mill rebuilt after the devastating fire, he created a second community forest and a large First Nations’ woodland license.

Hampton Affiliates then rebuilt the mill without a tree-farm license, providing direct, current evidence that the licenses are not needed to attract investment for manufacturing facilities.

As the special committee on timber supply learned, tree-farm licenses are not about better forest management — they are timber farms.

This emphasis is stated most clearly in West Fraser’s current submission to the consultation leader in which the company makes it clear that it wants an expanded tree-farm license in the Quesnel timber supply area solely to increase its current allowable annual cut.

Climate-change impacts on our forests demand that we manage them for ecosystem resiliency, adaptability and diversity. This means we must move away from a single focus on timber.

As such, the creation of more “timber farm licenses” is the complete opposite of what our public forests and we need at this time and for the future.

Before any changes are made to B.C.’s tenure system we need a new vision for B.C. forests based on current, full-value inventories of our forest ecosystems.

Without a new vision based on the realities of climate change and on an accurate, up-to-date inventory, neither the government nor the public can meaningfully assess any proposed changes to the current tenure system.

Norm Macdonald is the NDP MLA for Columbia-Revelstoke and has been the opposition forestry critic since 2009.

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