This is my response to Bill 21, the Forest and Range Practices Amendment Act. This amendment act is an important step in the right direction. By creating more frequent opportunities for public input, communities will be able to review and comment on forestry plans.
I’m pleased to rise today to speak to Bill 21, the Forest and Range Practices Amendment Act.
British Columbia has long been known as the province of hewers of wood and drawers of water. We’ve all seen the famous turn-of-the-century photographs of gigantic trees being logged. For generations, forestry has supported thousands of families in the province, just as for thousands of years our forests have, in turn, nourished the environment that we all depend on.
But our forests are no longer what they once were. Mills have closed. Jobs have been lost. And our forests are not being managed sustainably. Every year more and more of them go up in flames or succumb to pests. Every year forests that have been logged without proper review jeopardize community watersheds, endanger species, harm the local ecosystems and dump more carbon into our atmosphere.
The state of affairs has gone on for far too long, and the legislation before us today is overdue. As legislators, we have a duty to protect the public interest, not just for today but for generations to come. And it is with that in mind that I speak to this act today.
I’d like to begin by revisiting the Haddock report on professional reliance, which emerged in response to the systemic mismanagement of public resources. The review, published last summer, outlined in great detail the challenges that we face and provided 121 recommendations on how we can address them.
A significant portion of this review was dedicated solely to the forestry sector. Mark Haddock found that the Forest and Range Practices Act “is a somewhat unique approach to professional reliance…. Government’s reliance on forest tenure holders is much higher than in other natural resource legislation.” In other words, although the other natural resource sectors were already placing too much reliance on proponents to uphold the public interest, this was especially prominent in forestry.
Mark Haddock found that this reliance was based on four key factors. The information submitted to the government about decisions on the land base was limited. There were also limitations on the discretionary authority of decision-makers when approving plans and making orders. So the people charged in government with protecting the public interest were meant to do so with limited information and with limited available tools. The requirement for approvals for cutblocks and forest roads has been eliminated. Finally, the practice of tenure holders retaining and relying upon the opinions of a professional service was greater than in other sectors.
Mark Haddock summarized these factors with a statement from the Association of B.C. Forest Professionals. “Government should retain the authority to determine how resources are utilized and give clear, timely direction to professionals and resource users.”
It is clear that the status quo in B.C. forests was putting the public interest at immense risk by minimizing oversight and allowing companies to essentially self-police. The environmental, cultural and economic values that British Columbians care about have been compromised.
I do want to respond to the member for Nechako Lakes, who said that he’s questioning the need for increased input and that he has noticed very little input when opportunities have been provided. I’ve actually experienced the opposite. I’ve heard numerous stories from concerned communities across the province that they have gone on a walk one day to find tags on trees. They have found out too little, too late about what is going on in their community.
In Ymir, for example, logging decisions in the community have put their watershed into jeopardy. The decision to log had not taken into account how valuable the forest is to their very small drinking water watershed, and it hadn’t given them the heads-up. I understand they are in consultation now. However, they still fret deeply for the well-being of their drinking watershed and the future of their community. In the Kootenays, residents displaced by last year’s flooding wonder if logging in the region contributed to the severity of the waters that took their homes.
I had a conversation yesterday with Karen, who lives in Youbou. She’s deeply concerned about the proposed logging on the slopes above the town, worried about the impacts to drinking water, the impacts to water storage. Cowichan Lake is now sitting at 28 percent of its regular levels, and we’re in April, not August.
The questions that communities have, that people have, about decisions being made on our land base are actually numerous. I hear about them all the time.
It isn’t helping the bottom line of foresters either. Mills are closing as logs are exported in raw form. It would appear the system is benefiting very few. That’s why the amendment act on the table today is an important step in the right direction. By creating more frequent opportunities for public input, communities will be able to review and comment on forestry plans.
This review and comment period will reoccur each time a forest stewardship plan or woodlot licence is replaced, and that must happen every five to ten years respectively. In this way, if anything significant changes on the land base — for instance, if a watershed becomes critically endangered — those impacted could let government and licensees know.
Licensees will also be required to share a forest operations map containing approximate locations of proposed developments such as cutblocks and roads. These maps will also be subject to review and comment, and review and comment must be completed before the licensee can apply for permits to cut or build. No longer can logging roads be begun or cutblocks harvested without anybody knowing.
The change in language that includes protection for ecological communities marks a shift towards a more holistic way of evaluating the ecosystems in question. It is not enough to look at one species in a vacuum. Everything is interrelated, and that is a fundamental piece that our decision-making process has been lacking.
Of course, we’ll see in time if this legislation has been effective. If we are allowing public engagement with natural resource decisions, we need assurance that the feedback given to proponents and to government will actually be taken into account. It’s the difference between meaningful consultation and a rubber stamp.
If a community says, “No way. This will take away our clean water,” then something needs to be done to address that. That remains my most fundamental concern with this piece of legislation. Public review and comment must be meaningful.
There’s a lot more to be done before we can rest easy and know that our resources are being managed with the best interests of British Columbians — present and, most importantly, future — at heart.
On Vancouver Island, for example, 90 percent of the productive old-growth forests have been logged, and we’ve heard from the ministry that they have no intention of stopping. People are relying on those forests for everything from cultural significance to tourism to carbon sequestration and ecosystem services. We need to recognize and calculate those values. Old growth is far more valuable standing than it is exported as raw logs.
We’ve headed into another fire season. It’s already begun. I’m worried. I dread another dry summer shrouded in smoke, and yet, that’s what we’re expecting. On a hike just a few weeks ago off the Malahat in coastal rainforest, the forest was so dry that branches snapped off in my hands. Underneath my feet, the ground literally crackled.
My colleagues and I recognize the significance of the legislation before us today. We’re supportive of the shift towards transparency and oversight in our forests. But in many ways, we also know that this government often fails to consider long-term impacts. I’ve quoted Greta Thunberg many times, but her words come to mind again: “You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake.”
This legislation is good. It’s improving forest management in B.C. But it’s a far cry from the emergency action that we so desperately need. We are in an emergency. Summers are hotter and drier. Droughts are more severe. Impacts from climate change are growing more extreme, and our forests in B.C. are net emitters of carbon.
What we need is a new vision for our forests in B.C. — a vision that creates sustainable, healthy ecosystems and sustainable, healthy communities; a vision that ensures long-term employment, not just in harvesting and milling but in innovative, value-added products that will help to create an economy that serves B.C. communities.