BC extends deferral of old-growth logging to 2.1 million hectares and pledges greater First Nations cooperation

BC Forest Minister Bruce Ralston announces investments in the forest sector on February 15, 2023.  (CBC News - photo credit)

BC Forest Minister Bruce Ralston announces investments in the forest sector on February 15, 2023. (CBC News – photo credit)

British Columbia’s government on Wednesday announced new measures that will better protect old growth by working with First Nations while increasing investment to encourage innovation in an industry that has been plagued by job losses.

The province says it is expanding the deferral of deforestation to 2.1 million hectares, up from 1.7 million reported last spring, while introducing new innovations to better care for the forests.

“That’s an area equivalent to more than 4,000 Stanley Parks,” Premier David Eby said, adding that the recent delay shows that deforestation of mature trees is now at its lowest level on record.

“Our forests are fundamental to BC in partnership with First Nations and industry. We are accelerating our actions to protect our oldest and rarest forests,” Eby said in a statement.

“At the same time, we will support innovations in the forest sector so that our forests can provide good, family-supporting jobs for generations to come.”

Camille Vernet/Radio Canada

Camille Vernet/Radio Canada

The plans include $25 million for a new Forest Landscape Plan (FLP) to develop clear goals and outcomes for managing forest resource values ​​in a defined area.

Last May, the Department of Forestry announced a strategic review of old-growth stands and reported deforestation on about 1.7 million hectares, including more than a million hectares of trees most at risk of irreversible loss.

In expanding this review, the government announced that it would implement alternatives to clear-cutting, such as B. selective harvesting techniques, and it would repeal outdated legal texts that prioritize timber supply over issues such as water quality and wildlife habitat.

Since November 2021, the province has been working with First Nations to delay harvesting in old-growth forests. That same year, the BC NDP amended the Forest and Range Practices Act to replace its previous Forest Stewardship Plans.

According to the government, the amendment more closely aligns forest legislation with the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act passed in late 2019 and creates a more integrative approach to the care of BC’s forests by incorporating local Indigenous knowledge into forest management.

Camille Vernet/Radio Canada

Camille Vernet/Radio Canada

The new funds will be used to support eight regional forest landscape planning boards involving approximately 50 First Nations. The tables give hints where to harvest and where to build roads.

“For far too long, First Nations have been marginalized in this sector,” said Leonard Joe, CEO of the First Nations Forestry Council. “Today there are signs that this is changing.”

The government also plans to double the BC Manufacturing Jobs Fund to $180 million to help mills process smaller-diameter trees and produce high-value wood products such as bulk lumber.

The announcement comes after several weeks of job cuts in BC’s forest industry as companies scale back operations at mills across the province.

Last week, West Fraser Timber Co. announced it would temporarily halt operations at its Cariboo pulp and paper mill in Quesnel, BC, after announcing in January that it was closing its Perry sawmill in Florida due to high fiber costs and slowing lumber markets would be restricted indefinitely.

CBC News is tracking forestry job losses in 2023. Tap on the map below to learn more about closures and cuts:

Canfor also announced in January that it was eliminating one of its pulp lines in Prince George, permanently shutting down its sawmill and pellet plant in Chetwynd, and planning an extended shutdown of its Houston, BC, facility. The company says it is revising its strategy in the province to deal with a declining timber supply.

Around 700 employees are expected to be affected by the changes.

Figures from Statistics Canada show that BC has lost more than 40,000 forest sector jobs since the early 1990s.

The job fund was previously limited to projects outside of Metro Vancouver and the Capital Regional District on southern Vancouver Island. It is now valid nationwide.

“Extremely Significant”

Wednesday’s press conference follows a Council decision signed by Ralston in Victoria on Monday.

On February 13, amendments were made to the Province’s Forestry Practices Act that included the words “without undue reduction in timber supplies from British Columbia’s forests.”

The change could contribute to conservation and other values ​​in BC’s forests, according to Torrance Coste, national campaign manager for the environmental group Wilderness Committee.

“The [old] Language is extremely problematic and has long been a barrier to the conservation of other values ​​in forests, such as biodiversity or cultural resources or recreation,” Coste said.

“If this is the removal of all instances of this language, it is extremely significant, one of the greatest things BC NDP has done for the environment since he was in office.”

First Nations ‘optimistic’

Spuzzum First Nations chief James Hobart says he is “optimistic” about Eby’s announcement of working with 50 First Nations.

“In the past we were recognized but at the same time there was no intention to get involved,” he said.

“Right now I feel like because they opened the door, at least we have a way of holding them accountable. This is where my optimism comes in.”

While reports show a decrease in deforestation, Hobart says the reality on the ground is that there have been three more deforestation events in the past year.

“What I believe really needs to happen is honest data, honest mapping and honest information sharing with BC taxpayers,” he said.

“They deserve it.”

He hopes the new measures will improve relationships between forest companies and First Nations and pave the way for more direct engagement compared to communicating with outside consultancies.

“Because if they can’t answer questions that we have … it almost seems like the government is terrified to speak to us.”

Industry Support

The new measures are supported by the BC Council of Forest Industries (COFI), which represents the majority of BC’s wood, pulp and paper producers

“Today’s announcement includes positive steps to establish the necessary investments, framework and relationships to advance the way ancient forests are conserved and managed in the province,” President and CEO Linda Coady said in a statement.

Coady added that the steps taken to speed up the old growth review process will also support land use planning at the local level.

“Increased Indigenous and local engagement in land use planning at the regional level will help ensure forest health and biodiversity goals are met while providing more predictability for workers, communities and forest-related businesses across BC,” she said.

John Bergenske, Wildsight’s conservation director, said the changes in forest policy signal a shift in direction towards protecting forest biodiversity.

“After decades of forest management that prioritized timber supply over ecosystems and the health of British Columbia’s forests, Premier David Eby announced a transformation,” he said in a statement.


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