B.C.'s forests open for business: minister
48 per cent of province declared 'working forest'
Craig McInnes Sound Off
Vancouver Sun; with files from Canadian Press
Thursday, January 23, 2003
(Stuart Davis, Vancouver Sun)
VICTORIA -- The provincial government is proposing to designate almost half the province as working forest to provide certainty for commercial interests.
"I'm sending a message to the investment community that British Columbia is open for business and that we're bringing certainty to the land base," Minister of Sustainable Resources Management Stan Hagen said.
He said the working forest will also create greater stability for the families and communities that depend on the forest industry.
Hagen released a discussion paper that proposes to include 48 per cent of the total area of the province -- about 45 million hectares -- in a working forest. That includes the 23 million hectares already considered part of the timber harvest land base and another 22 million hectares of Crown land that is not now being harvested for a variety of reasons.
The working forest designation will permit other commercial uses as well, including mining, ranching, tourism and recreation.
Hagen said environmental values will continue to be protected in the working forest and the new designation will not preclude the creation of new parks.
But it will mean that commercial values will have to be considered first.
"What this is going to do is make it fairer for the forest industry to determine where they are going to cut," he said.
John Allan, president of the B.C. Lumber Trade Council, said the working forest designation will be an important incentive.
"Because it's legally described now, it gives industry more certainty about what is in the working forest and what the rules would be within the working forest."
Allan expects the new designation will speed up the approval process for forestry firms.
"It was part of the original forest industry blueprint for competitiveness."
Environmentalists were calling the proposal a giveaway to corporations and an assault on the environment.
Ken Wu of the Western Canada Wilderness Society called it "perhaps the most sweeping anti-environmental forestry legislation in B.C.'s history."
Wu argued that the legislation that comes out of the discussion paper will include provisions that will make it very difficult to protect any new forest areas because they will require that the total amount of working forest be maintained.
That would mean that any commercial forest land lost to a new park would have to be replaced from an existing park.
Hagen confirmed that is a possibility but said details like that will be spelled out once the consultation period -- which ends March 14 -- is over.
"That might be one way of doing it but I'm not prepared to give an answer to that because we don't have the paper finished yet," he said.
Hagen said B.C. already enjoys vast parkland, with 13 per cent of its land base designated as park. He said decisions to introduce new parks over the last decade under the former New Democratic Party government did not fully consider the social and economic impact on local communities and industry.
"Now to create new parks it will have to come out of the working forest and there will have to be justification for it from an environmental standpoint, from a biodiversity standpoint," Hagen said.
Steve Crombie, the director of public relations for International Forest Products Ltd., said in principle the creation of a working forest could lead to more investment.
"Because there's been this lack of certainty or lack of clarity around land use, it makes it very difficult to make decisions in investing in the land base or reinvesting in our manufacturing operations," he said.
"We'll have greater confidence in being able to go logging to have the logs to create the products that we sell."
Jim Cooperman of the Shuswap Environmental Action Society argued that forestry companies do not need greater security because they already have long-term tenure on publicly owned land.
NDP leader Joy MacPhail said the proposal is a smokescreen to cover up the fact that Forest Minister Mike de Jong is working on forestry reform proposals that will give commercial interests more freedom to operate in ways that ignore the interest of local communities.
"Stan Hagen hopes to convey a sense that there is going to be prosperity in the future for rural communities. He talks about jobs and the communities but then you have Mike de Jong and his advisers, behind closed doors, planning for a forest restructuring that will mean an end for many forest jobs in B.C. and I think an end to many of the communities, too," MacPhail said.
Meanwhile, a coalition of union, environmental and community groups kicked off a campaign Wednesday to formulate alternatives to the Liberal government's forest policy, which they argue hands over too much to business at the expense of resource communities.
"Rural communities are hurting but the government's forest changes show Victoria's not listening," Hazelton Mayor Alice Maitland said in a release.
The Coalition for Forest Solutions wants continued public ownership and control of B.C.'s forests.
The government says the working forest designation will not limit treaty negotiations and First Nations will be consulted on land use decisions.
One environmentalist warned that the working forest designation will not prevent activists from trying to stop logging in sensitive areas.
"If ongoing operations have ecological consequences that the public doesn't accept, that debate continues regardless of what you want to call it," said Lisa Matthaus, forest policy analyst for the Sierra Club of British Columbia.
The discussion paper on working forests can be seen at www.gov.bc.ca/srm.
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