The NDP government's tinkering with forest legislation is designed solely for the benefit of the logging industry.
BC Premier John Horgan is reinforcing privatization and overuse of forests on BC Crown land
IN NOVEMBER 2021, the BC government passed Bill 23, the “Forests Statutes Amendment Act,” claiming to revamp forest policy by putting “environment” and “people” first. Considering the wretched condition of BC forests, damaged by disease, fire, and the abusive practices of industrial logging, nothing could be more welcome than a change of policy in line with current ecological realities. For years, in fact for decades, those who love BC forests have longed for such an awakening. But does Bill 23 get us what we longed for?
The greatest part of the amendments refer to the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA), involving scrupulous tweaking of vocabulary and protocols around landscape planning, permitting and roading – all in the interest of timber extraction. The Bill neither updates nor consolidates the current patchwork of BC forestry laws in the Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) portfolio, nor does it make any clear, effective statutory statement in favour of the public interest.
Overall, the issues that BC citizens most care about are not addressed in Bill 23.
There is no mention of tenure reform. Crown lands, our provincial commons, remain de facto privatized by logging companies whose only goal is profit.
No innovative logging practices are required of industry. The antiquated and devastating method of clearcutting remains firmly in place (the cheapest method), as well as monoculture for replanting and chemical spraying, rather than an enlightened eco-forestry approach.
No protection of old growth from further logging and from BC Timber Sales affecting old growth areas.
No change regarding raw log exports.
No changes to prevailing allowable annual cut (AAC) determinations; no concern about actual sustainability of forest resources.
No mention of carbon emissions from industrial logging or obligations regarding effects on climate change, i.e., no mitigation, no restoration-strategies, no decarbonisation.
No reference to the input of science; no concern for biodiversity; no protection of species-at-risk; no reference to habitat loss caused by clearcutting (couldn’t anywhere locate the word habitat, as forests contain nothing but timber).
No protection of watersheds; no protection of water itself; no concern for flooding, drought, soil erosion or pollution of water caused by inept logging.
Continued adherence to the much-criticized and morally compromised Profession Reliance Model that empowers RPFs employed by logging companies to make site choices and draw up cutting-plans.
No legislated process for community input before cutting plans are approved and no legal right of challenge by local residents directly impacted by such plans.
NOTE: In Bill 23, there is a significant expansion of executive powers devoid of opportunity to comment on new regulations or orders before they are issued. Also, with all the fine talk about Indigenous participation in forest planning, final decisions are firmly in the grip of the chief forester. Indigenous parties are welcome to take their objections to court.
The expanded governmental executive power will impinge on the fundamental rights of all BC citizens, First Nations, and members of the press, who are no longer free (without permission from the Ministry) to set foot on roads located on Crown land in order to monitor the activities of industry, whether pipelines, transmission lines, road builders, or police enforcement operations.
Considering the above review, are we to believe that Bill 23 revamps forest policy so as to put “environment” and “people” first?
On the contrary, Bill 23 is a set of amendments designed solely for the benefit of the timber industry. Its saccharine promises, directed at a naïve public, is meant to say: “Now go back to sleep, honey, we’ll take care of everything.”
Van Andruss is a Bioregionalist who lives with his family in the Yalakom Valley. He is co-author of Home: A Bioregional Reader, The Life of Fred Brown, and a series of BC place-oriented anthologies called Lived Experience.