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  • The NDP’s recent revamping of forest legislation returns stewardship of BC forests to the government and provides powerful new tools for the public to make a difference


    The “unduly clauses” are gone. The public must now be notified about proposed logging before a cutting permit is issued and the public gets to voice their concern about every proposed cutblock. Now it is mandatory for a district manager to refuse to issue a cutting permit if doing so would “compromise” a government objective. Now is the time for citizens to act.

     

    RECENT CHANGES made by the NDP government to the Forest Act, the Forest and Range Practices Act and the Forest Planning and Practices Regulation may be good news for BC forests. But that “may” is conditional on the public getting its act together. Let’s start with the changes.

    At the heart of the changes is the new Part 3.1—Cutting Permits—in the Forest Act. Section 52.05 of Part 3.1 states that the minister “must refuse to issue a cutting permit” if the “issuance of the cutting permit would compromise a prescribed government objective.” The minister’s designate in individual forest districts is the district manager. Similarly, issuance of a cutting permit must be refused if the applicant has not made “publicly available a forest operations map before applying for the cutting permit”.

    By removing the “unduly clauses” from the objectives set by government in the Forest Planning and Practices Regulation (FPPR), the government has made it clear that potential impacts on timber supply can no longer be used by a district manager to decide to what extent an objective set by government must be met. Now, if a cutting permit would “compromise” an objective, a cutting permit must be refused.

    This, in effect, returns reponsibility for stewardship of BC forests back to the Minsitry of Forests. It has been in the logging industry’s hands since 2004.

    The reason these amendments could result in a sea change in the management of BC’s publicly-owned forests is that they could reduce the current rate of logging from one based entirely on a faux “allowable annual cut” that is technically flawed and politically determined, to one that is based, primarily, on ecological objectives. These new laws fit with the government’s declared intention to move logging in BC to ecosystem-based management.

    Before reading the recent changes to BC’s forest legislation (implemented on April 1), I was dubious about the depth of this government’s commitment to moving toward ecosystem-based management. Now, I think forest conservationists need to dig deep into the possibilities for change the new legislation opens up.

    Consider, for example, the objective set by government for wildlife and biodiversity at the landscape level in section 9 of the FPPR. The regulation now states: “The objective set by government for wildlife and biodiversity at the landscape level is, to the extent practicable, to design areas on which timber harvesting is to be carried out that resemble, both spatially and temporally, the patterns of natural disturbance that occur within the landscape.”

    In the FPPR, a logging company is exempted from the requirement to describe a strategy for how it will meet an objective set by government if it promises in its forest stewardship plan to abide by prescribed sections of the regulation. For the objective for wildlife and biodiversity at the landscape level, a logging company’s forest stewardship plan usually states that it will abide by sections 64 and 65 of the FPPR. The logging company doesn’t actually have to demonstrate that application of those regulations has had, or will have, the result—on the ground—of making their logging “resemble, both spatially and temporally, the patterns of natural disturbance that occur within the landscape.”

    Instead, all that was required was for a logging company to have a forest stewardship plan that promised to abide by sections 64 and 65. It it did, a district manager had to issue a cutting permit when one was requested.

    In the 20 years since the Forest Planning and Practices Regulation was implemented, a lot of information about whether sections 64 and 65 have been effective has accumulated in the Ministry of Forest’s RESULTS Openings database.

     

    WestofVictoriaincludingFairyCreek.thumb.jpg.488bc0a103d47ac4fa636afbbe4a7c82.jpg

    The ruined landscape just north of Fairy Creek, west of Victoria. Logging at this rate is far above that required by the Forest and Planning and Practices Regulation’s section 9 objective for biodiversity and wildlife at the landscape level.

     

    This database records, for example, the area of each biogeoclimatic zone variant that has been logged in a given landscape unit in BC. We can compare the loss of forest cover in each zone’s variants in a landscape unit with the loss that would be expected due to natural disturbance (the expected rate of natural disturbance varies greatly between biogeoclimatic zones and variants).

    If the area logged in a given period of time exceeds that which we would expect through natural disturbance, then the logging does not “resemble, both spatially and temporally, the patterns of natural disturbance that occur within the landscape.” In that case, the objective has been compromised. In such a case, according to the new section 52.05 of the Forest Act, the minister “must refuse” to issue further cutting permits.

     

     

    Over the past month I have been examining the RESULTS Openings data that covers the last 20 years for landscape units across BC. I have yet to find a case in which the record of area logged “resemble[s], both spatially and temporally, the patterns of natural disturbance that occur within the landscape.” In some cases, the difference between the objective and reality is dramatic.

    The science around natural disturbance has evolved significantly over the past 20 years. The current understanding of the spatial and temporal dimensions of natural disturbance in coastal BC are summarized by the 2020 Standards for Assessing the Condition of Forest Biodiversity under British Columbia’s Cumulative Effects Framework (see the table in Appendix 3 on page 52).

    In coastal BC, the average time between natural disturbances—known as the stand-replacing natural disturbance interval—ranges between 10,000 years and 500 years, depending on the biogeoclimatic zone variant.

    In the zone in which I live on Quadra Island—predominantly CWHxm (1 and 2)—the interval settled on by the Cumulative Effects Framework is 700 years. That means that for any given area of forest in my zone, it is likely to be naturally replaced, on average, about every 700 years. Not all at once, but stand by stand. If logging at the landscape level in my area is to resemble natural disturbance, then, the rate of logging in the landscape unit I live in can be no greater than 1/700 of the timber harvesting land base in the landscape unit area per year. (I ran this by forest scientist Dr Karen Price, an expert in natural disturbance. She agreed.)

    If the rate of logging in a landscape unit is greater than the rate of natural disturbance, then the logging is compromising the objective set by government for wildlife and biodiversity at the landscape level.

    Let me give you a real-life example of comparing the rate of logging in a landscape unit with what is allowed under section 9 of the FPPR.

    Most of the Quadra Landscape Unit is either in TFL 47 or is occupied by woodlot licence tenures. The latter are not required to meet the objective set by government for wildlife and biodiversity at the landscape level. TimberWest’s operations in TFL 47 are.

    TFL 47 occupies about 11,000 hectares on Quadra Island and its timber harvesting land base is about 7000 hectares.

    Based on that information we determined that the annual area of logging on the timber harvesting land base of TFL 47 in the Quadra Landscape Unit that would resemble natural disturbance at a natural disturbance return interval of 700 years is about 10 hectares (1/700 x 7000).

    But in the TFL 47 portion of the Quadra Landscape Unit in the 20 years between 2004 and 2023, 1694.5 hectares were cut, according to RESULTS Openings. That averages out to 84.73 hectares per year (1694.5/20).

    The average yearly cut (84.73 hectares per year) then is 8.5 times higher than the natural disturbance rate if the natural disturbance return interval used is 700 years.

    A rate of logging that’s 8.5 times faster than that called for by an objective set by government definitely compromises that objective, in our view. We expect to find that is not unusual throughout BC. No wonder Premier Eby has described BC’s forests as “exhausted”.

    Application of sections 64 and 65 of the FPPR by TimberWest in its forest stewardship plan have clearly not resulted in the outcome for conservation of wildlife and biodiversity at the landscape level sought by the regulation. We have used the last 20-year period because the area of TimberWest’s TFL 47 in the Quadra Landscape Unit has not changed during that time, and the Forest Planning and Practices Regulation has been in effect throughout.

    In the parlance of the newly-amended Forest Act, TimberWest has “compromised” the objective set by government for wildlife and biodiversity at the landcape level.

    And now we know, thanks to the recently developed Forest Operations Map portal, that TimberWest is planning to do more of the same. This is a powerful new tool that allows the public to know the location and the area of each cutblock and road segment that a company wants to log before a cutting permit or a road permit is issued, and allows direct public comment on those plans. The system is not perfect, but it is a tool we have never had before.

    What can we do with all of this?

    As a result of our analysis of over-cutting in the Quadra Landscape Unit, we wrote a letter to Campbell River District Manager Lesley Fettes requesting that she not issue cutting and road permits to TimberWest that would result in logging at a rate that is greater than would be the case if the objective set by government for wildlife and biodiversity at the landscape level was being met. Under the newly amended Forest Act, the district manager must not issue such cutting permits.

    We have prepared a complaint to the Forest Practices Board based on the above. We await Ms Fettes response to guide us on whether we file the complaint with the board.

    For any district manager in BC to refuse to issue cutting and road permits, they will need to be prompted by members of the public armed with accurate information about how one or more of the objectives set by government are being compromised in their forest district.

    This puts the onus on citizens concerned about conservation of forests to stand up and speak out. If we dont stand up and speak out, we will get more of what we have been getting. As Plato wisely advised, “Silence gives consent.” 

    If you do not feel confident that you can do the analysis required for your area of concern, you can still help. You can add your name to a letter that will be sent to your district manager regarding logging companies operating in your area that are going to exceed the natural rate of forest disturbance and compromise a government objective. Just email us your name, where you live, the logging company you are concerned about and we will do the analysis and send it to the appropriate district manager, copied to you.

     

    Parting thought

    There are 9 other objectives set by government for which unduly clauses have been removed and which the Forest Act now declares cannot be compromised. Each of those needs to be analyzed in terms of the actual results produced by the “strategies” logging companies have been using to get forest stewardship plans approved. The Evergreen Alliance is working at putting together a group of experts who can analyze those objectives and develop techniques for measuring the results of the past 20 years so that we can create an even deeper critique to communicate to district managers. If you can help, please contact us.


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    Thank you David. I truly believe you have explained a way in which the general public can take back control of their forests with your golden offer of assistance.  Carpe diem!

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    Great work, David. I, too, was skeptical about the Eby government's commitment to ecosystem-based management so it's good to see the unduly clause gone. For now, I'm going to give government the benefit of the doubt that the phrase "to the extent practicable" will not be abused to circumvent the intent of the legislation and regulations. Thanks for your analysis, David and your call to action. And thanks to Jennifer Houghton for bringing your article to our attention on the BC Forestry Reform FB page.

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