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Is David Eby's government making a paradigm shift on BC's forests?

David Broadland

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On February 15, 2023, BC Premier David Eby announced a number of new measures on old growth, innovation and forest stewardship. Those initiatives are captured in the press release below. How do you interpret these initiatives? Will this launch the paradigm shift needed to end the 22-year long reign of industrial terror in BC's forests? Or is it just more thinly disguised talk-and-log?


Office of the Premier
Ministry of Forests

B.C. introduces new measures on old growth, innovation, forest stewardship

VICTORIA - The B.C. government is launching new measures to protect more old growth by fast-tracking innovation and co-developing new local plans with First Nations to better care for B.C.'s forests.

"Our forests are foundational to B.C. In collaboration with First Nations and industry, we are accelerating our actions to protect our oldest and rarest forests," said Premier David Eby. "At the same time, we will support innovation in the forestry sector so our forests can deliver good, family-supporting jobs for generations to come."

At the centre of the eight-point plan is $25 million for new Forest Landscape Planning (FLP) tables that will drive improved old-growth management while incorporating local knowledge and community priorities. Enabled by 2021 amendments to the Forest and Range Practices Act, forest landscape plans are a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to forest stewardship that will replace existing, industry-developed plans.

In response to requests from First Nations for more in-depth discussions about old growth, this funding will support eight new regional FLP tables with the participation of approximately 50 First Nations. These tables will prevent harvesting in old-growth forests important for ecosystem health, biodiversity, clean water, carbon storage and Indigenous values. They will also provide greater certainty about the areas where sustainable harvesting can occur to support jobs and investment.

The announcement also includes ramping up government investments to support innovation in the forestry industry. The Province is doubling the new BC Manufacturing Jobs Fund to $180 million and expanding eligibility province wide. The BC Manufacturing Jobs Fund will, for example, support mills to process smaller-diameter trees and manufacture higher-value wood products, such as mass timber. It will accelerate shovel-ready projects across the manufacturing ecosystem that will bring direct benefits and stable, family-supporting jobs to communities throughout the province. Previously, the fund was restricted to projects outside of the Metro Vancouver and the Capital regional districts.

"As we work to protect more old growth, we know we need to accelerate our efforts to build a stronger, more innovative forestry industry that better shares the benefits with workers and communities. Forestry is a foundation of B.C.'s economy," said Bruce Ralston, Minister of Forests. "That's why we are doubling provincial investments to help mills retrofit to get off old-growth logs and manufacture more high-value wood products right here in B.C., so we create more jobs from every tree."

Additional actions to accelerate implementation of the Old Growth Strategic Review during the next year include:

[1] developing and implementing alternatives to clear-cutting practices, such as selective harvesting techniques, that better support forest resiliency, ecosystem health and climate adaptation, through a new $10-million silviculture innovation program;

[2] repealing outdated wording in the Forest and Range Practices Act regulations that prioritizes timber supply over all other forest objectives, like water quality, wildlife habitat and biodiversity;

[3] increasing Indigenous participation in co-developing changes to forest policy through $2.4 million provided to the First Nations Forestry Council;

[4] protecting more old-growth forests and biodiverse areas by leveraging hundreds of millions of dollars of philanthropic donations to fund conservation measures supported by the Province and First Nations, through a new conservation financing mechanism to be set up within six months;

[5] enabling local communities and First Nations to finance old-growth protection by selling verified carbon offsets that represent long-term emission reductions through the new Forest Carbon Offset Protocol 2.0, which will be finalized this year; and

[6] completing the Old Growth Strategic Action Plan by the end of 2023, to be developed in collaboration with First Nations and in consultation with stakeholders.

Since November 2021, the Province has been engaging with First Nations about deferring harvest within old-growth forests. Deferrals have now been implemented on approximately 2.1 million hectares of old growth. As recommended by the Old Growth Strategic Review, deferrals are intended to prevent biodiversity loss while the Province, First Nations and other partners develop a new, long-term approach to forest management that prioritizes ecosystem health and community resiliency.

The Technical Advisory Panel recommended that the Province implement deferrals within 2.6 million hectares of forests identified as most at risk of biodiversity loss. An additional 1.4 million hectares was already permanently protected.

Since November 2021, 11,600 hectares have been harvested while engagements with First Nations were underway. This is equal to less than 0.5% of the area recommended for deferral.

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Guest Anthony Britneff

The announcement that the provincial government has removed the clause in the Forest Range and Practices Act that says that non-timber values like biodiversity can only be conserved if they don’t “unduly reduce the supply of timber from British Columbia’s forests” is symbolic only. 

In practice, the forests ministry limits constraints by non-timber values on timber supply when it conducts timber supply reviews (TSR) for the determination of allowable annual cuts (AAC). AAC determinations  are a statutory obligation of the chief forester, who is guided by a letter of expectation from the forests minister outlining government objectives.  The chief forester's AAC determinations cannot be fettered -- this would include an applied policy to limit the constraint that non-timber values have on timber supply during the timber supply review (TSR) that informs an AAC determination. 

After Andrew Petter, the forests minister, had introduced the Forest Practices Code of BC Act (1995), which preceded the Forest and Range Practices Act (2002), the Harcourt NDP government initiated a six (6) percent cap as policy to limit the impact that non-timber values (e.g., water, soil, biodiversity, visual quality) could have on the province's timber supply.  

Since the Harcourt government (1991), the G. Clark (1996), Miller (1999), Dosanjh (2000), Campbell (2001) C.Clark (2011), Horgan (2017) and Eby (2022) governments have all (knowingly or unknowingly) applied the six (6) cap policy through timber supply analysts at the forests ministry, who perform the timber supply reviews.

Originally the Harcourt government set the overall cap at 6 per cent. However, the biodiversity measures increased the impact on timber supply to 8 per cent. In order to reduce the overall cap to 6 per cent for all non-timber values including biodiversity, the forests ministry reduced the impacts for visual quality to gain back the 2 per cent.

This is the unwritten, behind-the-scene policy that needs to be changed. Until the provincial government is forthright and open about how in practice it constrains timber supply to conserve non-timber values like water, soil and biodiversity, the removal of the "unduly" clause is just fluff and changes nothing. 

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Guest Len Vanderstar

The provincial government just announced initiatives to prop up the forest industry and forest conservation, but will the two actually harmonize?
… developing alternatives to clear-cutting practices …Time to implement the work of Dave Coates, Phil Burton, Suzanne Simard, Jim Pojar, Len Vanderstar and others have done; we know how to implement this.
… support mills to process smaller-diameter trees; doubling provincial investments to help mills retrofit … Where will will these smaller diameter trees come from? … higher elevation and more marginal timber stands, relatively young plantation trees, primary forests? Will this result in more trees going to wood pellet plants, thus accelerating the climate and biodiversity crisis?
… selling carbon offsets … a standing mature/old-growth forest is already doing its part in carbon absorption; if we are to be true to forest carbon offsetting, we should be looking at deforested areas and getting them back to greening the planet.

Let’s give the government the benefit of the doubt and help them ensure that their initiatives actually harmonize; we have some awareness and education in front of us while we try to stave off exploitative agendas that have resulted in the loss of vast amounts of primary old growth forests.

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Thanks for your comment Anthony and your detailed examination of point [2] of Eby's announcement. I recently wrote about the "unduly clauses" in the Forest and Range Practices Act and the hidden administrative cap on how much conservation measures are allowed to impact timber supply. Those clauses are just part of a complex set of legislative and administrative conditions that have led to the current state of what Eby himself has called BC's "exhausted" forests.

Your analysis suggests that just changing the legislation "changes nothing" and I agree with you. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that the timber supply impact constraint is applied during the timber supply review process. And, until that process changes, removing the "unduly clauses" won't have any affect.

But there seems to be something else going on with the AAC that no one is talking about, and the impact of this is so great that it completely negates the 6 percent constraint.

The current provincial AAC is, officially, 60,371,608 cubic metres per year. This is the volume that, officially, can be cut on Crown land over a period of a year.

For this past year, which included a significant period of record high market prices for forest products (the second big hump in the price record below), the actual volume cut on Crown land—according to the Forests Ministry's Harvest Billing System— was about 44 million cubic metres.




The difference between the official AAC and the actual cut—in a relatively good market year—was more than 16 million cubic metres below the official AAC.

The 6 percent limit on the impact of conservation measures on timber supply would only amount to 3.6 million cubic metres.

To me this demonstrates that the official AAC—and the timber supply reviews that determine the AAC—have become so outdated and irrelevant that they can't be relied on—for anything. BC's forests are, as Eby has acknowledged, exhausted.

That acknowledgement alone gives me some hope that David Eby is no John Horgan, and that if big change can happen Eby might very well be the politician that can pull it off.

I think we need to help him build on the new foundation he is starting to put together, beginning with how to grow protected areas in BC to 30 percent by 2030. That doesn't mean, though, that we should stop describing the almost endless number of instances in which the industry continues to degrade our life support systems.

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Len and David:  Although the removal of the "unduly' clause is symbolic, I agree that it might be a signal from premier Eby of better forest policy and management to come . . . we shall see.  But the premier's announcement is not a paradigm shift from "business as usual" (oligopoly, clearcutting and subsidies). 

Prior to 1978, the BC Forest Service managed provincial forests by eighty-one public sustained yield units (PSYU). By the early 1970's many PSYUs were badly overcut. 

Around 1978, the then director of forest inventory, Frank Hegyi, who had good technical foresight, wisely planned to increase the scale of resolution of the forest inventory from public sustained yield units (PSYU) to smaller landscape units.  The Inventory Branch had delineated landscape units for the province.  Former deputy minister, Mike Apsey (newly arrived from the CEO position at COFI) disallowed this change. 

Apsey had different plans: to decrease the scale of resolution of forest inventory, planning and management from eighty-one PSYUs to thirty-six timber supply areas (TSA), thereby averaging the AAC over large TSAs that included overcut and undercut PSYUs. 

As I understand the proposed Forest Landscape Plan in premier Eby's announcement, areas of primary forest to be conserved and areas where logging is planned will be spatially defined.  That is good in itself. 
But the devil in the detail for the new Forest Landscape Plan will be the estimation of timber supply because the  inventory and the timber supply review (TSR) process that inform allowable annual cut (AAC) determinations are outdated.  Also, the forest ministry’s growth-and-yield models for the estimation of timber volumes are statistically inappropriate for use at the polygon scale of resolution for landscape units.  
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Guest Robert Hart

A layman’s review of the government’s latest press release on Old Growth:

  • It announces the doubling of a major industry subsidy to retool to second-growth.  So the big players are still seen as the primary players even though they created this mess.
  • It then announces a very minor fund to support innovation in variable retention.  So it does not walk away from clearcuts.
  • It gives no clear numbers of Old Growth to be permanently protected for ecosystem restoration, let alone as a partial response to the climate emergency, nor does it even make a commitment to keep the Old Growth that is within deferral areas there until we have developed a biodiversity-centred plan.
  • It does not yet recognize, through concrete action with licensees, that a continuation of clearcutting and a maintenance of plantation forestry continually degrades the harvestable landscape, leading to major, continuing  carbon emissions, increased risk and severity of fire and floods and species loss.  In other words, there is no recognition that forest monocultures are not sustainable and the paradigm is collapsing. 
  • There is no mention of the pellet industry’s increasing consumption of intact forests.
  • While there is a welcome beginning to landscape planning involving Indigenous communities, there is no commitment to include all communities and stakeholders in planning, (community involvement is mentioned twice and in passing), let alone to build an ongoing community-based monitoring role into such planning. 
  • There is no recognition that swinging government subsidies to communities rather than industry could develop vibrant, resilient community economies based on sustainability instead of profit.  A very good resource on this subject is John Restakis’ new book just out via New Society Publishers, www.newsociety.com, Civilizing the State, Reclaiming Politics for the Common Good
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I am also concerned about the $10 million dollar subsidy to the forest industry for: " developing and implementing alternatives to clear-cutting practices, such as selective harvesting techniques, that better support forest resiliency, ecosystem health and climate adaptation, through a new $10-million silviculture innovation program;"

On what, and how—exactly—will these millions of dollars be spent? Most all forest professionals in BC took Forestry 301 (or whatever course number Silviculture was) in college or university and learned what the various silviculture systems were—including selective and/or variable retention harvesting and how to apply them.

So who will get these funds and why? Perhaps to develop a refresher course in selective harvesting? Or what?

Many entities, like woodlot, Community forest licensees and private forest-land owners in and across BC, have consistently harvested the timber under their jurisdictions via some form of selective and/or variable-retention harvesting.

Will any of the $10 million dollars accrue to these operators to recognize, encourage and perhaps even reward their good performance in this regard?  Or will it be awarded and accrue to those entities that have have used clear-cutting or seed-tree with clear-cutting over most to all of their tenures?

If so, then this is rewarding bad behaviour which would be very inappropriate.  However, this has, unfortunately, been the modus operandi of the BC government for far too long. Surely it will not continue.

I sincerely hope that these funds are allocated and spent in a manner that ensures that such expenditures and associated works are wisely, judiciously and fairly used and implemented.

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Guest Herb Hammond

I agree that the Bulkley Valley Centre is an excellent research institution, backed by excellent scientists with years of experience.  However, we do not need to research "innovative practices that better address forest resiliency, ecosystem health and climate adaptation," as much as we need to apply what we know across the full range of forest ecosystems.  We can research the application of different approaches to logging as we proceed with ridding ourselves of the dominant forestry paradigm of clearcut/short rotation plantation forestry.

In the face of ongoing industrial timber extraction, time is short to protect what remains of healthy natural forest ecosystems.  All primary forests that remain need to be protected.

Where logging proceeds in second-growth forests we can apply what we know about partial cut systems that maintain and restore forest health, protect old-growth forest attributes, provide for ecological resilience, and furnish a diversity of wildlife habitat; and provide for climate adaptation.  These are lofty goals that will take a long period to fully achieve.  As we pursue these goals, we can conduct applied research to analyze results and make changes through adaptive management.

But we do not want to delay wide application of what we already know about ecologically responsible partial cutting.  Keep in mind that no one conducted extensive research about the efficacy and impacts of clearcuts and tree plantations.  Foresters and timber companies simply embraced this approach to timber exploitation as the fastest and cheapest way to turn trees into logs.  Similarly, foresters and timber companies shied away from using principled partial cutting systems because they cost more than clearcutting.

We need to recognize that application of ecologically responsible partial cutting and natural regeneration will be an immense improvement over today's status quo industrial timber management. So, let's get on with it and research improvements while we apply a new relationship with timber in forests.  Let's not get stuck waiting years for research results, while forests continue to be degraded.

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Guest Trevor Goward

Thanks Herb

You've nailed it:

"...we do not need to research "innovative practices that better address forest resiliency, ecosystem health and climate adaptation," as much as we need to apply what we know across the full range of forest ecosystems.  We can research the application of different approaches to logging as we proceed with ridding ourselves of the dominant forestry paradigm of clearcut/short rotation plantation forestry".

As much as I respect and admire the good people at Bulkley Valley Centre, the fact remains that funding more research at this late date isn't going to save old growth.

Actually this move puts me in mind of Eby's removal of the 'unduly' clause, which likewise gives the illusion of progress while at the same time prolonging 'business as usual' as long as politically feasible.

Optics over substance is no way to engineer a paradigm shift.

Tsk tsk

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  • 9 months later...
Guest June Ross

I have just had the pleasure of being on a webinar with Herb Hammond.He has said it all  in his post above.

I do not trust any government to do what they say they are going to do! We need to hold their feet to the fire to protect our biodiversity and most of all...to protect our watersheds...our water sources...our drinking water. Without water...there is no life.

Why are we waiting to implement the 14 recommendations of the old growth panel? Why are we still clearcutting the land? Why oh why oh why? The governments talk a streak and then log/log/log!  

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I live west of Prince George.  I am a Hereditary Wing Chief. My name is Legibou, in Wet'suwe'ten. It means "child of a wolf".  I help look after the lands around Smithers and Witset.  Myself and other family members are stewards of our traditional Wet'suwe'ten territories. We see our forefathers lands being accessed and resources extracted. We where recently told, to meet quotas a local logging company wanted our consent to log a area, pristine, no public access, to log a mix of low grade timber. We asked, "to meet quota?" 

Our resources extracted everywhere, no matter where or how, just to meet a quota.  No place seems sacred. Pristine is not a matter to these companies.  All they see is "money".  Shame on them! What concerns me is the clearcutting for pellet plants. I'm hearing this practice for this product devastates. No wonder bears are in our communities. Their territory is ravaged by clearcutting and forest fires.  I hear there is a delegation going to Japan this week for our forest products. I'm interested in which indigenous persons went a long and who they represent. We certainly wouldn't have gone.  I thought forestry was winding down? I'm like to know which forest products. 

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Guest Sue Woermke

Hi David,

I recently joined the Horsefly River Roundtable (HRR) to provide technical support to them in their criticisms of harvesting in the watershed.  The Horsefly River has been designated a Fisheries Sensitive Watershed, and also as being the second most important salmon spawning river in the Province, yet harvesting pressure is at an all time high.  Of timber harvesting land base in the Central Cariboo, the areas around Likely, Beaver Valley, and Horsefly represent only 17% of that, yet more than 40% of the green volume is now coming out here.  Within the Horsefly Watershed itself, stands that burned in 1961, which were later thinned, spaced, and fertilized in the mid 2000s which are only now 50 years old (predominately Douglas-fir) are being laid out and clearcut at an alarming rate.  In one tributary alone, there are over 600 ha on the chopping block by 2026 or 2027.  Members of the HRR are concerned as well that this latest government initiative is more about votes than actually changing anything.  We'd love it if you would write an article for us.

I am still working out on the land base in the Cariboo Forest Region, and still finding that our management of said land base is atrocious.  I agree wholeheartedly with Anthony Britneff that this industry needs to implode.  The HRR hosted an open house in Horsefly just over a month ago, with representatives from the major licensees and government in attendance.  It was a good turn out, even with the summer folk gone.  One forester I know who works with BCTS in planning whispered to me that it all needs to blow up.  YES! 

I agree also that forestry is a failed profession.  

If you are interested in what is going on with the Horsefly River Watershed, please contact Helen Englund at hrr.secretary1@gmail.com.  She is extremely passionate about taking licensees and government to task.



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  • 2 weeks later...

The reality of Govt's 'paradigm shift' to better forest stewardship can be measured @ "[6] completing the Old Growth Strategic Action Plan by the end of 2023."

I can't help sharing June Ross's mistrust of govts -- & specifically this current BC Govt. who've given us NOT 1 REASON to trust they'll implement their new "initiatives", having failed to act on even ONE of (promised) 14 URGENT recommendations of the existing (3 yr old) Strategic Old Growth panel's report..

As Herb Hammond says, we urgently need to "get on with it" -- NOW -- to "maintain & restore forest health, protect old-growth forest attributes, provide for ecological resilience, furnish a diversity of wildlife habitat; & provide for climate adaptation".  So far, ALL we've seen from this Govt are delay tactics & "optics" as Trevor Goward points out, giving "the illusion of progress while at the same time prolonging 'business as usual' as long as politically feasible".

Given the mounting risks of this devolving status quo, I cannot share Fred Marshall's hope that all this obvs. malfeasance -- "modus operandi of the BC govt" -- won't continue; it surely WILL, with predictably disastrous results..

Our best chances for the paradigm shift we need comes via the BC Greens:  the only party whose Constitution delivers community resilience & a sustainable future backed by thriving, renewable & circular economies.  We just need to QUIT RELYING ON the empty lies & long-deserted loyalties of mainstream entities that bely with impunity their every well-staged 'optic' -- eg. the corrupt est'd parties pushing ecocide & rising GHGs:  they -- INCL. the 'old' BC-NDP -- are irrelevant, if not expired.  Let's instead grow backbones & dismiss the endless (undeserved) drone of thoughtless slander waged against our trusty Greens for too long, & when the time comes mark the 'X's that'll ease our overdue transition..

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