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  • Reforming BC Timber Sales: How to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear

    Saul Arbess

    With much of BC Timber Sales' old-growth logging on pause, the Province could direct the publicly-owned agency to focus its logging program on second-growth forests using ecosystem-based management.



    BC Timber Sales (BCTS) was established on June 20, 2003 with a mandate to support a market-based pricing system for the province’s forest resources, by setting cost and price benchmarks for timber harvested from public land in British Columbia. Its creation was a response to US challenges that royalties (stumpage fees) were so low that they were, in fact, an illegal subsidy of the BC forest industry providing an unfair advantage in the softwood lumber trade with the US. Environmental NGOs agreed with the US assessment that resource rents were far too low.

    One of its primary goals is to generate provincial revenue through the development and open competitive auction of Crown forest, which in turn creates employment opportunities for British Columbians. BCTS manages 21 percent of the allowable annual cut (AAC) and holds the largest percentage of the AAC among tenure and licence holders.

    BCTS provides seedlings and manages planting contracts for the Forests for Tomorrow program, creating efficiencies that allow the program to deliver more benefits with the same funding. The organization’s forest stewardship plans identify how various forest values will be managed, and its operating plans clearly identify proposed cut blocks and road-building projects.

    Despite its claims of sustainable forestry, BCTS was cited by the ministry of forest’s own internal Compliance and Enforcement Branch and the Forest Practices Board to be in violation of its own rules for managing old growth. Here is a readable summary of those findings: thenarwhal.ca/indicative-of-a-truly-corrupt-system-government-investigation-reveals-bc-timber-sales-violating-old-growth-logging-rules/. It is interesting to note that neither the branch, nor the Forest Practices Board, have enforcement powers, indicating again the failure to mandate changes in the management of forest practices.


    Current Status of BCTS

    On November 2, 2021, the BC government suspended all old-growth logging by BCTS in the areas affected by new deferral recommendations, for an unspecified period. This provides an opportunity, in the pause, to consider the future of BCTS and to move it in a different direction.

    Investigations by MoF’s Compliance and Enforcement Branch and the Forest Practices Board in the Nahmint Watershed on Vancouver Island have shown BCTS has been in violation of the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan, Higher Level Plan Orders (HLPO) and its own regulations in the management of old growth. BCTS has been entirely committed to the industrial, clearcut model of forestry, despite what is stated on its website. Often, BCTS fails to inform, negotiate or consider modifications to its plans with affected parties, operating like an occupying army on public lands.



    Controversial clearcut logging of old-growth forest near Schmidt Creek on Vancouver Island, authorized by BC Timber Sales (Photo by Mark Worthing)



    The pause in logging old growth on BCTS lands permits government to implement the Old Growth Strategic Review recommendations by committing BCTS to sustainably manage and log only second growth as an example of ecosystem-based management (EBM), operating as a model for progressive forest management, like an agriculture extension service. Second-growth plantations would no longer be considered as fiber mills and sacrifice areas for industry, but to be managed to allow, where possible, the regaining of a semblance of natural forest succession.

    It would model EBM in its call for bids, and those bids would be required to use this approach. Joint ventures with First Nations, would be given priority, as would at least secondary manufacturing for the approved bids. In this way, proxy bidders from Big Timber, would be excluded, given their present model. The rules would not exclude large industrial applicants, but, unless they transform, they could not meet the bidding criteria. That they would transform is extremely unlikely and the industrial approach would start to unwind, at least on these lands.

    The above approach would, given its focus on valued-added production, also significantly increase, the number of jobs per thousand cubic meters cut, improving the record that BC holds for the least number of jobs per unit cut of any jurisdiction in Canada and, perhaps, in the world. So let’s consider forest worker employment.

    On Nov.2, 2021, the government indicated its transition strategy for forest workers displaced by shrinking employment and changed forest practices.

    In a November 2, 2021 press release, here’s what the minister offered in the way of a transition:

    “The Province is also bringing together strategically co-ordinated and comprehensive supports to help forest workers, communities and First Nations with the necessary supports to offset job and economic impacts that may follow new harvest restrictions. Programs will include connecting workers with short-term employment opportunities, education and skills training or funds to bridge to retirement. The Province will also work in partnership with business and communities to develop new supports that will assist rural communities to create jobs through diversified economies, infrastructure projects and innovation in industry.”

    There is very little innovation in this policy, rather a restatement of failed policy from the past. We have to consider the profile of forest workers and options within the forest environment. Many current workers are older and may take enhanced retirement packages. Many younger workers, including those who wish to get into the industry, presently unemployed or laid off, might welcome: genuine silviculture work to increase the value of second growth plantations to mirror natural forest regeneration where possible and reduce forest fire risk; forest ecosystem restoration and opportunities in forest tourism to communicate as guides, through training, of forest values and biodiversity. I am referring here to indigenous and non-indigenous workers.

    There has historically been resistance to retrain away from forestry and failure of the programs that have taken that approach. I am suggesting programs that would stay within the scope of the industry where many new opportunities exist, especially if we are really moving to a new paradigm. We need to also remember that there is a strong tradition of multiple generations of families working in the industry. Here is an opportunity to get onside with forest workers and provide a sustainable path forward.

    An interesting model does exists for early retirement and retraining, funded by the province. After helping more than 1,000 forestry workers transition to retirement, the Bridging to Retirement Program has closed as of August 2021. The job placement program will continue to support affected forestry workers through an online platform and three offices in the Interior.

    Thus, the reform of BCTS, proposed above, plus innovative employment programs and worker retraining and supports, could increase sustainable forest employment, away from the bust or boom, heavily mechanized, unsustainable clearcutting model of the present, that consistently sheds jobs while laying bare the forests of British Columbia.

    Dr Saul Arbess has been active in the defence of old growth forests in the Fairy Creek area (TFL 46) and the Walbran Valley (TFL 44). In 1993-4, he was a spokesperson for the Conservation Sector at the Vancouver Island Land Use Table, whose recommendations informed the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan (VILUP) and recommended the establishment of new provincial parks on the island. He was also a member of the ENGO’s Forest Caucus at the World Trade Forum’s 1999 Seattle meeting, advocating for the planet’s primary forests.

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