The B.C. government has decided to hold off on controversial legislation that critics say would have led to greater corporate control of large tracts of publicly owned Crown forests.
Portions of Bill 8, which were supposed to provide a timber-supply incentive for rebuilding a Burns Lake sawmill destroyed by fire, would have given forest ministers discretionary power to roll over volume-based in to area-based tenure.
Forests Minister Steve Thomson released a statement on Tuesday, saying greater public engagement is needed.
“I’m pleased that the forest minister heard the calls from environmentalists, forest professionals and the opposition and has removed these sections,” said Norm Macdonald, NDP forest critic.
The changes were deeply problematic and would have moved forest policy in the wrong direction, threatening public control over B.C.’s land base and risking hard-won standards, he said.
Independent MLA Bob Simpson, who had been sharply critical of the bill, also applauded Tuesday’s move while calling for a comprehensive review of forest policy. Simpson made the same point at a silviculture conference in Kamloops last week.
He called on both the Liberals and the NDP to commit to an independent public inquiry and an independent chief forester accountable to the legislature.
“The history of issuing TFLs (tree farm licences) in B.C. is a sordid one, and TFLs haven’t consistently resulted in the incremental forest management and community stability the government claims they can achieve,” he said.
A petition drive opposing the legislation was just launched to oppose the bill.
Jim Cooperman, a Shuswap environmentalist who focuses on forest issues, welcomed the news.
“I’m very pleased and I’m not surprised they pulled it,” he said, noting that it came late in the government’s term of office. “They didn’t have any mandate and it would have dramatically changed how forest tenure is managed.”
He said the decision by Thomson to shelve the legislation would probably mean that the matter is closed in view of the imminent election.
However, Thomson stated that he will hold public consultations this summer — depending on the election outcome, obviously — based on the recommendations of the special committee on mid-term timber supply. He said the legislation was intended to deal with the impact of mountain pine beetle on forest-dependent communities.
“Area-based tenures can act as an incentive for enhanced silviculture, since the licence holder who is making the investment will gain the benefit, which is not the case for volume-based licences.”