B.C. announces plans to redistribute forest tenures to small operators, Indigenous communities

·3 min read
The province says it will establish a framework that will lay out under what circumstances tenure-holders will receive compensation for lost harvesting rights. (Getty Images - image credit)
The province says it will establish a framework that will lay out under what circumstances tenure-holders will receive compensation for lost harvesting rights. (Getty Images - image credit)

The B.C. government has announced plans to update its forestry policy to redistribute forest tenures to Indigenous Nations and small operators.

The province says it wants a more diverse and competitive sector that "puts people and communities first."

Currently, five large companies hold roughly half of the forest tenures in the province.

"We need to modernize our forestry policies to be contemporary with all the needs of people in the community," said Premier John Horgan Tuesday afternoon.

The province says it will establish a framework that will lay out under what circumstances tenure-holders will receive compensation for lost harvesting rights.

It says it will be flexible when it comes to reducing forest licences to take into account the pressures on small operators or Indigenous or community operators.

It also announced that it is committed to implementing the 14 recommendations from the independent old growth review by 2023.

The report created by two foresters, Gary Merkel and Al Gorley, was released publicly in September 2020 and called for protection of old-growth forests out of concern the current management plan would lead to permanent biodiversity loss.

"People across BC are passionate about how we manage this incredible resource," said Katrine Conroy, the minister of forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development.

The premier was asked why Tuesday's announcement does not include immediate action to prevent logging of old growth trees in the Fairy Creek watershed where protesters have been defying an injunction in Horgan's own riding on Vancouver Island.

"The critical recommendation that's in play at Fairy Creek is consulting with the title holders," said Horgan. "If we were to arbitrarily put deferrals in place there, that would be a return to the colonialism that we have so graphically been brought back to this week by the discovery in Kamloops."

A blockade in the Fairy Creek watershed on Vancouver Island on Sunday May 30, 2021.
A blockade in the Fairy Creek watershed on Vancouver Island on Sunday May 30, 2021. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC News)

The province says protecting industry jobs is also a priority in the transfer of tenures after major job losses in the past few years.

It says there have been 1,620 permanent, 420 temporary and 820 indefinite job losses in the forestry sector.

The sector has struggled due to a decreasing timber supply caused by climate change, the mountain pine beetle
epidemic and large wildfires.

Vancouver Island union members show their discontent with Western Forest Products in November. 'They’ve made hundreds of millions of dollars in profits over the last several years and we think they can certainly afford a few increases in costs in order to keep the province’s economy healthy,' said logging truck driver Joe Strachan (not pictured).
Vancouver Island union members show their discontent with Western Forest Products in November. 'They’ve made hundreds of millions of dollars in profits over the last several years and we think they can certainly afford a few increases in costs in order to keep the province’s economy healthy,' said logging truck driver Joe Strachan (not pictured). (Facebook/USW 1-1937)

In 2018 and 2019, most major Interior forestry companies in B.C. announced curtailments at their sawmills due to lower lumber prices, reduced demand, high log costs, softwood lumber border tariffs and issues in accessing timber.

Starting in July 2019, more than 3,000 Vancouver Island forestry workers spent seven months on strike before reaching a tentative agreement with Western Forest Products.

The province says there has been a rebound in the industry and lumber prices are currently high, but at least 20 lumber mills have either closed or are temporarily inactive.

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