A two month, province wide, consultation process on the conversion of volume based tenures to area based tenures closed on May 30 after generating feedback from more than 4300 people.
The process was led by veteran, professional forester, Jim Snetsinger, who travelled throughout the province collecting feedback from various groups including, stakeholders, First Nations and members of the general public.
Snetsinger presided over 97 meetings in nine locations, including Burns Lake, Smithers and Prince George, meeting with the Village of Burns Lake, the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako, the Burns Lake Band and Babine Forest Products among others.
Approximately 4300 comments were received through different medians, such as email, blog comments and tweets.
Snetsinger will now spend the next few weeks compiling the feedback into a report with recommendations that will be submitted to Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister, Steve Thomson.
British Columbia is home to over 55 million hectares of land that is considered productive forest lands.
Only five per cent of that 55 million hectares is privately owned.
Of the 55 million hectares of productive forest lands, 22 million hectares are available for timber harvesting and less than one per cent is harvested each year.
Forestry is one of the key drivers of the B.C. economy.
In 2013, forest exports exceeded $1.6 billion, and over 58,000 B.C. residents were directly employed in the forest sector.
In some areas, economic contribution from forestry to the local economy exceeds 40 per cent.
This isn’t the first time the provincial government has attempted the change from volume based tenures to area based tenures.
In February 2013, similar changes were attempted in the B.C. legislature, but the provincial government pulled the bill, Bill 8, off the table amidst criticism from British Columbians.
Grieg Bethel, public affairs officer for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations says that the province holds no concern that the change would produce unsustainable logging practices.
“Just like volume based tenures, harvesting by area based tenure holders is subject to allowable annual cut determinations and strict harvest controls,” Bethel said, “in all cases, the primary goal is long-term sustainability of the forest resources. Both volume based and area based licences are subject to the same legal requirements under the Forest Act, and stewardship requirements under the Forest and Range Practices Act and regulations.”
A change from volume based tenures to area based tenures would have an impact on the Burns Lake area.
The Nadina Forest District which encompasses the Lakes Timber Supply Area has a number of volume based tenures.
The area also includes the Babine Community Forest Agreement and a First Nations’ Woodland licence, which are area based licences.
In an email, Bethel said that it would be “premature to speculate,” at how a change would affect the Lakes District, along with what changes would happen and if the Annual Allowable Cut would change.
While the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources may not be concerned with a change from volume based to area based tenures, that view is not held by everyone. The Wilderness Committee, a non-profit society with charitable status, argues that area based tenures give private corporations more control over public forests, which can lead to poor environmental management, less local economical benefits and less benefits and access to resources for First Nations.
The committee pointed out that of the approximately 4300 comments that the majority rejected the idea of a conversion to area based tenures.
In a press release, Torrance Coste, a campaigner for the Wilderness Committee said the time has come for government to listen to the people of British Columbia.
“The B.C. government has been completely out of step with the public on forest issues for years, and this engagement process proves that fact beyond a doubt,” Coste said.
Coste added that unsustainable logging practices are more common with area based tenures.
However, Bethel disagrees with that assessment.
“Holders of both volume based and area based tenures are responsible for stewardship planning, road construction and maintenance, and reforestation. They also require the same cutting permits,” Bethel said, “most area based tenures have additional obligations compared to volume based tenures. For example, the submission of a management plan, conducting inventories of resources on the tenure area and providing information to government to help determine the allowable annual cut for the licence.”
Steve Zika, Chief Executive Officer for Hampton Affiliates supports the conversion.
“Babine supports the legislation changes proposed that will allow the conversion of some volume based tenures to area based tenures,” Zika said, “we feel this conversion will provide long-term benefits to the public, stakeholders, communities and industry.”
The Village of Burns Lake has thrown its support behind the conversion of area based tenures, providing that the process includes First Nations, local stakeholders and community members, that the Timber Supply Area have the proper balance between various licenses and that there is an opportunity for area based licences, such as First Nation Woodland Licences and industry licensees to collaborate on a unified forest stewardship plan for the area, among other provisions.
The submission of the report and recommendations should happen no later than June 30.