Forest stewardship plans need improvement

Forest stewardship plans in Burns Lake also show deficiencies.

An investigation of forest stewardship plans (FSPs), the primary plan governing forest activities on public land, suggested that most of these plans do not meet the public’s needs.

According to the Forest Practices Board, most of the FSPs across the province contain strategies that do not demonstrate consistency with objectives and show significant problems with verifiability. In addition, many of the plans were written using legal language that makes them difficult for public understanding or review.

“You can’t measure the plan if the plan is unclear,” said board chair Tim Ryan. “We need a plan that will ensure that there is no uncertainty.”

Ryan added that most of the FSPs across the province are not enforceable by government and provide little in the way of innovative forest management.

“The board previously looked at FSPs in 2006 and found numerous problems, so we wanted to see if they had improved since then,” said Ryan. “Unfortunately, we found there has been no improvement in that time.”

The Forest Practices Board investigation looked at a sample of 43 FSPs from all regions of the province, including the Burns Lake area. According to the investigation, the FSPs within the Burns Lake area presented the same issues found in FSPs across the province. There are nine FSPs currently in effect within the Nadina Resource District. Out of these nine FSPs, seven cover portions of the Lakes timber supply area near Burns Lake.

The Burns Lake Community Forest, one of the license holders in the Burns Lake area, said their new FSP was recently approved – effective July 20, 2015. The term of the plan is for five years.

“At this time we have no comment on the Forest Practices Board’s evaluation as we have not completed our review of the document,” said Kerry Martin, Operations Manager.

West Fraser, on the other hand, had their FSP in Burns Lake extended last year. The company said their woodlands operations are independently certified by the sustainable forestry initiative, an internationally-recognized sustainable forest management certification program. In addition, third-party independent auditors verify that West Fraser has met high standards for a number of key criteria.

Lake Babine Nation is currently not involved in the preparation of forest stewardship plans, explained Chief Adam. However, Lake Babine Nation is provided with the opportunity to review and comment on proposed FSPs before their approval by the government. Chief Adam added that Lake Babine Nation is currently working with the province to enhance their involvement in forest resource planning.

Other license holders in the area include Hampton Affiliates, Canfor, Cheslatta Carrier Nation Community Forest, L & M Lumber, Dungate Community Forest and Lowell A. Johnson Consultants Ltd.

Forest stewardship plans are the only operational plan that must be made available for public review and approved by government. Once approved, a plan is in place for five years, but that time period can be extended indefinitely without any further public consultation. Many of these plans have been extended once already, and a large number of the plans are due for extension or renewal in the next year.

“We see an opportunity here in the next two years when the vast majority of these FSPs are coming up for an extension or renewal that the government ensure that the results and strategies that they write in these documents are clear, unambiguous and open to little interpretation,” said Ryan. “Then it will be better for measuring whether we did achieve the objective that we were going for, better for enforcement and also to allow the public a better understanding of what we were committed to.”

In order to gain government approval, forest stewardship plans are supposed to contain measurable strategies and be consistent with legally established government objectives for forest values.

“We are recommending that government not renew or approve any FSPs that don’t meet the standards set out in the forest and range practices act,” said Ryan. “We also recommend that the public consultation process be improved and that professionals who prepare FSPs, and officials who approve them, are apprised of their responsibilities regarding these standards.”

The Forest Practice Board expects a response from the provincial government regarding the recommendations by the end of October 2015.

The Forest Practices Board is B.C.’s independent watchdog for sound forest and range practices, reporting its findings and recommendations directly to the public and government. The board can investigate and report on current forestry and range issues and make recommendations for improvement to practices and legislation.