Rustad responds to criticisms

Area-based licenses not a privatization of the forest.

Pre-election rhetoric has heated up surrounding proposed changes to forestry legislation that will see the conversion of some current volume-based logging licenses to area-based licenses.

The changes were devised as part of the solution to satisfying the need for a consistent mid-term timber supply in order to entice the rebuilding of the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake which was destroyed in an explosion on Jan. 20, 2012.

Bob Simpson, MLA for Cariboo North, has been a consistent critic of the decision to rebuild the Hampton mill. Regarding the conversion of volume-based to area-based tenures, Simpson said that, “It could lead to the majority of B.C.’s public forests coming under the control of a few major forest companies.”

Currently, companies like Hampton Affiliates take logs from the Lakes Timber Supply Area (TSA) based upon a provincially proscribed volume of timber. That timber is located through-out the Lakes TSA, and Hampton, along with other license holders, must work out where that volume will be harvested.

Once it’s sawn an removed, the license holders have responsibilities regarding reforestation, but they have no assurances regarding who will benefit from that second-growth.

For Nechako Lakes MLA, John Rustad, that is one reason why the introduction of area-based tenures will go a long way to improving the mid and long-term timber supply.

“Almost everywhere we’ve gone to area-based [tenure], whether it’s a woodlot license, a community forest, or a tree farm license (TFL) the actual volume that’s available has gone up,” Rustad said.

“Companies do far more detailed inventory work than the province is capable of doing,” he said. “They almost always out-perform the province in terms of reaching free-to-grow [status] and  getting areas replanted quicker, because there’s an incentive to it.”

The incentive missing from a volume-based approach is that an area-based tenure holder has the right to the eventual second-cut of replanted forest. According to Rustad, this means that companies will have financial incentive to care for and ensure the success of reforestation efforts.

Other provincial and local forestry representatives are in support of the move.

Mary Arcand, president of the B.C. Logging Truck Association, has come out cautiously in favour of the move.

“Area-based tenure could be a tremendous tool for government… Why not use this assurance of greater control over long-term timber supply as a lever to accelerate reforestation efforts, build local employment stability and encourage upgrades to mills to keep them competitive,” said Arcand.

The Burns Lake Community Forest has always been an area-based tenure. For Ron Zayac, interim general manager for the Burns Lake community forest, this has worked well in terms of securing timber supply and clarifying forest stewardship responsibilities.

“We support area-based tenures as providing licensees with an incentive to invest in the land-base so that they can reap the long-term rewards of more intensive forest management policies,” Zayac said.

For Rustad, the conversion of volume-based to area-based tenures does not represent the privatization of B.C.’s forests, despite criticisms to the contrary.

“The land is still the province’s and the [license holding] company is still required to meet all of the same forestry requirements that we have for a volume-based tenure,” Rustad said. “They still need to reforest, they still need to meet stocking standards, and they still need to get it to free-to-grow.”

And they will still pay stumpage fees.

The only real difference between forest management under an area-based scenario, Rustad said, is that the license holder becomes responsible for inventory work, and the license holder will also benefit from improved reforestation practices.

“If they do a better job of recovering [log] salvage losses, they get the benefit,” he said. “If they do a better job of planting more trees per hectare, then they get that benefit.”

Forthcoming provincial legislation will provide the framework for the conversions, but work remains to determine exactly what large-scale area-based tenures will look like through consultations with communities, stakeholders and First Nations.

“The first place that it’s going to happen is in the Lakes TSA,” said Rustad. “This is part of trying to secure the mid-term timber supply so that we have a new mill in Burns Lake for not just the next five to 10 years, but for the next generation and hopefully beyond.”