The B.C. Liberals have deferred their proposed amendments to the B.C. Forest Act until after further public consultation this summer. The ‘enabling legislation’ was introduced on Feb. 20, 2013, as part of the province’s plan to facilitate the rebuild of the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake.
The legislation was lauded by the province as a step forward in B.C.’s forest policy in that it would facilitate the conversion of select volume-based forest licenses into area-based tree farm licenses, allowing for more robust forest management. Supporters of the legislation argued that its introduction was warranted by findings of the Special Committee on Mid-Term Timber Supply held over the summer of 2012.
Critics of the legislation have described the amendments setting the stage for a ‘privatization’ of forest resources. Quesnel member of legislative assembly Bob Simpson led the charge against the legislation. He, and a cadre of forest policy critics, saw this move as another failing attempt by the province to manage forest policy in light of the mountain pine beetle epidemic and dwindling timber supply.
Simpson supports the province’s decision to defer the amendments as the right thing to do, although he has called for a full, independent public inquiry into forest policy.
Politically, Simpson says that he achieves very little in opposing the proposed legislation.
“If I was just treating it as a political thing, I would have supported the roll-over [of forest licenses] because I have two major companies in my own riding who would like to expand their tree farm licenses,” Simpson said.
Dunkley Lumber and West Fraser Mills Ltd. both have TFLs in the Prince George forest district. Dunkley Lumber Vice President, Jason Fisher, has publicly endorsed the province’s plan to expand area-based tenures, at least in principle.
“Neither one of those companies like what I say about TFLs being a form of privatization,” Simpson added.
Simpson said that some smaller forest industry players have expressed support for his opposition to the amendments. They are, he said, concerned for where they would fall in a logging industry dominated by large, area-based tenures controlled by major mills.
Nechako Lakes member of legislative assembly John Rustad worked with Forestry, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson on the legislation.
The offer of an area-based tenure to Hampton Affiliates was seen as a key element of the province’s plan to provide Hampton Affiliates with the timber-supply assurances it needed to commit to rebuilding the Babine mill.
“The challenge that we ran into was that there was a tremendous amount of misinformation that started floating around about area-based management,” said Rustad. “When you’re in the political environment we’re in now with the [upcoming] election, that could potentially damage the opportunity to move forward with area-based management. That would be tremendously detrimental to our forest industry in its goal to meet our mid-term fibre supply.”
Rustad expects the summer consultations to contribute to a ‘social license’ that would inform eventual legislative changes to the Forest Act.
Hampton Affiliates decision to rebuild the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake should not be affected by this deferral.
“While it is unfortunate that politics will delay legislation that will improve long-term sustainability of Crown timberlands, Babine Forest Products will continue forward with the sawmill rebuild,” said Hampton Affiliates chief executive officer, Steve Zika.
Originally, the rebuild of the Babine Forest Products sawmill in Burns Lake had been tied to commitments made for tenure reform in the Lakes District.