Tree licence rollover has no public benefit
Opinion: Provincial government trying to ram through Bill 8
The Vancouver Sun - Anthony Britneff, March 7, 2013
At first glance Bill 8 — the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act — looks like housekeeping legislation. Read a little closer and one discovers one of the most pernicious pieces of forest legislation to be tabled in the legislature since a forests minister lost his job over the same issue in 1989.
Bill 8 includes an addition to the Forest Act that would allow the forests minister to invite corporations to roll over their forest licences into Tree Farm Licences (TFL), effectively transferring private ownership rights to the corporation without any reciprocal benefit in the public interest such as requirements to tie timber to local mills for local jobs; to upgrade existing mills; to invest in new mills; and to hand back more than five per cent of the allowable annual cut from existing forest licences, say 30 per cent, to deal with known timber supply shortages and to redistribute timber rights among communities and First Nations.
Imagine many large apartment complexes under a singe landlord. What sane landlord would invite selected tenants to roll over their month-to-month tenancies into a renewable 25-year lease with a token annual rent but without payment for the lease or any substantial reciprocity in kind other than five per cent loss of area? Well, that is precisely what your land agent, the government, is planning to do with your forest land. And matters get worse still.
Unfortunately, this offer realistically works for only corporate tenants of the larger apartments. If you happen to be a First Nations’ band or a forest-dependent community occupying smaller apartments, this offer is not for you because your rented areas are uneconomic in size to roll over into a renewable 25-year lease.
Under TFL tenure, private property rights transferable to corporations include rights to control access; to withhold information about public land (e.g., inventory statistics and maps); to sell and transfer the TFL tenure for which they did not pay in the first place; and to receive compensation if, for example, treaty negotiations should settle land title in favour of First Nations. In short, TFLs alienate public lands.
So how does the government justify provincewide forest tenure reform on the fly without public discussion?
First, in a recent news release, forests minister Steve Thomson declares, “the legislation fulfils recommendations made by the Special Committee on Timber Supply in their August, 2012 report ...” This statement not only misrepresents the scope and object of the committee’s work but it is patently false. The committee’s final report does not contain one recommendation that the government enable TFL-rollover legislation provincewide.
Secondly, the forest minister claims, “area-based tenures [have] a number of benefits, such as creating an incentive for licence holders to make enhanced silviculture and infrastructure investments that will improve the midterm timber supply.”
Again, this assertion is not substantiated by fact. Government directly and indirectly subsidizes most forest management functions on TFLs.
For example, the taxpayer directly pays for insect and disease monitoring and for timber and non-timber inventories.
So what precisely is the incentive for the TFL holder to invest any more in public forests than the minimum required by law?
Thirdly, MLA John Rustad claims area-based tenures lead to “higher productivity and higher return on our land base.” Of timber and profits only. Because area-based management produces “normalized” forests designed to maximize timber growth at the expense of other forest values such as water, soil and biodiversity.
In British Columbia, we ostensibly, and badly, manage natural forests for ecosystem services and for many other cultural values other than timber such as recreation, big game hunting, and tourism.
In just about every country in which area-based forest management is practised, they have completely lost their natural biodiversity of ecosystems, species and genetic richness.
Ironically this government is trying to ram through Bill 8 just as the Auditor General releases a scathing report on the status of the province’s biodiversity.
We in British Columbia still have a chance to do it right for future generations by enacting a Sustainability Act for the protection of air, water, and soil and by implementing a provincewide conservation framework for biodiversity; all resource-use and tenure laws should be subordinate to both.
Further administrative fragmentation of landscapes and enclosure of the commons by TFLs will only make matters worse and infinitely more expensive for us to settle First Nations’ land claims and to assert the public interest in how our forest lands are best managed for the protection of air, water and soil and for the conservation of the biodiversity that bestows on us bountiful timber and non-timber benefits.
Anthony Britneff recently retired from a 40-year career with the B.C. Forest Service during which he held senior professional positions in inventory, silviculture and forest health.
Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Tree+licence+rollover+public+benefit/8059516/story.html#ixzz2MvKFwm3s
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