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B.C. backs off on changes to licensing forest lands

Times Colonist - Judith Lavoie, March 13, 2013

The provincial government has backed away from a plan that critics claim would have radically reduced public control of forest land.

Conservationists, who were girding for a full-fledged fight over proposed changes to the Forest Act, reacted with delight Tuesday after Forests Minister Steve Thomson said he was withdrawing plans to allow a rollover of volume-based forest licences to area-based tree farm licences.

The backdown appears to be sparked by a massive public uproar, said Ancient Forest Alliance executive director Ken Wu.

“The forest-giveaway bill would have taken us backward,” he said. “The B.C. Liberals wanted to give a parting gift to the major logging companies before they leave office, but, in this politically sensitive pre-election period, that’s not going to happen now.”

Under a volume-based system, licence holders have the right to a specific volume of timber within an area. Under an area-based system, companies are given exclusive tenure in defined areas.

Critics of the changes said they would increase private property rights for forest companies, making protection harder, First Nations treaty settlements more complicated, and resulting in less land available for other foresters.

The changes were contained in a multi-faceted omnibus bill. Thomson said Tuesday that more public consultation was needed.

Thomson had previously said that, although conversions from forest licences to tree farm licences would have been at the minister’s discretion, there would be public reviews and consultation before changes were made.

Joe Foy of the Wilderness Committee said the proposed changes sparked a flurry of opposition from First Nations, environmentalists, unions, politicians and individuals.

“It really goes to show how much people value our public forests and don’t want to see them fall into corporate hands,” he said.

Greenpeace Canada forest campaigner Eduardo Sousa said the decision to pull the legislation will keep Crown land in the hands of the public and First Nations.

“This means that people remain stewards of the land, and governments, not companies, are responsible for building prosperous communities and protecting our forests,” he said.

Withdrawal of the Forest Act changes will not alter plans for a rally for “ancient forests and forestry jobs” outside the legislature on Saturday at noon, Wu said.
 


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