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B.C. government reopens timber rights talks

Times Colonist - Lindsay Kines, April 1, 2014

B.C. government reopens timber rights talks
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Photo by Lyle Stafford

Forests Minister Steve Thomson

Forests Minister Steve Thomson has reopened talks on giving forest companies exclusive access to timber rights on some public lands.

A year ago, widespread opposition forced Thomson to withdraw related legislation after critics warned that it would give companies too much control.

This time, Thomson is launching a two-month consultation process led by retired civil servant and former chief forester Jim Snetsinger.

Thomson said the government wants to get the public’s input on its plan to convert some volume-based licences to new or expanded area-based licences.

Volume-based licences allow multiple companies to cut trees in a specific timber supply area. Area-based tenures, also known as tree farm licences, give companies exclusive access to the trees in an area.

The government argues that TFLs provide licence-holders with “increased certainty” of timber supply and encourage them to make long-term investments in sawmills and silviculture.

“This, in turn, can provide stability for workers and the community,” states a government discussion paper.

Thomson said the government is considering the change as way to deal with a declining timber supply in the Interior caused by the mountain pine beetle epidemic.

But critics argue that giving forest companies increased control over Crown land spells disaster for the environment and makes it more difficult to settle First Nations treaties.

“When companies say they want greater certainty over the land base, what they mean is greater certainty against conservation measures and treaty settlement,” said Ken Wu, executive director of the Ancient Forest Alliance. “There’s a lot of other users and a lot of other values on those lands besides large-scale logging.”

NDP forests critic Norm Macdonald said there is no evidence that allowing exclusive rights in a timber area benefits anyone other than the big forest companies, many of whom are major donors to the B.C. Liberal Party.

“I get why the private companies want it and I don’t begrudge them at all,” he said. “But why the public would buy into this is beyond me. They have not made the case that it’s for the public good.”

Macdonald said the public, in fact, will lose some of the control it has to protect wildlife and the environment on lands where companies have exclusive access to the timber. “It’s not a total privatization, that’s true,” he said. “But there’s no question you’ve given up greater property rights and, therefore, you’ve given up complete control of that land.”

Thomson said the government’s vision is that companies would be given exclusive access only in areas where there is support and a strong case for doing so. “We’re not contemplating conversions on a provincewide basis, but rather on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

Thomson said he wants to hear from the public what types of benefits the companies should provide in exchange, and what criteria should be used to evaluate applications.

“Before any company would be invited to an application, they would have to be able to demonstrate the public interest and the values under which they’re doing that,” he said.

The public consultation process concludes on May 30. Snetsinger will submit a final report at the end of June.

Thomson declined to provide a timeline for potential legislation.

“I think that would be pre-judging the outcome of the process and pre-judging the recommendations that [Snetsinger] will bring forward,” he said.

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