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Playing with words regarding Tree Farm Licences

250 News - Peter Ewart, April 3, 2014

Playing with words regarding Tree Farm Licences
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Photo by TJ Watt

When Alice met Humpty Dumpty, in Lewis Carroll’s famous book “Alice in Wonderland,” Humpty informed her rather scornfully that “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean.” And so goes the Ministry of Forests with its repeated use of the term “Area-based Forest Tenures” in its Discussion Paper and on its public consultation website.

Again and again, it is highlighted on the Ministry website that the issue is all about converting volume-based tenure into area-based tenure to address the timber supply problem in the province. Now, there are a number of types of area-based tenure in British Columbia, including Community Forest Agreements, Woodlot Licences, and First Nations Woodland Licences, all of which have some popular support throughout the province. But it is a mistake to think the Ministry is actually referring to these when it is talking about rolling over existing forest licences into Area-based Forest Tenures.

When you drill down past all the headings and references to Area-based Forest Tenures on the Ministry’s website and in its Discussion Paper, it becomes clear that what the Ministry is proposing is a rollover of volume-based licences into one particular - and highly controversial - type of area-based tenure, i.e. Tree Farm Licences (TFLs).

So, rather than a Discussion Paper on Area-based Forest Tenures, the Discussion Paper could be more accurately described as a Discussion Paper promoting the benefits of Tree Farm Licences and defining the criteria for rollover to these TFLs. However, in this case, the Ministry appears to have followed Humpty Dumpty’s lead by claiming that words only mean whatever it chooses them to mean.

Why go to all this trouble? Why confound the terms and cause confusion? Why not make it crystal clear, with no ambiguity, that this whole exercise is about TFLs alone? Well, Tree Farm Licences have always been controversial in BC. Just last year, the Minister of Forests tried to push through legislation allowing for large-scale conversion of existing timber licenses into TFLs. Many in the province felt that this move would be a giveaway to the investors and shareholders of a few big companies at the expense of other sectors of the forest industry, First Nations and the population as a whole. In the face of widespread opposition, the Forest Minister was forced to withdraw the legislation.

But what you can’t push through under one label, try another. Thus we have the phrase “area-based forest tenures” peppered throughout the Ministry press release, website and Discussion Paper. In so doing, it appears to want to shift the debate away from a focus on TFLs to the more general (and less controversial) topic of volume-based tenures versus area-based tenures.

But, as revealed in a leaked confidential cabinet document in April of 2013 (after the initial TFL legislation was withdrawn), the Ministry’s intentions have remained the same – convert at least some of the existing forest licences in the province into TFLs. The only thing that has changed from last year has been the method of selling that conversion and the terminology.

The Ministry also wants to shift the debate away from the much more pressing issue of public oversight and proper forest management. No matter whether it is volume-based or area-based tenures, we need rigorous and professional public oversight of our forests. Yet the provincial government has slashed hundreds of jobs in forestry inspection and science. As a result, our forests are in terrible shape with lack of reforestation, overharvesting, incomplete inventory and environmental degradation rampant.

These are facts that all the Humpty Dumpty wordplay in the world cannot hide. And more TFLs will not provide a remedy. 

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