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Forest permits, penalties, prescribed burns targeted in new B.C. legislation

Proposed changes get tentative approval from industry voice

The provincial government Monday (Oct. 30) tabled legislation as part of a broader push to modernize forest management.

Changes call for more flexibility in the issuance of permits for logging and road building.

Forests Minister Bruce Ralston said current legislation gives government only the option to deny or approve such permits, which he said has caused delays.

“So if you are a logger waiting to go into the woods to begin work or if you are a mill waiting for those cut logs to come to you, I think you will be pleased,” Ralston said.

Other changes call for tougher penalties and new tools to enforce existing regulations and law. Those who log without logging permits could not only be held liable for the market value of the timber, but also for reparations and damages caused to the landscape, Ralston said.

“So we think that will be another effective tool that will encourage people to follow the law and those who break the law will face more serious consequences,” he said.

The third significant change gives legal standing to cultural and prescribed burns by First Nations. Ralston said this change will make such burns a full part of the tools available to BC Wildfire Service specifically and forest management generally in the face of climate change.

Younes Alila, professor in the department of forest resources management at the University of British Columbia, called these changes a “step in the right direction” toward managing forests in B.C. while questioning the practice of clear-cutting and warning of a piece-meal approach.

While Alila welcomed the introduction of cultural and prescribed burning, he said it may not be that effective at all in the face of current practices. Re-planting clear-cut areas with mono-cultures, pine in particular in the Interior, creates highly flammable conditions, he said.

“Therefore, that increases the severity and the spatial extent and the frequency of wildfire.”

The tabled changes affect the Forest and Range Practices Act and Wildfire Act and co-exist with a number of other measures and processes. According to government, they aim to manage forests beyond timber values by including other values such as the environmental, community and First Nations concerns.

Alila acknowledged that the proposed legislation co-exist with other measures, but questioned the government’s approach.

“It’s the wrong approach to designing policies, because the healthiest policies are the ones that consider all the factors simultaneously and not debate one aspect at a time,” he said. “I think we need a complete overhaul.”

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BC United Mike Bernier, MLA for Peace River South and Shadow Minister for Forests, called the tabled legislation a very large bill, requiring additional review.

“On first read, there are definitely some parts of the bill that merit some support, but we have to get more detail first,” he said.

“What is important to recognize is, that the forest sector in B.C. is seeing an unprecedented time and struggle, so any time there is any talk about change, we are hearing from people who work in the sector and in communities, that they are skeptical right away, ‘O.K., what is this government planning to do?’,” Bernier said, pointing to the NDP’s old-growth deferral strategy.

“It has actually deterred investment, it has actually scared people away from B.C. and the forestry sector,” he said. “I’m not saying that this bill is necessarily (doing) that, but people are worried any time this NDP government talks about forestry.”

Michael Armstrong, vice-president and chief forester with the Council of Forest Industries, said his organization is still reviewing the changes in detail, but welcomed changes around cultural and prescribed burning, because they will help respond B.C. to the effects of wildfires, which will only get worse.

While the other major changes around permitting and enforcement still require review, Armstrong signaled tentative support.

Armstrong said his organization has been working with government for a while around permitting.

“Cutting permit approvals is a key component for our sector,” he said. Tougher enforcement could also help the reputation of B.C.’s forestry sector, he added.


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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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