NDP still making up rules for war in the woods
The war in the woods is far from over as environmentalists and forest industry groups are taking a wait-and-see attitude with respect to the recent announcement on the future of the Northern Spotted Owl in B.C.
Last week Premier Mike Harcourt and Forest Minister Andrew Petter made a number of announcements that moved existing Spotted Owl Conservation Areas under the auspices of the NDP's Protected Areas Strategy and freed up almost half a million hectares of land for working forest — seemingly protecting the spotted owl, pushing the government toward its goal of permanently protecting 12.5 per cent of the province and saving loggers' jobs at the same time.
But no one knows how it is going to happen.
A 1994 report by the Spotted Owl Recovery Team recommended six options for the recovery of the species — no mention was made of any of the SORT report's recommendations when Harcourt made his announcement.
The report also contains details of 21 SOCAs where nesting spotted owls were living, many of them in the Soo Timber Supply Area. Harcourt's announcement will see 45 per cent of the SOCAs put into the Protected Areas Strategy while the remaining lands will be called "Special Resource Management Zones" which will be under the stewardship of the new Forest Practices Code.
"It looks like the government has once again put the cart before the horse," says Cheryl Bass, executive director of the Soo Coalition for Sustainable Forests, a Squamish-based logging lobby group. "They have made the announcement without telling us the rules. There seems to be a game going on, but the rules are not quite clear."
Bass says the Soo Coalition is going to remain "cautiously optimistic" about the spotted owl plan, but will not go much further until they can "lay out some maps" and see how much timber harvesting is going to be allowed in the approximately 175,000 hectares of land in the new Special Resource Management Zones, made up of various SOCAs not protected under the PAS. Any Protected Areas Strategy study areas that are not designated Protected Areas by Dec. 31, 1995 will be considered under this zone as well.
Managers from the Squamish Forest District were sequestered away in various meetings on the implementation of the fledgling Forest Practices Code early this week and unavailable for comment on how the spotted owl decision will affect the local logging economy. A document obtained by Pique entitled "Terms of Reference for Preparation of a Joint Plan to Manage Forest Harvesting in Spotted Owl Habitat" outlines the plan of action to avoid another battle in the woods.
An inter-agency management team made up of representatives from the Ministry of Forests and the Ministry of Environment will present a plan "which has the goal of achieving a reasonable level of probability that owl populations will stabilize, and possibly improve, over the long term without significant short-term impacts on timber supply and forestry employment." The report will go to the deputy ministers by Sept. 30, 1995.
Dave Dunbar is the chair of the Canadian Spotted Owl Recovery Team. He spent five years of his life putting together a report designed to biologically protect the Northern Spotted Owl in its northernmost documented habitat and says the government did consider the SORT report before making the spotted owl decision.
"One of the main guidelines in the recommendation is to maintain 67 per cent of suitable owl habitat that has already been delineated," Dunbar says. "That number came directly out of our report and is a biologically sound decision. The announcement is not some kind of divergent plan, but a divergence of thinking on an issue that has tempered the debate on the future of the timber industry in this province for a number of years."
The one thing that worries Dunbar is the possibility of not being able to fit new owls into the framework as the process moves along and timber harvesting starts in areas already designated as SOCAs.
"There are a number of birds cropping up outside the SOCA system as we do surveys this year," Dunbar says. "The way the system has been set up there may be very little opportunity to provide additional protection for the new birds we have identified. Biologically that is a problem."