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WCWC fears Working Forest Legislation

Ministry spokesperson admits legislation misunderstood The Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management knows that it is in a hole when it comes to promoting their concept for a Working Forest in B.C.

Ministry spokesperson admits legislation misunderstood

The Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management knows that it is in a hole when it comes to promoting their concept for a Working Forest in B.C.

In their call for public input, the MSRM received more than 3,000 e-mails, and all but a handful were opposed to the idea.

The problem isn’t the concept, says Bruce Sieffert, the provincial coordinator for the Working Forest Initiative, but the public’s understanding of what the initiative does and does not do.

For Ken Wu of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, the initiative represents "the most anti-environmental legislation" in the history of the province. His organization believes that it is the first step in a process that could lead to the privatization, actual or de facto, of B.C.’s publicly held resources.

Both Wu and Sieffert were in Whistler last Thursday, July 3, to present their take on the Working Forest Initiative at AWARE’s monthly meeting.

The Working Forest would represent almost half of the landmass of B.C., covering some 45 million hectares of Crown land.

Sieffert says that part of the problem in winning public acceptance for the concept lies in the term "Working Forest Initiative" because it gives people the impression that the initiative is purely in the interests of the forestry industry. The working forest also applies to tourism, recreation, and other economic activities taking place in B.C.’s forest, he says. "It’s an initiative that has to address the needs and interests of loggers, but it also has to address the needs and efforts of other values (in the forest)," said Sieffert.

Ultimately, the province may have to come up with another name for the initiative, he said.

Sieffert also believes that the WFI is a relatively minor program, compared to other provincial changes to forestry.

The other changes include the Forest Range and Practices Act, which will replace the Forest Practices Code; the Forestry Redistrubution Plan, which will "claw" back 20 per cent of harvesting tenures and redistribute them to small companies and First Nations; legislation that allows companies more freedom to move logs around the province to milling operations; and a plan to move the industry towards market based pricing – mostly to convince Americans to lift crippling economic sanctions on softwood exports from Canada.

"I see the WFI as a relatively minor piece of the puzzle, in my opinion," said Sieffert.

In its simplest terms, Sieffert views the WFI as a matter of process. The forestry industry has conceded a lot of land in the last ten years as the total area protected as park land in B.C. has doubled from around six per cent to more than 12 per cent. Development, including real estate, agriculture, and cattle ranching has also chipped away at their land tenure.

The industry wants assurances from the province that their tenured interests and investments will be considered at a higher level in the future, and that they will be compensated, in cash or land, for any net losses to their working forests.

The same consideration would be given to other businesses that have tenured use the forest.

"This is tool to deal with land use issues, nothing more," said Sieffert.

In the three months the initiative was open for public input, the WFI only received only 14 comments expressing support and 1,269 letters against.

Sieffert acknowledged a "very low level of support, and a very high level of concern."

Rather than try to explain what the WFI is, he used his presentation to explain what it isn’t, addressing what he said were the most commonly voiced concerns about the initiative.

According to Sieffert:

• The WFI will not promote the privatization of forests in B.C. as it is currently against the law to sell crown land for timber. It also doesn’t increase timber rights in the province, abiding by existing tenures, laws, land use plans and processes.

• The WFI does not mean more timber harvesting. Although the province may decide to increase the Annual Allowable Cut, that’s a separate issue.

• The WFI will not tie the governments hands in future land use planning, in protecting areas, or in First Nations treaty negotiations. "If the government wants to create a new park, they will do so," said Sieffert. "The only question is good process. Do the homework – what are the industrial and economic impacts, what are the environmental benefits?"

• The WFI will no result in a no net-loss approach to forestry rights, that will hamper future conservation. "New opportunities are going to come along, new endangered species will have to be considered," said Sieffert.

• While the WFI will mean compensation for the forest industry when land is removed from their tenure, the compensation rights are no different than existing laws that are already in place.

• The WFI does not deal with issues like log exports, over-cutting, softwood tariffs or other priority forestry concerns, it is purely a land-use initiative.

• The WFI will not hamper treaty negotiations with First Nations, which Sieffert says a crucial part of any land use planning.

For Ken Wu, the executive director of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee’s Victoria chapter, there’s no need for a WFI if everything Sieffert says is true.

He says the initiative is part of a larger plan.

"Say you walk into a scientist’s laboratory, and there’s this cloth covering something on the table. You get a glimpse of it and say ‘hey, what’s that, that’s an arm, that’s a leg’, and the scientist tells you it’s nothing, it benefits everybody, shut-up…One day the cloth is ripped off, and Frankenstein is there, and he starts throttling you. We’re dealing with the full monster."

Wu doesn’t believe that the privatization of B.C.’s forests is going to happen overnight, and although the land base may never be officially privatized, he says there’s chance that timber companies will have de facto ownership – "All the rights of private ownership without having to pay the property taxes," said Wu.

The Forest Range and Practices Act, which is expected to go to the legislature this fall, is the first part of the monster. The WCWC is promising "the fight of all time this fall to ensure that piece of legislation doesn’t go through," said Wu.

"Once the pieces are in place we’ll see a hardcore version of working forest, with no more parks, no more protections for communities. All of these things could be brought in later. The government knows it has all the time in the world."

For Whistler and the surrounding corridor, forestry is a small industry – 12 per cent of revenues – compared to tourism and recreation. Wu says that the WFI and other forestry legislation could set new targets for the forest industry in the district, leading to more logging in the Callaghan, Soo Valley, Whistler Valley and the Elaho.

Another possibility is that the local forest industry, which is in decline says Wu, would one day have to be compensated for land used for tourism and recreation, and there are no standards or regulations in place that would determine how much compensation would be owed.

Wu points out that there is currently no Tourism Ministry in B.C., although it is the second largest industry for the province. Meanwhile, the forest industry, which is in decline, is so entrenched in the province that it still overrides other industries.

That’s why the opponents of the WFI include several loggers themselves, as well as MLA’s from areas that are dependent on the forest industry. "There is a lot of concern by workers that the mills in their communities are gong to be shut down, that outlying communities are going to lose jobs while the companies are still cutting as much before," says Wu.

The WCWC is encouraging groups and individuals to get more involved in the issue now, writing letters to their MLA’s and municipal governments that oppose the WFI.

"All we need are 40 MLA’s to vote against this, so we’re calling on people to put pressure on their MLA’s," said Wu. "We don’t expect all of the Liberals to vote together on this one, if they (MLA’s) represent their communities. People don’t want this."