Forest managers lack bite: Forest Practices Board

A failed attempt to stop a company from over-logging a scenic area near Skidegate Channel has B.C.’s forestry watchdog calling for change.

A failed attempt to stop a company from over-logging a scenic area near Skidegate Channel has B.C.’s forestry watchdog calling for change.

The Skidegate Channel case topped a list of 14 recent examples showing why B.C.’s Forest Practices Board believes district managers need more power to stop bad logging before it happens.

“Many members of the public are surprised to learn that district managers do not already have this authority,” says a special report published by the board last month.

Along with the Skidegate Channel case, which dates back to 2009, the report listed a 2006 investigation showing managers had no way to protect a newly discovered northern goshawk nest on Haida Gwaii.

While the current system works “reasonably well, most of the time,” the report said recent history shows there are times when district managers should have the power to refuse permits for cutting or road-building.

One episode came in the spring of 2009, when Teal Cedar Products applied for a cutting permit for areas north of Skidegate Channel.

Despite repeated warnings from two district managers and the Village of Queen Charlotte that its plans would break rules for scenic areas, Teal refused to show its

Because it already had an approved forest stewardship plan — a big-picture document that sets out how it will operate over a large area — Teal said no district manager could refuse it a cutting permit for a specific site.

As things stand, says the Forest Practices Board report, Teal was technically correct.

“The district manager had no choice but to issue the permit,” it said.

It wasn’t until the Council of the Haida Nation launched a complaint with the FSB over Teal’s logging near the channel that the issue was finally resolved in 2014.

Even though it only logged half of the key cut block in question, the board found that Teal did indeed fail to respect the rules for protecting scenic areas, just as the district managers had warned.

“The public expects government to protect their interests when risk is obvious, rather than allowing a failure to occur,” the board concluded, in a finding welcomed by the CHN.

So long as district managers only refuse permits when there are “clear and significant risks” of illegal activity or harm to public safety, forest values, or other forest users, the board said giving district managers more discretionary power should not add extra costs or delays due to “red tape.”

Simply having the power should help district managers enforce the rules, the board said.

The B.C. government is expected to respond to the FPB’s recommendation by the end of March.