(File photo)

(File photo)

New year, same tips from B.C.’s forestry watchdog

Pointing to Haida Gwaii, Forest Practices Board says district managers need more enforcement powers

B.C.’s forestry watchdog has five New Year’s resolutions for the new NDP government.

Topping the list is a change that the Forest Practices Board (FPB) recommended after investigating a case here on Haida Gwaii.

In a special report on improving B.C.’s key forestry law published in December, the outgoing chair of the FPB Timothy Ryan noted that in fact, all five changes are things the board has recommended before.

“There are many recommendations where government promised to look into issues and carry out follow-up work, but there is little evidence that has actually happened,” Ryan said.

The top-priority change — giving the province’s district forestry managers the power to revoke logging or road-building permits when environmental or community values are at risk — was recommended after a failed attempt to stop Teal Cedar Products from over-logging a scenic area along Skidegate Channel in 2009.

The Council of the Haida Nation complained to the Forest Practices Board after Teal logged half the cutblock in question despite repeated warnings from two district managers and the mayor of Queen Charlotte.

Because it already had an approved forest stewardship plan — a big-picture, five-year plan that outlines how a forestry company will operate over an entire tenure — district managers could not refuse Teal a permit for the specific cutblock along Skidegate Channel.

SR55 Forest and Range Practices Act by Andrew Hudson on Scribd

Priority number two on the FPB’s list is a recommendation that concerns those big-picture forest stewardship plans.

As the only plans forestry companies are required by law to make public, the FPB has found they aren’t up to the job. The plans are often too vague, the board found, and they do not show plans for proposed roads or cutblocks.

“Without site-specific information, people will not know what is planned on the ground or how it affects them until they see the flagging tape on the trees,” said the FPB report. Islanders made similar complaints during public meetings about such plans last year.

People can already see forestry companies’ upcoming road and cutblock plans by visiting their offices, but the FPB is calling on the province to create a routine process that makes it easier for people to see and comment on such plans.

So far, the B.C. government has rejected that recommendation.

The FPB’s final three recommendations are to beef up drinking-water protections, to publish all violations of B.C.’s forestry laws, and to better manage the province’s 600,000 km of forestry roads.

On drinking water, the FPB says B.C.’s existing rules about protecting community watersheds are unclear, pointing out vague wording in the Forest and Range Practices Act about avoiding “cumulative hydrological effects.” The FPB also says the law ignores health risks imposed by sediment.

Like B.C.’s other natural resource ministries, the FPB says forestry officials should routinely publish all penalties handed down for violations of the Wildfire Act and Forest and Range Practices Act.

Right now, the only way such violations are made public is through Freedom of Information requests — something the board says is inadequate given that FOI requests take a long time, might be censored, and people have to know in advance what they are asking for.

Finally, the FPB is calling on the province to create new legal tools for managing public access to forestry roads, as well as doing more to involve the public in such decisions and to fill gaps in the province’s inventory of existing roads.

“Roads and the access they create are among the most significant land-use impacts in the province,” said the report. “Yet their management is not as effective and coordinated as it should be.”

An arms-length agency, the Forest Practices Board does random audits of B.C. forestry companies and investigates public complaints.

Since 2010, when the new Forest and Range Practices Act came into effect, the board has made 60 recommendations to improve it.