New forest act means big changes

  • Apr. 23, 2003 8:00 p.m.

By Alex Rinfret–The BC government’s changes to the Forest Act spell upheaval for rural communities across the province, says Port Clements forestry consultant Gerry Johnson.
Mr. Johnson said it’s hard to predict exactly what will happen as a result of the new legislation, passed by the government just three weeks ago. He hasn’t yet had time to read the entire document, which the government calls its “forest revitalization plan”. But one thing is clear, he said: the changes are huge.
From what he’s read so far, he said, it appears the government is relying on the logging companies to take on responsibilities previously held by government.
“It’s trusting the big corporations to do what’s right and that has never, ever worked,” Mr. Johnson said. “The government has just basically rolled back all the things government and the public had put together over the years, in the hopes the corporations could do the right thing.”
One of the problems with this approach, he said, is that one company, for example Weyerhaeuser, could decide to do the “right thing” and invest its profits in new equipment and maintaining jobs for its operations on the Charlottes. But if other companies don’t follow suit, it leaves Weyerhaeuser at a disadvantage.
The government’s decision to abandon cut control regulations is particularly worrisome for communities like Port. These regulations used to require companies to cut a certain minimum amount of wood every year. The government says that taking this requirement away will allow companies to decide “when to log, based on market conditions, without being penalized for not cutting wood.”
Sounds good, but the flip side is that these regulations were put into place originally to keep a stable population in little resource-dependent communities. Without them, Mr. Johnson said, Port may see its population dive down to 300, swell up to 700 and then shrink back to 300 again in just a few years, based on market conditions.
“That’s death to small communities,” he said.
While Mr. Johnson is a member of the Port Clements village council, he said that he is speaking for himself, as council has not yet had time to discuss the forest revitalization plan.
Meanwhile, the provincial government says its plan will boost the economy and open new opportunities in the forest industry. The Ministry of Forests will be reallocating 20 percent of logging rights from major licensees and selling the timber on the open market. The licensees will be compensated for the loss through a $200-million fund. The government has also set aside $75-million for transition assistance for forest workers and contractors. Other changes:
• Regulations requiring tenure holders to process wood at mills in nearby communities have been removed, so that timber can now be processed at mills anywhere in BC.
• The government will allocate more wood to First Nations, and will share $95-million in forest revenues with First Nations over the next three years.
• The government will set up a new timber pricing system that it says will “give British Columbians fair value for the use of the public forests.”
• Tenure holders will be able to subdivide or transfer all or part of their cutting rights to other operators in BC without penalty.
• The government will spend one per cent of all direct forest revenues to marketing BC wood products, opening up new markets in China and Japan.