A British Columbia forestry watchdog has found forest practices near Port Alberni have put old growth and biodiversity at risk.
The Forest Practices Board report comes three years after the Ancient Forest Alliance submitted a complaint about timber harvesting in the Nahmint River watershed. The board has determined that BC Timber Sales, the provincial agency responsible for auctioning timber sale licenses, failed to comply with land-use objectives for biodiversity protection in the Nahmint Valley.
Now, the board says the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development needs to find a way to make sure this lack of compliance doesn’t happen again.
The Nahmint, located about 20 kilometres southwest of Port Alberni, is designated as a special management zone for its high biodiversity and wildlife, with some of the largest tracts of remaining old-growth forests on Vancouver Island outside of Clayoquot Sound.
The Ancient Forest Alliance was concerned in 2018 that BC Timber Sales practices were leading to the harvesting of large, old-growth trees, overriding its own protective order and the area’s special status.
Kevin Kriese, chair of the Forest Practices Board, said that the board took a look at BC Timber Sales’ forest stewardship plan and determined that its management of old forest was not compliant with government objectives.
“The harvesting and the issues around old forest have been going on for a while,” he said in a media presentation on Wednesday, May 12.
In addition, board staff examined the remaining forest in the watershed and found that there was not adequate old forest remaining in some ecosystems. BC Timber Sales’ forest stewardship plan does not have a strategy to protect these ecosystems—meaning that there are some ecosystems that could be at risk if more logging takes place in them.
“There is a risk…that these actually could be harvested,” said Kriese.
After a complaint from the Ancient Forest Alliance in 2018, the ministry’s compliance and enforcement branch started an investigation that ultimately determined BC Timber Sales was not compliant with government objectives. However, the compliance and enforcement branch also determined that it was not able to take enforcement action under the current legal framework, so it closed the file and referred it to the Forest Practices Board.
“That’s an oversight and that’s a gap,” said Kriese. “The current legal framework does not permit government to ensure that forest stewardship plans approved in error can be amended, and this does not give the public confidence in government’s compliance and enforcement. We are recommending government fix this gap in the legislation.”
The report ultimately found “a number of issues” with government objectives for B.C.’s forests, including the Nahmint River watershed.
“The board is concerned that actions are needed now to ensure biodiversity, and old forests in particular, are being adequately protected as forestry activities proceed in this watershed,” the report states. “Ultimately, the responsibility for the gaps in the planning and approval processes rests with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.”
The report recommends that the ministry complete landscape unit planning for Nahmint and that BC Timber Sales amend its forest stewardship plan to achieve the legal objectives. It also recommends that BC Timber Sales ensures it does not sell any timber sales in these high-risk ecosystems until a landscape unit plan is completed.
The final recommendation from the report asks the ministry to identify a mechanism that will allow forest stewardship plans to be corrected if they are out of compliance.
In light of the board’s findings, the Ancient Forest Alliance is calling on the B.C. government to direct BC Timber Sales to immediately stop auctioning off cutblocks in old-growth forests and instead champion conservation solutions and sustainable second-growth harvesting practices.
“With the Forest Practices Board’s investigation now complete, the evidence is irrefutable,” said Ancient Forest Alliance campaigner Andrea Inness in a press release. “BC Timber Sales are failing to adequately protect old-growth in the Nahmint Valley. This failure exposes the gross inadequacies and lack of accountability that are inherent in B.C.’s forest system and the need for immediate, systemic change.”
The full report can be found on the Forest Practices Board’s website at www.bcfpb.ca. The board is requesting a response from BC Timber Sales and the ministry by Sept. 15, 2021.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development says that BC Timber Sales is addressing the board’s recommendations in its operations, and that the ministry is updating Nahmint’s landscape unit plan.
“The board’s independent reports are an important check on forest practices in B.C. and highlight areas where we can improve. We take seriously the board’s recommendations and observations.”
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