Over the past several weeks the B.C. Green Caucus has been asking government about the lack of protection of old-growth forests in British Columbia. Our work culminated in a call for a moratorium.
Another troubling aspect of forest management in the province is on private land. We have been inundated with correspondence. People in the Southern Gulf Islands, Cowichan Valley and the Kootenays are deeply concerned. They worry about a variety of issues including climate change, water quality and slope stability. Currently, it appears there is little that local government leaders can do to protect the interests of their constituents.
We know the Minister of Forests, Hon. Doug Donaldson, has also heard the outcry and he has recently announced a review of the Private Managed Forest Land Program. I support the Minister’s initiative to review this program. There are clearly significant issues that need to be addressed.
However, every day the government is reviewing the situation communities are under substantial threat. Forests will continue to fall, neighbours voices will still be muted and communities pressed into action.
I asked Minister Donaldson when he is going to stop allowing the unsustainable logging practices on private land and if he will put a moratorium on logging until his review is complete and decisions made on how to proceed.
Over the past few weeks, our caucus has been focused on old growth. The response to our work has been overwhelming. It comes from across the political, economic, social and cultural spectrum. People are frustrated. They’re unhappy with the responses from the Minister of Forests.
Our office has also been inundated by British Columbians who are affected by logging on private land. Clearcut logging private lands on the southern Gulf Islands is challenging. Every day, the last remaining stands of coastal Douglas fir are hacked from the rocks and shipped off-island.
The ministry knows about this, not only because of the ongoing public outcry, but because this outcry dates back to the very beginning of when the Private Managed Forest Land Act was brought in, back in 2004.
It’s not just the Gulf Islands. It’s the Kootenays as well. My question is to the Minister of Forests. When is he going to stop the unsustainable logging practices on private lands?
Hon. D. Donaldson:
Well, our government is committed to making sure the management of private forest lands is being done in a way to encourage sustainable practices. There are a couple of ways that harvesting occurs on private lands. Private land owners who have forests that they want to harvest is one way, and then private land owners who are part of the private managed forest program is another way.
Regardless of which category the private land owners fall into, they’re subject to provincial statutes, such as the Water Sustainability Act, the Drinking Water Protection Act, the Environmental Management Act, the Wildlife Act, the Assessment Act and the Wildfire Act. And federal acts, as well, they’re subject to, such as the Fisheries Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Species at Risk Act. If there are violations under those acts, they’re investigated, and charges are laid.
We also strongly encourage property owners to participate in the private managed forest program. That has another set of rules and commitments for those who want to harvest on their private lands.
The private managed forest lands program was first established in 2003, and it hasn’t been updated or reviewed in over a decade. That’s why our government launched a review of this program earlier this week. It started May 28, and public engagement goes till July 9. We’re looking forward to getting comments back from communities who are concerned and to incorporate that into a new approach to managing private forest lands.
Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.
The list of regulatory frameworks that the minister mentions is in stark contrast to the bare mountainsides and hillsides that we’re seeing — complete clearcuts of properties on the southern Gulf Islands and throughout southern Vancouver Island and in the Kootenays.
Private owners may have the right to cut down a tree, but clearcut logging without proper oversight and enforcement can result in massive changes to the water tables and slopes ability. It becomes an issue for the rights of neighbours, who suddenly cannot trust their water source, as we’ve seen in a few neighbourhoods on Saltspring Island that they’re deeply concerned about — and risks of landslides, as the people of Youbou have just learned. In severe rainstorms, they’ve been asked to move to the front of their homes to protect themselves. It seems to be absurd.
In British Columbia, it appears that the right to clearcut private forest land is pre-eminent over the well-being of our communities. I certainly appreciate that the Minister of Forests is undertaking a public consultation to hear from British Columbians. But to the Minister of Forests, will he put a moratorium on these unsustainable logging practices until after his public consultation and decision on how to proceed?
Hon. D. Donaldson:
Well, these are private lands. As I pointed out, these private land owners are subject to provincial statutes, a number of acts, as well as a number of federal acts.
But we are concerned about what we’re hearing from communities and what we’re hearing from individuals, as reflected in the member’s question. That’s why we are launching a review of the provincial program, the managed forest land program, which hasn’t been reviewed in over ten years.
Staff from my ministry will be directly meeting with landowners, local governments, First Nations and organizations and community groups that are directly impacted by activities on private managed forest land. That review will allow us to see how the program is doing, whether we need to make any changes. We’re going to do that over the summer. We’ll have a summary report ready for the fall of 2019.
That’s simply part of our commitment to address the problems around forest management and unresolved issues that were left to us by the former government. We’re undertaking the private land review. We’re undertaking the coast forest sector revitalization initiative. We’ve launched the Interior renewal process. We’ve launched legislative changes to make it more transparent and restore public confidence in forest management.
That’s what we’re doing. We’re committed to a vibrant forestry sector, and we’re committed to a forestry sector that supports First Nations, communities and workers.