We have learned that there are considerable issues with how B.C. Timber Sales is operating. It appears that they are not even following their own rules. This is deeply concerning.
I have been asking government of the continued liquidation of old-growth, specifically on Vancouver Island, for the better part of the past year. With most of it already harvested, and only a fraction still standing, I’ve been particularly critical of the doublespeak I hear in the responses from the Minister. On one hand the provincial government voices recognition of the value of old-growth for biodiversity and the health of ecosystems, while at the same time they are actively auctioning the last remaining stands of pristine old-growth. The inconsistency is lost on no one.
It appears that the Ministry of Forests own people have been investigating B.C. Timber Sales and raising the red flags about their practices. The compliance and enforcement officer on the file made recommendations that were ignored and he was sidelined. The public interest is not being served. British Columbians are concerned, indeed, many are furious. We are dangerously close to harvesting the last remaining old-growth trees meanwhile the Ministry continues to produce rhetoric, patting us on the head, and telling us everything is fine.
So, I asked the Minister of Forests, Hon. Doug Donaldson about it in Question Period.
LOGGING PRACTICES AND PROTECTION OF OLD-GROWTH FORESTS
A. Olsen: The British Columbia forestry industry has been collapsing for decades because successive governments have been overharvesting trees. People in remote, rural and urban British Columbia are voicing their concern. People within government are expressing their dismay.
British Columbians are concerned that the changes made by the previous government in handing over the public interest to foreign interests are hurting them. This government continues to rapaciously log old-growth ecosystems on Vancouver Island, and it appears that they’re doing so in a way that doesn’t even comply with their own rules.
Let’s look at the Nahmint valley in Port Alberni. Earlier this year, the photos of majestic tree stumps went viral. The vast clearcuts were once rich habitat, home to endangered species. Two separate investigations appear to have found that B.C. Timber Sales are auctioning off cutblocks that are violating their own rules.
Two separate investigations appear to have found that B.C. Timber Sales is auctioning off cutblocks that are violating their own rules. The compliance and enforcement officer from the Forests Ministry, in one investigation, recommended that the logging of the valley be halted and that the future harvesting be put on hold. Yet the logging of this pristine valley continues, with no end in sight.
My question is to the Minister of Forests. Why is the government ignoring the recommendation of this investigation, continuing to log irreplaceable old-growth ecosystems in the Nahmint valley?
Hon. D. Donaldson: Well, I thank the member for his thoughtful question. We, as the government, understand the importance of old-growth forests to supporting biodiversity in the forest ecosystems. We are blessed in B.C. to still have options on the management of old growth.
He refers to the Nahmint valley, and it was designated a special management zone in 2000 under the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan. The values that underline this special management zone include wildlife, biodiversity and recreation. And staff in my ministry are currently working as part of a working group that includes First Nations and staff from B.C. Timber Sales to legalize old-growth management areas, OGMAs, in the Nahmint valley. This involves using new and up-to-date information and incorporating other important values, including legacy trees and large cultural trees to provide additional protection.
We take the member’s concerns seriously. We are not ignoring this issue or this topic. From what I understand, B.C.’s independent watchdog, the Forest Practices Board is investigating the Ancient Forest Alliance’s complaint, and the Forest Practices Board investigation will be made public.
Mr. Speaker: The Member for Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.
A. Olsen: Indeed, we do have options until, of course, we log all the old growth, and then those options are gone. I thank the minister for the response.
I think the problem is that B.C. Timber Sales and the ministry’s enforcement officers are too closely entwined. They work side by side. They report to the same people. So it appears to the public, whose interest we are in this place to protect and who B.C. Timber Sales works on behalf of, that we have serious compliance and enforcement issues.
It appears we have a serious conflict of interest in the administration of the public interest. This is highlighted by the fact that the compliance officer responsible for the investigation that I mentioned earlier says that he was told that at one point to “close down the investigation, not write a report and just send an internal memo.” That is a worrying statement. B.C. Timber Sales appears to be ignoring the internal government recommendations, violating the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan, and they may have been allowing overcutting of old growth for the past 18 years.
My question is to the Minister of Forests. There is a growing lack of certainty whose interest B.C. Timber Sales is representing. Who is holding B.C. Timber Sales accountable for their actions?
Hon. D. Donaldson: Well, the B.C. Timber Sales is held to the same standard as private companies, and they’re accountable to the public. They submit forest stewardship plans. Those forest stewardship plans now, under our new legislation that we passed in May — under the Forest and Range Practices Act — are much more transparent than they were before. It allows a forest operations map to be made public, and transparency is there for people to be able to see where cutblocks and roads, for instance, are planned.
The compliance and enforcement branch has the authority to investigate B.C. Timber Sales. They are a compliance branch, so they monitor and ensure compliance with the certain natural resource legislation, including compliance with forest stewardship plans. When necessary and appropriate, they take enforcement actions, and that’s the oversight with the BCTS, the same as it would be for any forest licensee.
However, we understand that there are people who are interested and concerned about harvesting practices on a timber-harvesting land base. That’s why we introduced a legacy tree policy in June, where there’s the ability to register large trees, and each of these trees is protected by a one-hectare buffer. That’s 100 metres by 100 metres.
We’ve also convened an old-growth strategic review panel, consisting of Garry Merkel and Al Gorley, who will be travelling the province to gather information and report back to me in the new year for recommendations around old-growth strategic policy.