B.C. Forests minister shelves area-based tenure change

Facing criticism, the forest minister is halting plans to convert volume-based licences to area-based licences until after the May election

A proposed change to forest legislation in B.C. that would allow companies to convert volume-based forest licences into area-based licences has been shelved following criticism.

Critics said the ‘Bill 8’ changes amounted to a big giveaway of public land to private companies, that the changes were unclear, lacked adequate public process, and were ill-timed ahead of a May general election. Environmental groups also expressed deep concern about the proposed amendments.

On Mar. 12, the B.C. Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson issued a statement announcing the changes would be shelved until the summer – after the election – to allow for more public process.

“In response to the 2012 Special Committee on Timber Supply’s report and to improve forest stewardship and support community resiliency, we proposed amendments to the Forest Act that would enable the conversion of volume-based forest licences to area-based forest licences,” he said.

“This is an important piece of public policy, however, it has become clear to me that greater public engagement is needed before legislative amendments can proceed. We will therefore be initiating a process of broader public consultation this summer based on the recommendations of the special committee and the proposed legislation,” Thomson said in a statement.

“More public engagement will ensure everyone is better informed about area-based tenures, their intent and their benefits,” he added.

The minister said the changes were proposed to help mills impacted by the pine beetle infestation that were struggling with timber supply.

Opposition forests critic Norm Macdonald welcomed the announcement, saying he was “pleased” that the forest minister heeded opponents of the changes. Macdonald was a member of the Special Committee on Timber Supply.

“I had a long conversation with the minister about these proposals and raised my concerns,” said Macdonald, the MLA for Columbia River–Revelstoke. “The proposed changes were deeply problematic, and went in exactly the wrong direction. They threatened public control over B.C.’s landbase and risked hard-won environmental standards.”

Macdonald criticized the act, saying it would give great discretionary powers to the forest minister, and would grant corporations new, strong private property rights over public lands.

“This is a time of tremendous challenge for the forest industry. It is also a time where we could find real opportunities,” Macdonald said. “But we will only maximize these opportunities if we all work together to make the best decisions.”

A constituency worker at Macdonald’s office said the office received over 3,000 emails opposing the amendments.

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