Stella-Jones communication for its plans to log in the Begbie Bench area was “inadequate” and “did not meet legal requirements for advertising,” says a new report by the Forest Practices Board on Friday.
“The licensee’s communication regarding its planned harvesting activities was inadequate,” the report states in its conclusion, adding it provided little opportunity for area residents to comment.
“The licensee did not go beyond the minimum legal requirements or FSP (forest stewardship plan) commitments and did not directly notify or meet with the remaining BFIRP (Begbie Falls Integrated Resources Plan) planning committee participants to review the proposed development or the FSP amendment,” the report says.
However, there was nothing illegal about the logging they undertook on the Begbie Bench, the report also finds.
The report, titled Forest Planning and Development near Begbie Falls, was instigated when Loni Parker, the regional district area director for rural Revelstoke, filed a complaint with the Forest Practices Board saying the plans were not consistent with those of the Begbie Falls Integrated Resources Plan that was signed in 1993. Parker also complained the harvesting was in a recent FireSmart demonstration area.
The 11-page report looks into the history of the BFIRP, as well as the actions taken by Stella-Jones prior to logging 60 hectares of forest in the Begbie Bench area last winter.
The BFIRP was established in 1993 after two years of consultation between the Ministry of Forests, local government, the recreational community, the forest licensees and logging contractors. It established management guidelines for forest management, visual quality, wildlife, recreation, water and access. “Although this plan was not legally enforceable, it was anticipated that all parties would adhere to the intent of the plan,” the report says.
A committee met to review the plan and ongoing activities in the area until 2002.
Since the plan was established, the province changed forestry regulations to put more forest management power in the hands of licensees instead of government, meaning the BFIRP did not have to be followed.
In May, 2012, Stella-Jones advertised in the Times Review that it was amending its forest stewardship plan for the area. The amendment removed the company’s commitment to the BFIRP. It also made plans to log four cut-blocks in the area that exceeded the size limits specified in the BFIRP.
Stella-Jones consulted the Revelstoke Cycling Association on the plans, but did not meet with any of the stakeholders in the BFIRP.
In November 2012, after concerns were raised, Stella-Jones held an open house to outline its logging plans, though it was not soliciting feedback.
The company logged four cut blocks – two south of the falls and two north of the falls – last winter. Several mountain biking trails were impacted by the logging.
The Forest Practices Board report makes a number of findings. First, it says Stella-Jones only allowed for a 30-day review period, not 60 days as required.
Second, it says that “communication was not adequate in this situation.” Stella-Jones was aware of the BFIRP, the report says, and it could have notified the BFIRP committee members of its plans to drop its commitments outlined in the plan.
“This would have allowed the licensee to clarify to the committee how changes in legislation have affected resource management since the plan was developed, and would have helped maintain the trust established through the BFIRP planning process,” the report says.
The report also faults the government and the public members of the BFIRP committee for not holding meetings over the past decade.
However, the report also finds that Stella-Jones had no legal obligations to follow the BFIRP. The new stewardship plan, which was approved, only provides for a commitment to consult with nearby trail users.
The report also finds that the BFIRP is a dated plan whose practices have been superseded over the years by other land use plans, orders and regulations. Because it has not been updated in 20 years, “it does not necessarily provide good planning guidance.”
Still, the existence of the BFIRP “invokes an expectation about the manner in which this area should be managed,” the Forest Practices Board states.
“This area is locally sensitive and there was a reasonable expectation on the part of the plan participants that licensees would respect the BFIRP,” says the report. “It follows that members of the original BFIRP planning committee would expect any changes to the plan’s intent, as expressed in licensee planning and practices in the area, to be transparent and discussed with them prior to making those changes.”
Columbia River—Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald, who is the NDP forestry critic, says the report illustrates how communities have been removed from decision making.
“That’s something for rural communities that is problematic,” he said. “These land-use decision are best made not only with the full participation of the licensees but also with the broader community.”
Ashley Ladyman, the forester with Stella-Jones who was in charge of the Begbie Bench logging, acknowledged the companies faults with not adhering with advertising regulations. He said the company turned themselves in on that issue.
“All we can do is learn and try and do better,” he said. “I don’t want another one of these, so we will definitely [get] better.”
Area B director Loni Parker said Stella-Jones and the Ministry of Forests lost their “moral compass” regarding logging in the Begbie Bench area.
“It’s pretty clear in the report that the Forest Practices Board feels they should have communicated more effectively with the former members of the committee and also with local government, which they didn’t do,” she said. “The system shows clearly the fault of allowing a forest company of doing their own prescription, and if there are any infractions, let them go ahead do the wrong thing and go after them afterwards.”
She said she hopes the report will spurn the ministry and logging companies to consider community interests when they log in areas of high community value.
“I am pleased that throughout this process the Forest Practices Board is publicizing this,” she said. “They’re saying you have to pay attention to communities and hopefully that will have a positive effect on the companies – not just Stella-Jones, but all companies. They’re going to see they’ll be put out there as someone who doesn’t care about the community.”
The Ministry of Forests was reached for comment but did not respond by press deadline.
You can read the full report below: