B.C. promises to consult First Nations before pushing ahead with old-growth logging deferrals

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B.C. promises to consult First Nations before pushing ahead with old-growth logging deferrals

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The B.C. government says it has begun consulting with dozens of First Nations about putting a pause to any logging operations threatening thousands of square kilometres of the most vulnerable old-growth ecosystems in the province.

The government announced Tuesday it has asked each nation in B.C. about deferring the logging of big, ancient and rare old-growth trees across 26,000 square kilometres of forests — an area more than 220 times the City of Vancouver.

“We are committed to working in partnership with First Nations to make sure we get this right and to supporting workers and communities as we develop a sustainable approach to managing B.C.’s old-growth forests,” said Katrine Conroy, the minister of forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development. 

The consultations are the latest step in B.C.’s lengthy process of updating its strategy to protect the province’s largest, oldest trees — some more than 1,000 years old — and the rich ecosystems on which they thrive.

A couple are dwarfed by old growth tress as they walk in Avatar Grove near Port Renfrew, B.C., on Oct. 5, 2021. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

An independent panel of scientific experts this year mapped priority areas for logging deferrals, with the forests most at risk of irreversible loss across the province. Deferrals are a temporary measure to pause logging operations over the next two years while the province works on its new long-term plan. 

The province has asked First Nations to decide in 30 days whether they support the deferrals or require further discussion.

If the nation agrees, the province said logging companies will have two choices: volunteer to pause the harvest, or be ordered to stop under Part 13 of the Forest Act, which allows for a temporary pause lasting up to 10 years and requires compensation after four.

Up to 4,500 jobs at risk, province says

The province said it has immediately stopped advertising and selling B.C. Timber Sales licences for the areas in question while consultations take place. The province did not provide a dollar figure for the loss in income, but said the area covers roughly one-third of the agency’s annual sales program.

Conroy said early socioeconomic analysis has found roughly 4,500 jobs would be immediately impacted if every area highlighted Tuesday were to have logging deferred permanently.

The B.C. Council of Forest Industries said its own calculations paint a different picture  — a statement Tuesday said it found the deferrals would close up to 14 sawmills, threaten roughly 18,000 jobs and cost the government more than $400 million in revenue.

“Our strong hope is that the province will commit to a fact-based, balanced and inclusive approach … before proceeding with decisions that could irreparably harm workers, companies and communities across our province,” read the statement.

Conroy said the government will be developing support programs for workers and their communities, which will include connecting workers with short-term jobs, new training or funding for early retirements.

Environmentalists worry old-growth logging in areas like the Caycuse Valley on Vancouver Island will result in a loss of biodiversity in B.C. (The Wilderness Committee)

30-day deadline leaves nations ‘rushed’: MLA

The province did not immediately comment on what would happen if a nation disagreed with the proposed deferrals.

Robert Dennis, elected chief councillor for Huu-ay-aht First Nation on western Vancouver Island, said there is concern the province could ultimately go ahead even if a First Nation declined, despite the provincial commitment.

“The way I read it and the way I understand it in the letter from the B.C. government is that any additional deferrals in the territory will not be implemented without the approval of our nations, so that gives me a lot of comfort there,” said Dennis.

“[But] it’s always a worry.”

Green MLA Adam Olsen said 30 days is a tight deadline for nations, considering the stakes, and not enough time to qualify as proper consultation by the government.

“Government is continuing old habits by leaving First Nations out of the loop and then rushing them through a significant decision-making process. First Nations deserve — and are legally entitled to — full consultation as the rights holders of their own territories,” wrote Olsen, who represents the riding of Saanich North and is a member of Tsartlip First Nation.

Once the initial two-year deferral periods end, the province said the old-growth forests identified as being at risk will either remain off-limits for harvesting or be included in new, more sustainable forest management plans.

The issue of old-growth management has flared up in the province with ongoing protests against old-growth logging resulting in more than 1,150 arrests by the RCMP in the Fairy Creek watershed on southern Vancouver Island.

B.C. had announced the temporary deferral of harvesting across 196,000 hectares of old-growth forests in nine different areas next fall. In June, the government approved a request from three Vancouver Island First Nations to defer old-growth logging across about 2,000 hectares of the Fairy Creek and central Walbran areas.

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