Premier John Horgan (Colin Smith Takes Pics)

The BC government released its goals for the forest industry in the Modernizing Forest Policy plan in a press conference on Tuesday.

Premier Horgan and Forests minister Katrine Conroy announced the plan on June 1st, with a mandate of diversity, competitiveness, sustainability, and community-orientation.

The government said it will begin to focus on reconciliation with First Nations’, stewardship and sustainability, increased sector participation, and a strengthened social contract to give the government more control over management of the sector.

The announcement comes amid old-growth logging protests near Port Renfrew, the challenges to the timber supply and demand, and the perceived monopoly on forest tenures held by roughly five large companies in BC.

The government has said it intends to address these issues with their new plan that will come into effect immediately and will be rolled out until 2023.

“The released intentions paper reinforces the government’s other actions on forests, including the commitment to implement all recommendations coming out of the independent old growth review,” the BC government said in a statement.

In addition, the paper includes the government’s collaboration with Indigenous leaders, local governments, labour, industry and environmental groups to “balance the need to support and protect workers with the need for additional old-growth protection.”

Premier Horgan said he is in private talks about the details with leaders in each industry and that those conversations will be brought to the public in the coming weeks.

Old-Growth

Critics of the new plan have already commented on Horgan’s commitment to the old-growth strategic review and the old-growth deferrals the new plan outlines.

“Not a single one of the 20 policy intentions announced today is achievable without social license, and without any immediate action on old-growth, this government will continue to lose that,” Torrance Coste from the Wilderness Committee said in a statement.

Sonia Furstenau, leader of the BC Greens and MLA for Cowichan Valley also criticized the new plan and said the set of deferrals announced by government so far, in September 2020, largely do not meet the criteria of high-risk, high value forests at risk of logging.

“Thousands of British Columbians are showing up to protest the BC NDP’s lack of protection of our ancient forests,” said Furstenau.

“People want to see this government step up and recognize the urgency of the moment we are in. This lack of leadership betrays the trust that people put in John Horgan and the NDP when they promised to protect old growth during the 2020 election.”

Premier Horgan was asked why the old-growth deferrals did not apply to the current Fairy Creek watershed.

He said his government is clear with following the recommendations set out in the old-growth strategic review.

“The critical recommendation that’s in play at Fairy Creek is consulting with the title holders,” said Horgan.

“If we were to arbitrarily put deferrals in place there, that would be a return to the colonialism that we have so graphically been brought back to this week by the discovery in Kamloops.”

In this case, the Fairy Creek watershed is in the territory of the Pacheedaht Nation.

Premier Horgan said it will be 2023 by the time a new old growth plan is introduced.

Timber and Tenures

The new plan also said it intends to change policy and strengthen the annual allowable cut for the timber industry, which is seeing a supply shortage with a booming demand due to climate change, the mountain pine beetle, the epidemic and large wildfires.

“The proposed changes to forestry policy will address the rapid decline of available timber and promote higher-value wood products like mass timber,” the BC government said in a statement.

“It also recognizes that responsibly managed forests are a legacy for future generations. They are a high-value resource in a global market demanding more sustainably sourced goods.”

The B.C. government authorizes the rights to harvest Crown timber through forest tenure and said it intends to diversify forest tenures, where currently, five large companies hold roughly half of the forest tenures in the province.

The province said it will establish a framework that will lay out under what circumstances tenure-holders will receive compensation for lost harvesting rights.

It says it will be flexible when it comes to reducing forest licences to take into account the pressures on small operators or Indigenous or community operators, groups that the new plan intends to redistribute forest tenures to.

The Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA), who are involved in the protest at Fairy Creek, criticized the tenure policies as well.

“While we welcome policy that allows for greater decision-making in line with communities’ interests, values, and aspirations, how will communities be able to adequately address those various needs when the only economic option on the table is more old-growth logging?” stated AFA campaigner TJ Watt.

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