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Comment: Forest, parks bills should be open to debate

Big changes are being discussed for the future of British Columbia’s parks and forests. Despite the impact of these changes, British Columbians are not being consulted. On Feb.

Big changes are being discussed for the future of British Columbia’s parks and forests. Despite the impact of these changes, British Columbians are not being consulted.

On Feb. 25, two proposed bills, Bill 4 and Bill 5, entered their second reading and almost no one noticed. If passed, the two amendment bills — known as the Park Amendment Act and the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act — would adversely affect forest-based jobs and our protected areas network, which are anchors for the motto “Super Natural B.C.”

Buried within a 36-page document, Bill 5 looks to make what is being called an administrative change to speed up the process for the export of wood chips. In reality, this change is anything but simple and could have undesirable impacts for communities and those who work in the forest sector.

Forest Lands and Natural Resources Operations Minister Steve Thomson proposes an increase to the maximum amount of wood residue (wood chips) that the minister can permit for export from 5,000 bone-dry units to 200,000 bone-dry units.

Put plainly, the minister can currently approve the export of 217 double truckloads of wood chips in a single application without the requirement of an additional level of approval from cabinet. This balance and check ensures that all wood chip exports are, in fact, surplus and in the public interest. If the bill is passed, the minister could approve the export of more than 8,500 double truckloads of wood chips and shavings without any additional review of the application. This is a 40-fold increase and would logically have a correlation to employment.

B.C. is currently a net importer of wood chips. If the province needs more than we are exporting, why is the minister rushing to move more of our forests out of B.C.? With mills around the province shutting down and an exhausted timber supply in the mountain pine beetle-affected areas, this ability to approve a massive increase in exports sounds like a lot less value for B.C.’s forest products.

It also sounds like fewer jobs for British Columbians at a time when our government should be trying to keep forest product processing and production at home.

It’s not looking good on the environmental side, either. If passed, this amendment could lead to the expansion of forestry for export in areas that already do not have sufficient ecological conservation with little or no net gain for communities. The government should increase levels of forest protection from its current 15 per cent to scientifically mandated levels, instead of adding pressure on our forests by eliminating steps that help ensure a healthy balance is maintained.

Add to the mix the minister’s current priority to roll over volume-based tenures to area-based tenures, and one wonders whose interest is being served by these changes.

Bill 4, the Park Amendment Act brought forth by Environment Minister Mary Polak, proposes to allow “research” in the province’s parks related to feasibility and environmental assessment for pipelines, highways and transmission lines. However, the term “research” is not defined, and could mean anything from taking a water sample to drilling a test well. If the bill is passed, the minister could approve a permit for this range of research even if it isn’t consistent with the purpose of the park.

As written, Bill 4 would make every protected area vulnerable to large industrial projects.

When changes of this sort are proposed by a government, it is expected that public consultation and collaboration with affected sectors be done. This public vetting of policy ideas ensures that the resulting bill reflects the will of the public and affected interests. Decisions that affect the well-being of communities and forests should be up for public debate. Up to today, there has been no consultation with the public, environmental or labour sector.

Forests and forest workers deserve sustainability, and this should start with the government working to protect forests and keep jobs and forest-product manufacturing in B.C.

Fortunately, these are only proposed changes. There is still time to pull them off the table before we chip further away at our forest sector and our protected areas.


Arnold Bercov is national president of the Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada. Stephanie Goodwin is the B.C. director for Greenpeace.

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