Comment: We need a new vision for our public forests

Premier Christy Clark is still determined to achieve her liquefied natural gas vision in spite of mounting evidence that B.C. can only get into the LNG game if we’re willing to give our non-renewable natural gas resources to state-owned enterprises that are trying to drive global LNG prices down to a level that won’t bankrupt their domestic economies.

If these enterprises are successful in driving down prices, it will leave no room for the incremental LNG tax the premier is banking on to pay down B.C.’s debt. This is the real reason we haven’t seen the government’s long-overdue tax regime for LNG: There’s no opportunity to realize the premier’s promised prosperity fund in the increasingly competitive LNG market.

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At least the premier has a vision for LNG. The same cannot be said about the government’s agenda for B.C.’s renewable resources.

There’s no sustainable vision for agriculture underpinning the detrimental changes to the Agricultural Land Commission in Bill 24, at least none the minister of agriculture can articulate. The B.C. Liberals clearly have no vision for B.C.’s fisheries, either; otherwise, the province would be sending delegations to Ottawa to demand the implementation of the Cohen Commission recommendations instead of demanding federal approval of a twice-rejected mine proposal that would kill a lake in B.C.’s Interior.

B.C.’s tourism industry has been anemic since the Olympics, and the Liberals have failed to create a vision to revitalize this sector. On the contrary, parks and recreation functions continue to be eliminated and the Liberals just passed legislation to allow the boundaries of B.C.’s world-renowned parks to be changed to accommodate pipelines, resource roads and, possibly, mines.

Then there’s B.C.’s single largest publicly owned renewable resource: our forests. In 2012, the auditor general stated as clearly as possible that the government has no vision for this major resource. The Liberals dismissed his findings outright.

In a recent opinion piece, environmental activist Vicky Husband invited Times Colonist readers to take a walk in B.C.’s forests and help to protect them. She called on concerned citizens to reject the creation of more tree farm licences (TFLs are designated areas of our public forests that private companies are given exclusive rights to manage for timber) and to demand the government reduce the annual allowable cut.

Forests Minister Steve Thomson’s office responded with a letter suggesting Husband doesn’t know what she’s talking about and that all is well in B.C.’s public forests. The letter suggests that the Forest Practices Board is watching over our forests, cut levels are set by an independent chief forester, and the latest attempt by the government to create more TFLs is not a further privatization of our public forests.

However, the Forest Practices Board’s most recent reports on the state of B.C.’s forests are raising alarm bells: Roads and bridges not built to standards, water and other forest values not protected, insufficient enforcement of even minimum standards, and significant overharvesting of live trees and non-pine trees rather than pine-beetle-killed pine trees throughout the Interior. The board has called on the government to revisit its unsustainable allowable-cut levels in the Interior and to consider changes to the current laws governing the management of our public forests. The government has all but ignored these reports.

Under the B.C. Liberals, the once reasonably independent office of the chief forester has been diminished to a part-time function of an assistant deputy minister who has to set annual allowable cuts with information that the Association of B.C. Forest Professionals, the Forest Practices Board and the auditor general have all said is highly suspect. But the government continually refuses to address the sorry state of B.C.’s forest inventory.

Clearly, all is not well in B.C.’s forests. Yet the government’s only response is to attempt to give some companies more exclusive rights over our public forests through new tree farm licences. This is a proposal that has historically always been rejected by British Columbians as an unacceptable form of privatization, and the preponderance of posts to the government’s consultation blog (engage.gov.bc.ca/foresttenures) indicate it’s being rejected once again.

What we desperately need is a new vision for B.C.’s forests, not tinkering with TFLs. Our forests, not LNG, represent our best hope for creating truly sustainable economic activity. Rather than myopically focusing on LNG, the premier needs to put more political capital into developing new visions for all our sustainable resources, starting with our public forests.

Bob Simpson is a natural resource consultant, political commentator and former MLA.

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