It’s time to pull the plug on self-regulation in B.C.’s forest industry

B.C. has adopted what respected forest ecologist Herb Hammond says is a “crass, colonial approach to ecosystems and the societies that depend upon them.”

Self-regulation by industry foresters means corporate responsibility is virtually always put ahead of ecological and social responsibility, with unfortunate results to B.C.’s forests.

Self-regulation controls B.C.’s resource industries and has been identified as a major setback as we struggle with declining levels of timber and an increase in climate disruption. Known as “professional reliance,” this model relies on industry consultants, employed by privately owned companies, to determine how resources are managed in our province.

The provincial government is currently reviewing professional reliance to ensure public interest is being protected. Since its adoption 16 years ago, communities have witnessed increased damage to wildlife habitat and watersheds from logging and road building that went ahead with the approval of registered professionals and without consultation by either the public or the government.

Registered professional foresters are expected to follow an ethic that protects the public interest, including ecological factors. The reality is that some are compelled to work in the interest of their profit-focused employers.

Veteran forest ecologists maintain that the industry’s “sustainable” cutting rates are propped up by logging in ecologically sensitive areas such as domestic watersheds and steep slopes. These practices result in boil-water advisories, flood conditions and expensive water treatment options.

For example, Peachland in the Okanagan has almost three kilometres of logging roads for every square kilometre in its watershed. The cumulative effects of these roadways contribute to mudslides, runoff and boil-water advisories, due in part to industrial activities in the watershed. Peachland (population 5,200) is considering borrowing $24 million to finance a water filtration system to mitigate impacts.

In 2011, Laird Creek in the West Kootenays experienced landslides caused by trucks traversing poorly designed logging roads. Citizens had voiced their concerns about the risk of long-term damage to their water system before logging started. Now the tenure has been passed on to another logging company, and people are bracing again for more damage to their water systems and a return to bottled water.

The BC Forest Practices Board has found that for some community watersheds, the “protection provided is inadequate” and that “government needs to commit the necessary resources to move ahead with a more integrated approach to planning in community watersheds, especially where watersheds are at risk, and ensure that recommendations in those plans are fully implemented within a reasonable time frame.”

The recently formed BC Coalition for Forestry Reform (BCCFR) is a citizen-led organization made up of 21 non-profit groups who maintain that professional reliance presents a conflict of interest. The coalition is demanding significant changes to forest regulations, including elimination of professional reliance and the addition of public input into the management of public forests.

The legislation that governs the forestry industry, the Forest and Range Practices Act, needs to change. The written objectives to protect water, habitat, biodiversity and ecosystems apply only to the extent that they do not “unduly reduce the supply of timber from British Columbia’s forests.” This archaic law originated decades ago, when timber companies ruled B.C. This is no longer the case. BC Stats records the gross domestic product value for the forest industry and its related fields at about $7 billion. Real estate, construction, retail, manufacturing and tourism all contribute a higher annual GDP to the province than the timber industry.

The BCCFR is united in support of these changes in forestry practices and legislation: long-term forestry plans, mandatory public consultation, the recognition of non-timber values and a third-party monitoring system.

We’re long past our expiry date for preserving much of Super, Natural British Columbia. As stakeholders in our watersheds, the BC Coalition for Forestry Reform encourages citizens to demand change regarding how and when our publicly owned forests are developed for resource extraction. 

Taryn Skalbania is a co-spokeswoman for the BC Coalition for Forestry Reform and co-chair of the Peachland Watershed Protection Alliance.