Trade Wars

British Columbia’s NDP government haunted by past election promise

Protesters work to build roadblocks along a logging road at Fairy Creek Dams Headquarters outside of Port Renfrew, British Columbia, on May 23, 2021. On May 17, the RCMP took over. started enforcing an injunction against a series of old forest blockades in the area.

Jesse Winter / The Globe and Mail

It all started with a campaign promise.

John Horgan, seeking re-election for his party in last October’s snap election in British Columbia, urged an NDP government to fully embrace the recommendations of his group of independent experts that called for a paradigm shift in the management of old-growth forests by the province.

Politically, it made sense at the time. The Prime Minister called the elections to get out of a minority government pact that required cooperation with the BC Green caucus. To get the majority it coveted, the New Democrats went to great lengths to court green voters. When asked if he would agree to the proposed plan to protect old growth forests, the only sure answer was yes.

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The NDP won its majority in that election, and the Green Party lost the influence it enjoyed in the previous minority government.

But the Prime Minister expressed the hope that there would be tangible changes in forestry practices. He had officially recognized that the value of old trees left standing may be much higher than the value of those trees as wood products.

Yet the change is imperceptible. In fact, his pledge has become a weapon for his detractors, who want at least a moratorium on logging in old growth forests until the province determines exactly what should be protected at all times.

RCMP arrest six protesters as opposition to old logging in Fairy Creek on Vancouver Island escalates

Old growth forests work hard for us. Now we have to work for them

Over the past week, the RCMP have arrested more than four dozen protesters trying to stop logging in old growth forests in Fairy Creek, a valley in the Prime Minister’s riding. Fairy Creek is part of the Tree Farm License 46 and features increasingly rare intact stands of Western Red Cedar and Yellow Cedar, trees up to 2000 years old. The logging company holding the license, Teal-Jones, has been awaiting blockades since last August and has just started logging operations after the RCMP began enforcing a court injunction.

Mr. Horgan’s government has pleaded for patience with those who want to stop logging old growth forests. But the grievances are mounting. Investors who have signed on to the province’s Great Bear Rainforest initiative are unhappy that logging continues on BC’s central coast without the promised environmental monitoring.

The province’s independent watchdog on forestry practices found that logging of tall old trees in the Nahmint River watershed on Vancouver Island did not adequately protect old growth values ​​and of biodiversity. Since Mr Horgan’s independent committee presented its recommendations for reforming old forest logging, his government has approved logging plans at a faster rate than the previous year.

Although the government argues that it was never going to achieve a paradigm shift in forestry practices overnight, there is an economic incentive to act slowly.

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In the budget presented in April, provincial forestry revenues are one of the few bright spots. British Columbia expects to generate $ 1.1 billion in direct forestry revenues, a significant jump from the previous year. This is an area that can help British Columbia get out of the financial hole created by the pandemic.

After years of struggling with trade wars, mountain pine beetle infestations, wildfires and labor strikes, BC’s forestry sector is finally booming. The price of the two-by-four made from western spruce, pine and fir broke records this month: US $ 1,640 per 1,000 board feet, up 355% from the last year, according to industry newsletter Madison’s Lumber Reporter.

According to the Wilderness Committee, publicly available data shows logging of old growth forests increased 43 percent in the year since the government received its report and recommendations from the Old Growth Strategic Review Panel.

The province is still reviewing the data and suggests the Wilderness Committee’s calculations are flawed because a long strike disrupted coastal forestry operations. But there is no doubt that the sawmills and logging crews are very busy, enjoying the wood mania.

For Teal-Jones, who missed some of the action due to the Fairy Creek blockades, the logging crews are just getting to work. “We will continue responsible harvesting where it is safe, and in consultation with the RCMP,” the company said in a statement.

The blockade of Fairy Creek also highlights one of the reasons Mr Horgan did not act quickly. There is another important part in this dispute.

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Teal-Jones says it is operating after consultations with local First Nations, and Pacheedaht First Nation said it is working with the logging company to determine what will be harvested and preserved on their land through a plan to stewardship of resources.

“We do not welcome or support the unsolicited involvement or interference of others in our territory, including the activism of third parties,” Pacheedaht executives said in a statement.

The NDP government needs to do more than just recognize the interests of aboriginal people. He needs to listen. In 2019, it passed legislation to ensure that all provincial laws and policies are consistent with the internationally recognized human rights of Indigenous peoples. This was the start of a process that is expected to take decades, and nowhere is it more critical than consulting on the development of Crown lands subject to Aboriginal land claims.

Mr. Horgan’s goals will soon be clear.

In early June, after consulting with Indigenous communities, the Horgan government will table a document of intent outlining the changes it intends to make to provincial forest policy.

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