Forestry watchdog highlights 'major weaknesses and gaps' in B.C.'s enforcement of logging laws
Forests Ministry says it's already implementing some of the report's recommendations
British Columbia's forestry watchdog says there are "major weaknesses and gaps" in the way the province enforces logging rules and protects its natural resources.
Last week the B.C. Forest Practices Board issued a report that highlights the challenges regarding enforcement for the Forest and Range Practices Act and the Wildfire Act, which govern logging and other forestry activities in B.C.
Kevin Kriese, the watchdog's board chair, says one of his primary concerns is that natural resource officers, who are tasked with enforcing B.C. forestry laws, don't have time to proactively monitor logging operations before a problem occurs.
"Someone needs to check, particularly in remote areas," Kriese said.
Kriese said natural resource officers are stretched thin, especially during months when their priorities shift to preventing wildfires.
He also emphasized that, for the most part, companies and individuals with a logging licence appear to be complying with provincial forestry laws. However, he also said it's hard to know for sure because the Forestry Ministry's enforcement branch lacks transparency.
"The public needs to know what they're finding," Kriese said.
The report recommends the enforcement branch sets clear targets and guidelines, and regularly reports to the public on its findings and activities.
Kriese said until that happens, it won't be clear if natural resource officer staffing levels are appropriate or not.
Another concern noted in the report is that some of the officers aren't properly trained and can't adequately enforce provincial laws.
To remedy that, the board recommends the ministry develop better training and human resources plans to support staff and help them better understand forestry laws and rules.
Kriese also noted that officers complain they don't always have the right equipment for the job. Past reports have recommended batons and pepper spray for officers who have to deal with the public in high-risk situations.
Doug Donaldson, B.C.'s minister of forests, said the province is already working on some of the report's recommendations.
"People need to know that government is taking compliance and enforcement seriously and taking management of forest resources seriously," Donaldson said.
Focus on inspections and investigations
One of the changes the ministry has already begun to tackle, Donaldson said, is to update the job duties of natural resource officers.
Soon the officers will spend less time doing patrols to deal with the general public and more time monitoring and investigating companies and individuals with a logging or other forestry licence.
"That really gets to the heart of the matter," he said.
Patrols to monitor public activity like campfires during the dry season will be moved to conservation officers, Donaldson said. The province has hired about 20 officers in the past two years and more are on the way, he said.
The province has also announced $10 million for the Coast Forest Sector Revitalization Initiative over the next three years, Donaldson said, and some of that money will go toward compliance and enforcement.