B.C. expands old-growth logging deferral to 2.1 million hectares, promises greater First Nations collaboration
New money coming for forest landscape planning and to help mills diversify
The British Columbia government announced new measures Wednesday it says will better protect old growth by working with First Nations while it ramps up investments to encourage innovation in an industry that has been plagued by job losses.
The province says it's expanding the logging deferral of old-growth forests to 2.1 million hectares, up from 1.7 million reported last spring, while bringing in new innovations to better care for forests.
"That's an area equal to more than 4,000 Stanley Parks,'' said Premier David Eby, adding the latest deferral shows logging of the ancient trees is now at the lowest level on record.
"Our forests are foundational to B.C. in collaboration with First Nations and industry, we are accelerating our actions to protect our oldest and rarest forests," Eby said in a statement.
"At the same time, we will support innovation in the forestry sector so our forests can deliver good, family-supporting jobs for generations to come."
The plans include $25 million for new Forest Landscape Planning (FLP) to develop clear objectives and outcomes for the management of forest resource values in a defined area.
Last May, the Forests Ministry announced further progress on 14 recommendations from 2020's Old-Growth Strategic Review. It reported logging deferrals on about 1.7 million hectares, including more than one million hectares of trees in areas most at risk of irreversible loss.
The government announced it would be implementing alternatives to clearcut logging, such as selective harvesting techniques, and it will be repealing outdated wording in law that prioritizes timber supply over issues like water quality and wildlife habitat.
Since November 2021, the province has been engaging with First Nations about deferring harvesting within old-growth forests. That same year, the B.C. NDP amended the Forest and Range Practices Act to replace its previous Forest Stewardship Plans.
According to the government, the change better aligns forestry legislation with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act passed in late 2019 and creates a more inclusive approach to caring for B.C. forests by incorporating local Indigenous knowledge in forest management.
The new funding will be used to support eight regional forest landscape planning tables with the participation of approximately 50 First Nations. The tables will provide direction as to where harvesting and road building may occur.
"For far too long, First Nations have been sidelined in this sector," said Leonard Joe, CEO of the First Nations Forestry Council. "Today, there are signs that this is changing."
The government is also planning to double the B.C. Manufacturing Jobs Fund to $180 million to support mills to process smaller-diameter trees and manufacture higher-value wood products such as mass timber.
The announcement also comes in the wake of several weeks of job losses in B.C.'s forest industry as companies curtail operations at mills across the province.
Last week, West Fraser Timber Co. announced it would temporarily curtail operations at its Cariboo Pulp and Paper mill in Quesnel, B.C., after announcing in January it was indefinitely curtailing its Perry Sawmill in Florida due to high fibre costs and softening lumber markets.
CBC News is tracking forestry job losses in 2023. Tap on the map below to learn more about closures and curtailments:
Canfor also announced in January it is eliminating one of its pulp lines in Prince George, permanently shutting down its sawmill and pellet plant in Chetwynd, and planning an extended shutdown of its mill in Houston, B.C. The company says it is revamping its strategy in the province to deal with a declining timber supply.
About 700 employees are expected to be impacted by the changes.
Statistics Canada numbers show B.C. has lost more than 40,000 forest-sector jobs since the early 1990s.
The jobs fund was previously restricted to projects outside Metro Vancouver and the Capital Regional District on southern Vancouver Island. It will now apply provincewide.
Wednesday's news conference follows an Order in Council signed by Ralston in Victoria on Monday.
On Feb. 13, amendments were made to the act governing forestry practices in the province that struck the words "without unduly reducing the supply of timber from British Columbia's forests."
According to Torrance Coste, national campaign director for the environmental group the Wilderness Committee, the change could help conservation and other values in B.C. forests.
"That [old] language is extremely problematic and has long been a barrier to conserving other values in the forests, such as biodiversity or cultural resources or recreation," said Coste.
"If this is the removal of all instances of that language, it's extremely significant, one of the biggest things that B.C. NDP has done on the environment since it's been in office."
First Nations 'optimistic'
James Hobart, chief of the Spuzzum First Nation, says he feels 'optimistic' about Eby's announcement to collaborate with 50 First Nations.
"In the past, we've been acknowledged but at the same time, there wasn't that intent to engage," he said.
"Right now, I feel like, because they've opened the door, at least we have a way to hold them accountable. That's where my optimism comes in."
While reports have shown a decline in old-growth logging, Hobart says the reality on the ground is that three has been more old-growth logging in the past year.
"So what I think really needs to happen is honest data, honest mapping and honest relaying of information to the B.C. taxpayers," he said.
"They deserve that."
He is hopeful the new measures will improve relations between forestry companies and First Nations and make way for more direct engagement compared to communicating with third-party consultation companies.
"Because when they can't answer any questions that we have ... it almost seems like the government is filled with fear around talking to us."
The new measures are supported by the B.C. Council of Forest Industries (COFI) , which represents the majority of lumber, pulp and paper, and manufactured wood producers in B.C.
"Today's announcement includes positive steps towards putting the necessary investments, frameworks and relationships in place to advance how old-growth forests are conserved and managed in the province," said president and CEO Linda Coady in a statement.
Coady added that steps taken to accelerate the old growth review process will also support land use planning at the local level.
"Strengthened Indigenous and local engagement on land use planning at the regional level will help ensure goals for forest health and biodiversity are met while also creating more predictability for workers, communities and forest-related businesses across B.C.," she said.
John Bergenske, conservation director of Wildsight, said the forest policy changes signal a shift in direction toward protecting forest biodiversity.
"After decades of forest management that has prioritized timber supply over ecosystems and the health of British Columbia's forests, Premier David Eby announced a transformational shift,'' he said in a statement.
With files from The Canadian Press