British Columbia

First Nations, environmentalists, mill workers push province to overhaul forestry rules

You may have never heard of the Forest and Range Practices Act but it's a piece of legislation that manages B.C.'s trees, wildlife, helps slow climate change and supports reconciliation with B.C.’s Indigenous communities. It's about to change.

Monday is last day to provide input on changes coming to Forest and Range Practices Act

A section of logged forest on Vancouver Island near Port Renfrew, B.C. (Chris Corday/CBC)

The province is taking the next step in overhauling an act that manages B.C.'s trees, wildlife, helps slow climate change, and supports reconciliation with First Nations.

Perhaps you've never heard of the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA) but stakeholders hope it will be updated in a way that will not only make forestry more sustainable in B.C. but maintain and even increase industry jobs in the province.

The act oversees how all resource-based activities, such as forestry, are conducted on public land in B.C., and protects everything in and on those lands, such as plants, animals and ecosystems.

The B.C. NDP campaigned on reforming the forestry sector in 2017 by consulting more with First Nations and managing the province's wild spaces so that ecosystems are preserved while maintaining logging jobs in the province.

'Shift our approach'

Environmentalists, First Nations and unions have been waiting for the government to deliver on the promise as feuds over old-growth trees continue, mill workers strike, pests and wildfire destroy trees and First Nations support their communities with logging.

There have been some hints that the NDP is getting serious about its promises after two years in power.

"We can no longer apply yesterday's thinking to today's challenges," said Doug Donaldson as part of a public engagement process. "We need to shift our approach away from the status quo."

FRPA was introduced in 2004 by the Liberal government and some people criticized it for reducing the power the province had to monitor and manage forestry operations, share information with the public, and intervene to protect resources or jobs.

Jens Wieting, with Sierra Club B.C., worked for a decade on the Great Bear Rainforest protections, which were introduced by the Christy Clark government in 2016 and are held up as the model for protecting wild areas.

He says FRPA has to change its language, which says safeguards for the natural environment must not unduly impact timber supply.

"So it's essentially a timber-first regulation and that's the single most important thing that must change," he said.

Logs are piled up at West Fraser Timber in Quesnel, B.C., in this 2009 photo. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The biggest demand from forestry workers, such as those struggling to hold onto jobs in mills, is that the province ban the export of raw logs so they can be processed in B.C.

Last week the government introduced a new fee-in-lieu of manufacturing system to help keep logs in the province, but union leaders are pushing the ministry to go further.

"It's only a slight change and I think at this point in time we need a drastic change," said Gary Fiege, president of the Public and Private Workers of Canada, which represents 3,000 forestry worker in B.C.

The government is also promising that by updating FRPA it will meet goals for reconciliation with First Nations. It's vowing to be more inclusive when it comes to consultations over land use and logging.

It's something that Cynthia Dick wants. She's an elected chief councillor for Tseshaht First Nation, which runs several logging companies near Port Alberni.

"We have been stewards of these lands for time immemorial and it is important that we are actively involved in the decision making process," she said.

The province will stop taking feedback from stakeholders and the public on Monday at 4 p.m. PT and will incorporate submissions into changes expected by 2020.

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