Rainforest Solutions Project

Promoting conservation and economic alternatives in British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest


Forestry legislation on course despite mounting opposition

March 6, 2001

Forests Minister Gordon Wilson is plowing ahead with legislation to protect 43 million hectares of “working forest” but he concedes changes are needed to the concept originally announced in mid-February.

A deadline passed last week for comments on the proposal meant to give B.C. forest companies certainty about their land base, which has taken a beating from critics on all sides.

“We’ve had a lot of negative comment come in on the Web site,” Wilson acknowledged, referring to a site posted by the Forests Ministry to explain the proposal and accept public input.

More than 400 people e-mailed their thoughts on the working forest and virtually all of them were opposed to the legislation, including many people who called themselves NDP supporters.

“I am shocked at the fact that legislation like this could ever make it past the board room,” wrote one. “Many are saying it is a way for the NDP to secure votes, but even they must know that loggers’ votes are not so easily bought.”

Wilson said some of the comments ``have raised issues that we think are important and we obviously want to look at some of those.’‘

The role of tourism and interests “other than just timber harvesting” in the proposed working forest need to be better spelled out, he said. Wilson said he wants to meet with various groups to further discuss the proposal, which has been set out in a “rough, draft bill.”

But he said many opponents have misinterpreted what the proposed law intends to do, believing that it reforms land tenures (like tree farm and forest licences), which he said it does not do.

The critics are on both sides, with supporters of industry believing the proposal could actually reduce the area of public land that can be logged, while environmentalists fear it will make it more difficult to protect more land in the future.

Wilson described the working forest concept as the “next step in the ongoing process of trying to come up with sound stewardship of the land.” It follows the protection of more than 12 per cent of the province in parks, and the implementation of land-use plans.

The principle of a designated working forest was endorsed by former jobs and timber advocate Garry Wouters in his report on B.C. forestry last year.

Industry has embraced the idea, though representatives want to know more about the details of the legislation.

“We have just as many questions as we have answers,” said Rick Jeffery, president of the Truck Loggers Association. In principle, he said, the association supports the proposed law because it would require a “legislative process” for the removal of forest land for other uses, unlike past land-use planning.

Brian Zak, president of the Coast Forest Lumber Association, also supports the idea in principle. But the industry is concerned all land will remain in a “status quo” situation until all the land-use plans under negotiation — including one on the Central Coast — are completed, a process that could take several years, he said.

Lisa Matthaus, of the Sierra Club of B.C., said the group is appalled by what Wilson is doing.

“This legislation is going to throw up roadblocks to any activity other than commercial logging,” she said. Matthaus said Wilson has made soothing comments suggesting otherwise but they are not reflected in the discussion paper issued by the Forests Ministry.

Big logging companies will benefit from the legislation, which would make future efforts to preserve more land for tourism, recreation or biodiversity more difficult, she said.

Wilson said he is still hoping to bring in the legislation during the legislative session that starts March 14.

It is not a last-gasp attempt to ram policy down anyone’s throat, he said.

“We’re not attempting to do anything through any sort of subterfuge. This is part of what the premier wanted to do . . .

“If there are irreconcilable differences that clearly demonstrate that what is being proposed is going to be counterproductive to the general good, then cabinet has to make a decision as to whether or not they want to proceed with this legislation.”