President & CEO, Coast Forest Products Association
Area-Based Tenure: Neither Good nor Evil
“Casting these complex issues as battles of good versus evil just means we all lose,” notes Dylan Jones, President of Canada West Foundation on the politicking surrounding resource development. As we near the end of the area-based tenure public consultation initiated by the Province of British Columbia, we see a ramping up of these types of rhetorical characterizations to the detriment of the development of good policy.
The government’s public consultation is intended to facilitate a transparent discussion about the role of area-based tenure and the accompanying regulation and policy in addressing the Interior’s mid-term timber supply crisis caused by the mountain pine beetle epidemic. Instead, the conversation has been twisted and contorted like a circus mirror to support other priorities. This was evidenced when opposition critic for Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Norm Macdonald incorrectly stated that, “When you have…Coast Forest Products Association president, Rick Jeffrey, saying this is a terrible idea, it’s a terrible idea.” And when Vicky Husband and Anthony Britneff referred to area-based tenure as “the privatization of our forests” and “not the way to go,” we saw how the subject could be oversimplified and vilified. It’s no wonder Canfor CEO Don Kayne was concerned that the area-based tenure discussion has “the risk of aligning the public against B.C.’s largest forest companies.”
The bottom line is that partisan politics has no place in a dialogue aimed at developing tools to assist in addressing prevailing land management issues in B.C. How we choose to manage the mountain pine beetle crisis will impact our Interior forests and the lives and jobs of thousands of British Columbians. If we are to arrive at the best possible solution, public consultation should be focussed on the facts.
The genesis of area-based conversions originated with the Special Committee on Timber Supply that recommended to, “Gradually increase the diversity of area-based tenures, using established criteria for conversion and a walk-before-you-run approach.” To implement this recommendation the government is gathering public input – a prudent next step for a very important topic. Kudos to Minister Thomson for having the conviction to employ this approach. We note that both area-based and volume-based tenure have existed for decades throughout our province and the end result is that B.C. is a world-renowned leader in forest stewardship with wide public access to forests on crown land. On the coast, about 60% of Crown tenure is area-based and the newly introduced Woodlands tenure for First Nations provides an option for area-based management. While improvements can always be made, coastal tree farms have outstanding reforestation performance, improved forest inventories, provide full access to the public and deliver world class forest stewardship. Specific types of tenures are neither right nor wrong, but rather administrative tools that direct how companies operate on the land base and provide the basis for investment in the land and businesses.
Finally, the dialogue should reflect the fact that legislation is “enabling,” meaning that it clearly articulates the purpose and intent of the legislation while providing for details to be spelled out in regulation. The area-based conversion proposal for an updated legislation has several important requirements that include: only a limited number of conversions would be allowed; initially, conversions may only occur in areas impacted by the mountain pine beetle; only licensees invited by the Minister to submit an application and later approved would be allowed to make the conversion; and approval would depend on the applicant demonstrating that the conversion provides social, economic and environmental benefits to the Province, the local community, local First Nations and the public without unduly impacting First Nations, other tenure holders, or other stakeholders. In our view, the contemplation of which conversions would best satisfy these requirements should be the central focus of the consultation process.
Coast Forest Products Association looks forward to providing a positive view on area-based tenure to Mr. Snetsinger as part of the Province’s public consultation. Properly constructed, the proposed legislation could provide a tool to improve forest management in B.C., assist in addressing the mid-term timber supply crisis (the good) and avoid the unintended consequences (the evil). We believe that the public consultation process provides interested British Columbians with the opportunity to be part of a solution and a bright forestry future.