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Timber buy-back, redistribution in latest B.C. forest overhaul

New rules to audit, enforce payment for log exports
B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks by video link to the annual Council of Forest Industries convention, April 8, 2021. (COFI video)

The B.C. government’s sweeping remake of the forest tenure system includes measures to reduce existing company cutting rights, pay compensation and reassign logging rights to Indigenous and community forests.

Forests Minister Katrine Conroy introduced a 160-page set of amendments this week, building on earlier changes that she has described as making the province “the landlord of the forests again.” It formalizes Premier John Horgan’s commitment to fund reassignment of existing timber licences to Indigenous communities, first used with a $2.5 million payment to the Simpcw First Nation for a share of timber rights transferred from Canfor Corp. to Interfor after the closure of the Vavenby sawmill near Clearwater.

“The proposed legislation will establish a tool that will enable government to reduce timber harvesting rights of existing forest tenure holders, provide compensation and redistribute the timber harvesting rights to First Nations and communities,” Conroy told the B.C. legislature Nov. 15.

Conroy is already defending changes to B.C. forest policy introduced in October that create 10-year landscape plans. That change would scrap the former B.C. Liberal government’s “results-based” logging plans, with the province regaining direct control over road building, and giving the Chief Forester authority to set tree planting standards for harvest areas and after large wildfires.

“We’re also requiring transparency by requiring area-based tenure holders to share forest inventory information with the chief forester,” Conroy said of the latest changes. “This will provide government with the information and tools necessary to ensure our forest sector remains sustainable. There will also be increased accountability for log exporters through a new auditing system to make sure they have paid their full fee in lieu of domestic manufacturing, ensuring British Columbians are receiving their fair share of resource revenue.”

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Horgan has been warning the big players in the B.C. forest industry since 2019 of the changes, moving ahead with a new plan after he said voluntary measures to share timber resources were not good enough.

Conroy has also moved ahead with a plan to defer logging on up to 26,000 square kilometres of old-growth forest identified in a review the industry has criticized for its influence by Sierra Club B.C. supporters. Deferrals are up to Indigenous land rights holders to finalize, as they develop their own harvest and preservation plans.

B.C. Liberal forests critic John Rustad cited Indigenous leaders who say a 30-day deadline to decide what can be logged and what can’t is unacceptable, and Conroy defended the deferral plan.

“We have let nations know that we are looking at a 30-day time period to hear whether they want to engage further, to hear whether they want to defer or not,” Conroy said in question period Monday.


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