GUEST ED­I­TO­RIAL Time to redefine for­est pri­or­i­ties

The Prince George Citizen - - Opinion -

Are we fac­ing a turn­ing point in how we think about and value B.C.’s forests? In re­cent years, B.C. forests have been rav­aged by pine and spruce bee­tle, two years of sig­nif­i­cant wild­fires, re­newed en­vi­ron­men­tal cam­paigns against old growth log­ging, and now a spate of mill clo­sures. It’s against this back­drop that the B.C. gov­ern­ment for the past few months con­ducted pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions on the For­est and Range Prac­tices Act (FRPA) with an eye to mak­ing changes it says will “sup­port the health and sus­tain­abil­ity of B.C.’s pub­lic forests and range­lands, while strength­en­ing pub­lic con­fi­dence in how these vi­tal re­sources are man­aged.”

If you don’t work in forestry, you’ve likely never heard of FRPA, yet the law is one of the most im­por­tant for manag­ing B.C.’s forests and en­vi­ron­ment. In­tro­duced in 2004, FRPA out­lines how all for­est and range prac­tices and re­source-based ac­tiv­i­ties are to be con­ducted on Crown for­est land in B.C., while en­sur­ing pro­tec­tion of ev­ery­thing in and on them, such as plants, an­i­mals, and ecosys­tems. The act is critical

to for­est pro­fes­sion­als, who since 1947 have been re­spon­si­ble for pro­tect­ing the pub­lic in­ter­est in the use and man­age­ment of B.C.’s forests.

The act has been crit­i­cized by a va­ri­ety of groups, in part be­cause it stip­u­lates that any for­est man­age­ment de­ci­sions, in­clud­ing those in­volv­ing pro­tec­tion for wildlife habi­tat and wa­ter qual­ity, should not un­duly re­duce the supply of tim­ber. And while FRPA was drafted with an eye to bal­anc­ing trade-offs between tim­ber supply and other for­est uses, sub­se­quent years have seen an in­crease in de­mands that forests be pro­tected for wildlife habi­tat, out­door recre­ation, eco-tourism, and more. In­creas­ingly, this leaves for­est pro­fes­sion­als try­ing to find ways to ac­com­mo­date these dif­fer­ing uses while at the same time con­form­ing to the leg­is­la­tion’s stated aim about tim­ber supply.

Put sim­ply, for­est pro­fes­sion­als are try­ing to bal­ance le­gal (gov­ern­ment-re­quired) and non-le­gal (lo­cally-de­sired) pri­or­i­ties that often con­flict with each other. Finding “win-win” solutions for ob­jec­tives that are com­pletely at odds is almost im­pos­si­ble and leaves ev­ery­one un­happy. Clearly, it is time to re­view and up­date the For­est and Range Prac­tices Act to clar­ify how re­gional com­mu­ni­ties, Abo­rig­i­nal peoples, and other spe­cial in­ter­ests want to use and man­age the for­est today.

In our sub­mis­sion to the gov­ern­ment re­view of FRPA, the As­so­ci­a­tion of B.C. For­est Pro­fes­sion­als, which reg­u­lates and registers the 5,500 for­est pro­fes­sion­als work­ing in B.C., called on the gov­ern­ment to clearly define the re­source val­ues, clar­ify the de­sired re­sults, and es­tab­lish a hi­er­ar­chy to guide the nec­es­sary trade-offs between eco­nomic, social, and en­vi­ron­men­tal ob­jec­tives based on con­sul­ta­tion with the pub­lic and Abo­rig­i­nal peoples.

This is not a new re­quest. We made this same point last year in our sub­mis­sion to the gov­ern­ment’s re­view of the pro­fes­sional re­liance frame­work and 10 years ago to the Forestry Round­table.

With 94 per cent of B.C.’s forested land pub­licly owned, the gov­ern­ment has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to un­der­stand what the pub­lic wants from its forests and set pri­or­i­ties for the use and man­age­ment of that for­est land. This is not a small or easy task; there are a mul­ti­tude of voices clam­or­ing for gov­ern­ment to im­pose their pre­ferred solution. One need only look at the dif­fi­culty es­tab­lish­ing a strat­egy to pre­serve the cari­bou pop­u­la­tion in the prov­ince’s north­east as an in­di­ca­tion of the com­plex­ity of de­ter­min­ing the rel­a­tive val­ues of nat­u­ral re­sources.

And therein lies the challenge. What is the pub­lic’s in­ter­est in B.C.’s forests? What are the pre­ferred val­ues and uses? A grow­ing num­ber of Bri­tish Columbians want more say in how our forests are used to reflect their cur­rent and fu­ture in­ter­ests. That’s fair.

But at some point, de­ci­sions need to be made about what is the pri­or­ity and how we bal­ance the many de­sires for dif­fer­ent uses of our for­est land.

For­est pro­fes­sion­als are pas­sion­ate about B.C.’s forests; they have the ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge to best look after our forests and meet the needs iden­ti­fied by those who own the forests.

In or­der to prop­erly care for our forests, we need clar­ity on what Bri­tish Columbians ex­pect from their forests and where pri­or­i­ties lie.

— Chris­tine Gelowitz, RPF, is a reg­is­tered for­est pro­fes­sional and CEO of the

As­so­ci­a­tion of BC For­est Pro­fes­sion­als.

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