Groups call on province to create forest land reserves
Workers and environmentalists want ALR-style designations on private land
VANCOUVER — An alliance of workers and environmentalists has called for a forest land reserve in B.C. that will put private forest lands under the same kind of protection from development as farmland.
The United Steelworkers Union and the Western Canada Wilderness Committee said yesterday that tens of thousands of hectares of B.C. forest lands are coming under intense development pressure. An Agricultural Land Reserve-style designation could prevent that, they said.
The loss of forest lands affects jobs and wilderness values from clean drinking water to animal habitat, according to the the two allies.
“Those options are off the table once you have residential development on the land,” said Ken Wu, campaign director of the Wilderness Committee’s Victoria office.
“We want a Dave Barrettstyle Forest Land Reserve, something like the Agricultural Land Reserve that would prevent the conversion of lands under forestry use into lands for residential use.”
Lands in the ALR are subject to land-use and subdivision restrictions to prevent prime farmland from being converted to residential or industrial use.
It was highly controversial when introduced in 1973 by the Dave Barrett NDP government.
Now, the downturn in the B.C. forest industry has led forest companies to re-examine their land holdings in a search for a new stream of revenue.
Selling land to developers can provide that stream.
B.C. had a voluntary forest land reserve for private lands that offered landowners a tax break for dedicating their lands to forestry. That was dismantled in 2004 by the B.C. Liberal government and replaced with the Private Managed Forest Land Act, which established regulations and a council for managing private forest lands. Membership is voluntary and landowners can remove their lands if they wish.
Stuart Macpherson, executive director of the council, said his members would likely oppose any mandatory restrictions but he also said the time is right for a public debate on the role of private forest lands given the development pressures. So far, he said, little forest land has actually been developed.
“It’s the perception out there that some of the private forest lands are going to be moved into development and two of the major landowners are on the record as saying that for some of their lands in that urban interface, the value as real estate has way outstripped the value as forest land. The future is certainly pointing in that direction,” Macpherson said.
The two landowners, Western Forest Products and TimberWest Forest are in the process of converting some of their private lands from forests to real estate developments.
The lands are termed higher and better use — HBU — lands.
Western, which owns 26,000 hectares, mostly on Vancouver Island, has provisionally sold 2,500 hectares near Jordan River to a developer, prompting a local community protest.
TimberWest, the province’s largest private landowner with 330,000 hectares of forestlands, has put 56,000 hectares in its real estate portfolio, brought a developer on board as a corporate vice-president and is currently lobbying Vancouver Island municipalities for the zoning changes required to convert forests to other land uses.
TimberWest wants to develop 16,000 hectares of its lands over the next 10 to 15 years.
In the Kootenays, bankrupt Pope & Talbot is selling 6,480 hectares of private lands for $50 million, well beyond their forest land value of $20 milllion.
And in the Okanagan, forest giant Tolko Industries has applied to remove 56 hectares of view property on the west side of Okanagan Lake from a tree farm licence, the first step in converting forest land to real estate.
A key change in provincial forest policy opened the door to converting forest lands to development: the 2004 decision to allow Weyerhaeuser Co. to removed its private lands from a provincially regulated tree farm licence.
The provincial government has approved the removal of almost 120,000 hectares of private forest lands from tree farm licences as a result.
The lands were put into tree farm licences in the 1940s and ’50s.
In exchange forest companies received logging rights on Crown lands but were required to manage both as a unit, directing their timber to regional mills.