Times Colonist

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.

 ??  ?? Ken Wu said the designatio­n would prevent forest land being converted to other uses.
Ken Wu said the designatio­n would prevent forest land being converted to other uses.

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