Government restarts forest licence review

Forests minister says area-based licences are incentive to better care, NDP says it's a political payoff for big forest companies

Former B.C. chief forester Jim Snetsinger is touring the province for the next two months to hear from citizens

Former B.C. chief forester Jim Snetsinger is leading a public discussion this spring about converting volume-based logging licences to area-based tenures, a proposal the B.C. government backed away from before last spring’s election.

Forests Minister Steve Thomson announced the consultation this week and released a discussion paper for comment on a new website that will collect comments until May 30.

About 60 per cent of the logging on Crown land in B.C. is through volume-based forest licences, which give companies permission to cut a specified volume in the licence area. Thomson said the proposed change to area-based licences is to encourage companies to make longer-term investment in planting and silviculture to increase future productivity on Crown land. Area-based licences give the holder exclusive access, instead of competing with other logging companies, each licensed to take a set volume of wood from the same forest.

Thomson said the proposal is to help deal with the widespread damage left behind by the mountain pine beetle infestation that is causing a decline in timber supply for decades to come.

NDP forests critic Norm Macdonald said the experience with existing area-based tenures, called tree farm licences, is that they have not improved forest stewardship. About 15 per cent of B.C. lumber production is from tree farm licences, and the ministry can’t show evidence that they are better managed, he said.

Many of the existing tree farm licences are on the B.C. coast, where log exports have increased.

Macdonald said B.C.’s big forest companies have lobbied Premier Christy Clark for the change, which effectively privatizes large tracts of Crown forest, and now the forests ministry is being directed to implement the change.

Snetsinger said he worked with volume-based and area-based licences as B.C.’s chief forester, where he was responsible for setting annual allowable cut from 2004 to 2012. They have their supporters and detractors, and Snetsinger said he will hear from them all.

The consultation tour will have stops in Nanaimo, Kamloops, Prince George, Quesnel, Burns Lake, Williams Lake, Smithers, Dawson Creek, Cranbrook and Vancouver. Details will be posted on the consultation website when they are finalized.

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