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Whose Forests?

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Issue: 1 Section: Environment Geography: Atlantic, West New Brunswick, British Columbia Topics: forestry

May 17, 2003

Whose Forests?

Maintaining habitats, establishing protected areas or community forests and protecting watersheds could require that government compensate corporations, if new agreements are signed.

by Hillary Bain Lindsay

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Maintaining habitats, establishing protected areas or community forests and protecting watersheds could require that government compensate corporations, if new agreements are signed.

"Few British Columbians are aware that the BC Liberal government is poised right now to institute what may be the most sweeping anti-environmental forestry legislation in the province's history."
--Ken Wu,
Western Canada
Wilderness Committee

"[The corporations] basically want to tie the hands of the New Brunswick government, in terms of managing the Crown lands to serves the common good, so as to place it more squarely in the service of private corporate interests." --David Coon, Conservation Council of New Brunswick

The transformation of public forests into clear-cuts and tree farms is nothing new in Canada. A government guarantee to corporations that this will continue to be the case is new. Provincial governments in both New Brunswick and British Columbia are considering policies that would effectively eliminate the public's control of public lands and place it in the hands of the forest industry.

The stage is set for corporations to make a grab for control of Crown forests. According to the Supreme Court of Canada, Crown lands are held in trust by the federal and provincial governments for the benefit of all people, including those not yet born. Yet vast areas of Crown forest in Canada are managed by a handful of companies, according to a report written by the Global Forest Watch. The 2000 report, entitled Canada's Forests At A Crossroads, states that "These corporations - because of the revenues and jobs they control - are in a position to significantly influence provincial forest policies." Public demand for more sustainable forestry and the growing momentum behind First Nations land claims are threatening the forest industry's ability to clear-cut at will. Corporations argue that in order to secure investments, they will need certainty of future timber supplies, and they are looking to government policies for a guarantee.

***

In New Brunswick on December 11th 2002, a public report was released based on a study commissioned by the provincial government and New Brunswick Forest Products Association. The report, entitled A Blueprint for the Future, recommends: "A timber supply objective should be set for each license area that would be binding on the Government and on the licensee."

According to David Coon, Policy Director at the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, the implications of implementing this recommendation are enormous, "Binding targets would simply mean that it could be prohibitively expensive for the Province to: require old mixed wood or hardwood habitats be maintained; to establish community forests; to establish licenses for First Nations; to establish new protected areas; to provide further protection to our watersheds." Essentially, any new initiative decided upon for financial, social or environmental reasons, that affected the timber supply from public land, would require government to compensate corporations.

In British Columbia, the forest industry is hoping for similar guarantees. The Provincial Government released a discussion paper on January 22nd 2003 called A Working Forest For British Columbia. Under the Working Forest proposal, virtually all forest outside of protected areas is opened up for logging, and backtracking on this decision is made extremely difficult. The paper proposes zones "... with unique administrative provisions, to minimize potential shifts to other uses." Ken Wu, of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee says that, "[The Working Forest] would essentially weight timber extraction, under law, as the first priority in government land use decisions...and would eliminate the public's options on public lands."

***

According to Ken Wu, when it comes to the fate of public forests, the private sector has a disproportionately large influence on the government, "It took well over a decade, since the beginning of the 1990s, to increase the amount of protection for BC's productive forests from 3% to 8%. This required thousands of volunteer hours at endless stakeholder meetings, literally tons of letters written, the building of mass social movements and the arrest of over a thousand concerned citizens at civil disobedience protests around the province. Yet in a few short weeks of 'public review' the Liberals plan to give away the other 90% of public forests to logging companies."

A great deal of government money and time has been put into answering the questions and concerns of industry. According to David Coon, however, several questions remain unanswered: "What are our ecological and social objectives for Crown lands? How can Crown lands be managed to maintain healthy forest ecosystems that sustain all plants and animals, soils, and waters? How can Crown lands be managed to honour aboriginal and treaty rights? How can Crown lands be managed to build stronger rural communities, provide secure livelihoods, and more equitably share the wealth they generate?" Unless Canadians manage to make their government listen, it will be up to industry to decide whether or not these questions are heard.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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