B.C. Forests Minister Katrine Conroy started taking criticism even before her government’s latest old-growth forest preservation measures were announced Tuesday.
The province announced deferral of logging on up to 2.6 million hectares of forest identified as rare, ancient or sustaining big trees, an area that represents about half of the identified old-growth forest in the province that is not yet protected. The provincial agency B.C. Timber Sales has stopped advertising and selling timber rights in the areas identified by an independent panel, which extend across B.C., as talks continue with Indigenous land rights holders on the final logging plans.
Maps were released to the public after being distributed to affected Indigenous communities last week, and the ministry says capacity funding of up to $12.6 million is available to help them develop land use plans for the affected regions. They are required to indicate in the next 30 days whether they support the deferrals or wish to change them, and deferrals are to last up to two years while new Indigenous-approved management plans are developed.
The province is also promising unspecified support for forest contract workers who will be put out of jobs by the expanded protection, including skills training, short-term employment and bridging those 55 and older to retirement. Conroy said as many as 4,500 forest industry jobs could be lost if all of the deferrals are maintained.
“We are committed to working in partnership with First Nations to make sure we get this right and to supporting workers and communities as we develop a sustainable approach to managing B.C.’s old-growth forests,” Conroy said Nov. 2.
In the legislature, B.C. Liberal critics accused the government of going ahead without an economic impact study. Abbotsford West MLA Mike de Jong, a former forests and finance minister, said the deferrals will likely lead to the closure of four cedar shingle mills in the Lower Mainland, and as many as 12 mills around the province.
The First Nations Forestry Council issued a statement Nov. 1, objecting that its members had no input into the designated deferral areas, and some found out only when they received the maps. “The honour of the Crown cannot be met through fundamentally flawed consultation,” said council president Chief Bill Williams.
The deferrals include 1.7 million hectares of “big-treed old growth” out of 6.2 million that have been identified, and most of the “rare old growth” that remains in heavily harvested zones, as well as “ancient old growth,” 400 years old or more on the B.C. Coast or 250 years old in the Interior. The ministry says 3.5 million hectares of old-growth forest is already protected.