Spending plan ‘absolutely shatters’ hopes that province is taking changes to forest industry seriously, says advocate.
Instead, the ministry responsible for B.C.’s forest management will see an overall drop in funding over the next three years.
The budget comes seven months after the province released a strategic panel review on old-growth logging, which called for a paradigm shift to prioritize ecosystem health over the timber supply and recognize values like biodiversity, clean water and cultural resources.
The report made 14 recommendations that would totally overhaul the management of old-growth forests, starting with grounding the system in a government-to-government framework involving both the provincial and Indigenous governments.
In releasing the report last September, the province deferred logging in 353,000 hectares of forest, some of which was old growth. The deferral expires Aug. 31, 2022.
In the weeks leading up to B.C.’s fall election, Premier John Horgan promised to implement all 14 recommendations of the old-growth strategic panel review, saying his government is “committed to implementing the report in its totality.” Horgan has cited the need to consult with First Nations as a factor delaying more action on the recommendations.
When asked where funding for implementing the promised changes are in the budget, Finance Minister Selina Robinson said funding already exists under the existing Ministry of Forests budget.
When pressed about the reduction in funding to the ministry — cut 4.4 per cent this year — she repeated her response.
“Like I said, that funding exists, it’s available to the Ministry of Forests, and I’m assured by the minister that they can accommodate that within their budget,” Robinson said.
Torrance Coste, national campaign director with the Wilderness Committee, called the response “frankly shocking.”
“To hear the finance minister say any changes, the paradigm shift itself, just exists within standard… budget absolutely shatters any notion that this government is taking this seriously,” he said, noting that the ministry has other challenges, such as wildfires, that are causing costs to increase.
“They called for a paradigm shift, and now they’re cutting the budget of the ministry that oversees forests. That doesn’t make sense to me,” he said. “At the end of the day, the budget needs to be going up if you’re going to do a paradigm shift. Or if it doesn’t, then they need to explain why.”
The budget, which projects an $8.1-billion deficit, says employment is rebounding following unprecedented job losses early in the pandemic and promises to consult with “businesses, economists and Indigenous and community leaders to ensure a strong and sustainable recovery for all B.C. communities.”
In introducing the budget, which focused on health and economic recovery, Robinson touched on the province’s relationship with First Nations, citing its passing of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act in 2019.
“The declaration recognizes and respects the human rights of Indigenous Peoples and ensures that they are involved in decisions that affect them and their territories,” Robinson said, adding that greater Indigenous participation in decision-making provides more certainty for resource-sector investment.
But apart from a significant increase in funding to the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation for treaty and other land-use agreements, the budget does little to reflect that priority.
It promises $60 million in annual base funding to support engagement with Indigenous Peoples and $17 million over three years to support the implementation of DRIPA and government’s commitments under existing reconciliation agreements, including land transfers.
But Coste noted the Forest Ministry budget for “Forest Policy and Indigenous Relationship” is less than $10.5 million, up from just over $9 million last year.
Last month, environmental organizations Ancient Forest Alliance, Sierra Club BC and Wilderness Committee issued a statement on the six-month anniversary of the old-growth report assessing progress.
It gave the province a failing grade on providing economic alternatives for First Nations and funding a transition in the industry as old-growth logging is deferred.
It called on the province to provide the needed funding, saying it is fundamental to implementing the old-growth strategy.
In the throne speech delivered two weeks ago, Lt. Gov. Janet Austin noted that economic growth in B.C. has often come at the expense of the environment.
That must change, Austin said, reading a speech written in the premier’s office.
“We can no longer rely on simple resource extraction to generate wealth with no regard to long-term consequences,” she said, promising to work on reforming the Forest Act and the Forest and Range Practices Act and updating land-management practices to emphasize environmental protection.
“Your government will continue to take action on the independent report on old growth, which recommended important new protection for remaining old-growth stands not already protected,” she said. “Our economic recovery must become an opportunity to accelerate environmental protection, not an excuse to relax our commitment to sustainability.”
Yet old-growth logging continues in B.C.
Several protestor blockades are currently in place on Vancouver Island to prevent old-growth logging. On April 1, the BC Supreme Court granted an injunction to logging company Teal Cedar, a division of the Teal-Jones Group, to have the protesters removed.
As of yesterday, the injunction had not been enforced.
Forest revenue is expected to increase by 7.4 per cent next year but decline an average of 12.8 per cent annually over the following two years, as the province projects a 20-per-cent decrease in stumpage rates, which are paid by industry to the government for timber on Crown land.
There were no significant changes to forest harvests, dropping from 46 million cubic metres over the next year to 45 million over the next two years, with harvests slightly down in the Interior but up on the coast.
Coste said that also needs to change.
“At the end of the day, we do need to bring the cut down a bit,” he said. “The government says value over volume every second breath. They’re talking about all the things they’re doing to bring the value up; eventually they’re going to have to start talking about how to bring the volume down and leave more forest.”
The Union of BC Indian Chiefs passed a resolution in September calling on the province to implement all 14 recommendations of the old-growth panel and to ensure that immediate deferrals include all threatened old-growth forests.
The Tyee reached out to UBCIC on Monday about what it hoped to see in the budget. In an emailed statement, UBCIC president Grand Chief Stewart Phillip reiterated the organization’s passion for protecting old growth and the need to move forward in a way that allows sustainable old-growth management to protect, respect and advance First Nations rights and title.
“UBCIC would like to see funding put towards stronger, comprehensive old-growth policy, including the full implementation of the recommendations from the Strategic Old Growth report, and more engagement and consultation with First Nations on how they can impose a moratorium on old-growth logging that directly impacts their territories,” Phillip said.
BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau said she was surprised by the finance minister’s comments that existing funding under the Ministry of Forests would finance a transition in the forest industry, particularly as the province was set to reduce its budget.
“In order to have the paradigm shift away from old-growth logging, we need to see investment in Indigenous-led conservation efforts, we need to see conservation financing put on the table by the provincial government so that Indigenous communities can have that economic opportunity to invest in their future in ways that does not undermine the long-term health of their environment and their ecosystems,” she said.
Furstenau pointed to long-term, sustainable opportunities like the Great Bear Rainforest and investments in eco-tourism, sustainable aquaculture and sustainable forestry.
“There are so many ways that we could be leaning into the paradigm shift that is needed to get away from old-growth logging, to have her say that… is disappointing and it’s a clear indication that this government does not take their commitment to protecting old growth seriously,” she said.
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