BC Ministry of Natural Resource Operations "Super Ministry"

by Delores Broten

The BC civil service remains in major chaos, issuing flow chart after flow chart, as it tries to figure out the structural changes imposed by the new Ministry of Natural Resources Operations (MNRO). The new super ministry was a surprise creation of lame-duck premier Gordon Campbell and some senior bureaucrats, announced in October with no public consultation.

MNRO will be responsible for all crown land permitting and authorizations. It will also look after stewardship, including fish, wildlife and habitat protection.

The changes are intended to streamline land and water use applications for industry. They also separate policy from licensing and permitting.

The new Ministry of Forests, Mines and Lands is responsible for the remnants of land use planning. The diminished Ministry of Environment was left with parks, pollution prevention, water and air quality, climate change, monitoring, environmental assessment, and conservation and resource management enforcement.

The former compliance and enforcement officers from the Ministry of Forests will be combined with MoE's Conservation Officer Service to focus on enforcement. Compliance with the numerous codes of practise, which have replaced former permits and regulations, is not mentioned.

The renowned 83-year-old Forest Research Branch is disbanded, just when forest research is most needed due to climate change and the impact of pests and diseases.

As the industry has declined, the government has steadily reduced funding and staff for the Ministry of Forests. Forest management is now firmly in the control of industry through the results-based system. In BC, each government forester is responsible for approximately 20,000 hectares, whereas in the US, each public land forester is responsible for 2,700 hectares.

Longtime forest activist Jim Cooperman thinks the situation in BC has been so dismal that the restructuring could not make it any worse and there may even be some advantages.

In the southern interior, one former Ministry of Environment section head, who is now based with the new ministry, is pleased that his team has grown with the addition of staff from the Ministry of Forests and explained that with these experts now working together, controversial developments like the one proposed near the Adams River would never be approved.

However, the BC NDP is calling for the changes to be reversed, saying that even forest industry insiders are perturbed and that the economic recovery is threatened by the chaos that has ensued. The BC Green Party, calling for suspension of the move, says the changes are likely illegal since they amend existing Acts by executive order instead of through the legislature.

Veteran environmentalist Vicky Husband, citing the opinion of many former bureaucrats, says the changes are a disaster that must be put on hold, at the very least until there is some public consultation. The only reason given for the restructuring, says Husband, is to "shovel the permits out the door," facilitating resource extraction. "Meanwhile," says Husband, citing shale gas extraction in northeastern BC which requires no water licenses for its activities, "there are no eyes and ears on the ground. The ground that is a public trust."

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With special thanks to Jim Cooperman and Vicky Husband

[From March/April 2011 issue of the Watershed Sentinel]

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