The forest industry may not be as dominant as it used to be, but it still plays an important role in British Columbia’s economy. And as a vital part of local economies, the industry exists alongside other uses of the forest – for example recreation, tourism, and First Nations interests, or for conservation purposes to keep old growth intact and to safeguard areas for wildlife and biodiversity.
Guiding the different uses of the forest comes through management plans first called for in the mid-1990s by the government of the day, in an effort to balance often-competing interests. Each forest district was asked to gather community representatives to develop Land & Resource Management Plans (LRMPs) that would then become the government-approved strategic plans for each district.
Local and First Nations governments, forestry, mining, energy, labour, economic development, tourism, recreation, fish & wildlife, and conservation group representatives came together with the public in each district to develop plans reflecting commonly held values around such things as biodiversity, habitat preservation, and timber harvesting.
Once the plans were created, most of the committees disbanded, but the one for the Kalum Forest District, as it was then called, did not. The plan implementation committee, to use its formal name, continued to meet after the land and resource management plan was approved in 2002.
Committee members continued to represent user groups and perspectives, providing advice, commenting on how the objectives of the LRMP were being followed and working with the government to monitor the plan’s effectiveness and review any proposed changes. But gradually over the intervening years, as forest companies went back to their work of timber harvesting and as provincial budget, staffing, and program cuts took hold, forest companies and the province stopped bringing their issues to the committee.
Much of the work and many of the projects intended to balance competing forest uses were quietly shelved, and provincial oversight and public involvement were reduced. A pilot project for harvesting undeveloped watersheds according to a more ecosystem-based management approach was ignored. No one had the money to test out a more tightly planned, well-researched form of forestry.
Meanwhile, new issues arose – raw log exports, second growth harvesting, and proposals for transmission lines and oil and gas pipelines that would crisscross the forests. First Nations continued to negotiate land claims to reclaim large areas of the forest, and local governments acquired and logged their own parcels.
So last year, committee members decided it was time to reaffirm the goals and purposes of that 2002 LRMP and bring it back to the attention of forestry companies and the province. Members each undertook to review a section of the plan according to their expertise and created the Final Report On the implementation review of the Kalum Land and Resource Management Plan.
While this was going on, the newly-elected NDP government began to consider how to renew similar plans across the province. It would do well to consider the service provided by the Kalum Plan Implementation Committee.
Communities need to be able to see what is happening in their forests, and companies equally need a place to quietly, professionally and effectively talk about their forest planning and activity. It is their surest route to real social license and the best way different stakeholders can be heard and work together to produce an integrated land use plan that serves everyone.
Robert Hart has chaired the Kalum Land & Resource Management Plan Implementation Committee since 2011 and represents conservation & environmental groups.