MacBlo Gains in Land Grab

Critics of the government’s closed-door deal say MacBlo
should have been compensated in cash, not land.

The BC government has agreed to hand over thousands of hectares of Crown land to forest giant MacMillan Bloedel, in a precedent-setting deal that will exempt the land from environmental protection.

The deal, which saved the province tens of millions of dollars, has angered environmentalists, who say the province should not have brokered public land. Almost 94% of BC land is Crown-owned, and companies logging it must adhere to the Forest Practices Code, which, among other things, regulates how much can be clearcut.

Environmentalists are angry, and say the deal allows MacBlo to log any way it wants to on the province’s most sensitive lands. Under the agreement, the province will provide as much as 20,000 hectares of Crown land on the north end of Vancouver Island, and will exempt the company from adhering to the Forest Practices Code on another 90,000 hectares, which may include properties near Clayoquot Sound, on the Queen Charlotte Islands, and the Sunshine Coast.

The Sierra Club of British Columbia has reacted with outrage, and says the government has made an agreement behind closed doors that will compensate MacBlo for past parks creation on Vancouver Island. The decision, says the Sierra Club, will exclude some of the province’s most valuable land, almost 3.5% of Vancouver Island, from government regulation, leaving it open to substandard logging practices and the export of raw logs.

“This puts thousands of hectares of forest into the virtually unregulated hands of a major logging company. It removes government’s ability to protect environmental values and risks possible conversion of some of the land to sprawling subdivisions,” says Lisa Matthaus, Forest Policy Analyst with the Sierra Club.

First Nations representatives are also angry. Rod Naknakim, speaking for the Treaty Society, which represents five Native bands on Vancouver Island, says the province, in removing this land from the treaty table, has committed “an act of bad faith. We should have been consulted.”

Originally, it was intended that environmentally sensitive land should be protected from logging and development, and the parks were created in 1994 to provide that protection. But MacBlo held logging rights on some of that Crown-owned land, and the law says a logging company must be compensated by the province if more than 5% of its logging rights are taken.

In the lawsuit it launched three years later, MacBlo claimed that compensation. Even environmentalists agreed with its claim – but they expected the company to be given cash, not land. The value of the land and cutting rights are estimated at $83.7 million.

Jim Cooperman, president of the Shuswap Environmental Action Society, says that with this deal, MacMillan-Bloedel will have 110-120,000 hectares of private land from which they will be able to export raw logs and jobs. Cooperman also noted that the actual value of the deal was an oblique comment on BC forest policy.

“In a way, this deal means that three hectares of second growth is the same value as one hectare of old growth. So, by logging, are we reducing the value of the land by one third?”

* Shuswap Environmental Action Society, RR 1, Site 10, Comp. 2, Chase, BC V0E 1M0; ph: (250)679-3693; fax: (250)679-8248.

* Sierra Club, 1525 Amelia St, Victoria, BC V8W 2K1; ph: (250)386-5255; fax: (250)386-4453.

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