Timber Grab on Vancouver Island

Remember CORE? It was supposed to manage Vancouver Island forests for all values. Well, now you can forget about it. It's toast.

by Paul Senez (with files from Sierra Club of BC)

In the last decade, Vancouver Island has been subjected to an alphabet soup of land use planning exercises.

In the early 1990s, some of them, like the Commission on Resources and Environment (CORE), followed the shared-decision-making model of public participation, while others, like the Vancouver Island Resources Target process (VIRT) were conducted behind closed doors.

Since the end of CORE, public participation in the Vancouver Island Land Use Planning process has been kept to a minimum. This appears to remain an objective of government.

[Readers may recall that Watershed Sentinel has followed the evolution of land use planning on Vancouver Island. See paper copies of Dec/Jan 1993/94; April/May 1994; Feb/March 1995; Oct/Nov 1995; Feb/March 1997 (Not on Internet)– Ed.]

A new name for the same old game
While the names have changed the objective has always been the same – to rationalize the liquidation of the remaining old-growth forests of Vancouver Island.

The Vancouver Island Land Use Planning table emerged as the NDP government strategy to stop the 'war in the woods' on the Island. Convened by CORE in 1992, the table gathered representatives from 14 sectors, including agriculture, fisheries, youth, tourism, conservation, forest workers, and forest manufacturers. First Nations declined to participate and as far as we know, there has subsequently been no substantial consultation with First Nations.

The objective was to develop a consensus-based land use management plan that would accommodate all values over the long term. They began by articulating a collective vision for the future, making it clear that Vancouver Islanders want to manage the forests and lands in a way that will sustain communities, forests and economies. This was the only statement on which the group reached consensus.

Consensus was not reached on the final outcome of the CORE process. Instead, Stephen Owen, the commissioner, made the final determinations for the amount and location of Protected Areas (13% total, of which only 6.6% of the original extent of old-growth forests was protected) and Special Management Zones (SMZs)–8% of Vancouver Island–which then formed the basis of the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan (VILUP).

The government decided that the fate of the SMZs and remaining Crown land, and private land within Tree Farm Licenses (about 59% of the total land area of Vancouver Island, excluding Clayoquot Sound), would be determined by yet another process–the Vancouver Island Resources Target process (VIRT).

Here, industry and government focused on establishing 'timber targets' for Vancouver Island.

Government and industry largely excluded conservationists and the public from their deliberations about how forestry lands would be managed. Then, two months ago, they quietly released their "higher level" plan for public comment.

The final version of the VILUP and its accompanying Higher Level Plan is not the result of an open and transparent planning process. There was no attempt at consensus.

Rather, it is the product of a small group of logging company employees and Ministry of Forests staff intent on propping up a shrinking industrial dinosaur. It is explicit in its short-term timber bias: a cynical and greedy timber grab masquerading as a land use plan.

Islanders were led to believe more than eight years ago, when the Commission on Resources and Environment commenced work, that change was imminent.

Under new management?
Following CORE, the public expected vastly improved forest management, with tangible signs of a transition from an outdated forest economy based on turning large volumes of valuable trees into cheap commodities, to an economy focused on lower volumes and high-value products.

The reality is a plan that will alleviate the short-term timber supply problems on Vancouver Island. (Since October 1993, the Ministry of Forests has been warning that the current harvest levels cannot be maintained.)

Science-fiction forestry
As it stands, the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan legitimizes a process in which getting the wood out takes precedence over other forest values and forest users.

Under the zoning structure of VILUP, 31% (General Resource Management Zone, or RMZ) of Vancouver Island will continue to be logged under the same standards that have decimated fish stocks, endangered species, and pushed resource dependent communities into economic instability.

A further 24% (Enhanced RMZ) of the Island will be logged under an eroded forest practices code, which will undoubtedly compound the social and environmental consequences of mismanagement.

Combined with the 18% private forest land that does not fall under the Forest Practices Code–and some would say is already managed as "enhanced"–these two zones make up 42% of Vancouver Island.

This Plan ignores scenic values, quality of life, hydrology/water flow issues, salmon and steelhead habitat, as well as First Nations traditional uses. In the Plan, timber targets are met at the expense of all other forest values, including tourism, wildlife, biodiversity, old growth and sustainable communities.

The implied objectives of the Enhanced Forestry Zone are to be achieved through the use of genetically 'improved' stock to be fertilized to increase yields.

With this Plan we are now entering the era of science-fiction forestry–an experiment on a massive scale. There is no discussion of the potential effects of the escape of genetically improved materials into wild forests (by cross-pollination), nor is there any caution regarding the run-off of fertilizers into fish-bearing streams.

For the record …

  • Twenty-five percent of Earth's remaining ancient rainforest is in BC.
  • One hundred and forty-two salmon runs in BC and Yukon are now extinct.
  • More than 90% of the logging done in BC is still clearcutting.

* Sierra Club of BC: www.sierraclub.ca/bc/Campaigns/VancouverIsland/VancouverIsland.html

Forest liquidation
This is a forest liquidation plan for Vancouver Island. Under this plan the forests will be logged even faster than at present. There is no planning for, consideration of, or respect for future generations.

Short-term timber availability takes precedence over all other values such as: culture, fish and wildlife, biodiversity, tourism, recreation, scenery, and water. There is no recognition that Vancouver Island is already significantly over cut. The current rate of cut is not sustainable, and with this plan there will be an expansion of large-scale industrial forestry. Nor is there any recognition that many of the areas with SMZ designation are void of any significant flora and fauna and should be priority candidates for ecological restoration.

One thing is assured: there is no science at all to this plan. This is plain exploitation and greed. You cannot gut the Forest Practices Code any more thoroughly.

Higher-level harvesting
The Higher Level Plan (HLP) is the legal mechanism to make key land use decisions relating to forest practices binding under the Forest Practices Code.

The HLP legally establishes resource management zones and their associated objectives set out in the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan. In most other areas of the province, HLPs raise the bar for management and protection of environmental and social values.

On Vancouver Island, the HLP's primary effect will be to lower forest practices standards, sanction faster liquidation of the Island's remaining forests, and promote conversion to single-tree species plantations.

Enhanced Forestry Zones will "increase the availability of timber" by sanctioning:

  • Clearcuts larger than 40 hectares, up to 250 ha;
  • Reduced green-up requirements, from three metres to one metre (this means an area adjacent to a recent clearcut can also be clearcut if restocked seedlings have reached 1m in height. This can lead to the 'progressive clearcuts' prevalent in the 1970s and 1980s that the Forest Practices Code was intended to prevent);
  • Single-species plantations can replace mixed forests, i.e., conversion to monoculture tree farms;
  • Already watered-down old- growth targets can be further undermined.

One thing is assured: there is no science at all to this plan. This is plain exploitation and greed.

Watered-down standards
General Management Zones will be managed according to the minimums established by the Forest Practices Code.

However, the Code standards either in place or "soon to be implemented" during the early phases of the VILUP process have been significantly watered down and can no longer be considered adequate to protect biodiversity on Vancouver Island. Consequently, GMZs will not receive adequate biodiversity protection.

Special Management Zones (SMZs) are supposed to protect primary non-timber values while allowing logging according to "vanguard ecosystem management."

However, an earlier draft of a Ministry of Environment analysis of current management in SMZs indicates that more than 150 cutblocks have already been approved in just four north island SMZs.

Unless existing cutblocks are specifically addressed in the HLP, these approvals stand and will make a mockery of any attempts at special management on Vancouver Island.

The government refused to release the completed report during the public comment period; highlighting this situation would allow the public to decide if it should be remedied in the HLP.

To put the timber supply impacts of the "special" and "enhanced" zones in perspective, the government commissioned a study to model 5-to-20- year timber supply impacts in two watersheds on the west coast of the island that are representative of the distribution of zones as the island as a whole.

The study said short-term timber availability could increase by 62% over that period.

* Timber Availability and Cost Estimates for the Eliza and Kashutl Landscape Units; prepared by Olivotto Timber for the Vancouver Forest Region, February 1999.

No impact analysis
Given the historical and on-going over cutting on Vancouver Island, this increase can only come at the expense of other values, such as wildlife, culture, and tourism. No such impact analysis for biodiversity or other values has been undertaken.

The supposed intention behind such a timber-biased plan as VILUP and its HLP is to protect resource jobs.

However, an analysis by the Sierra Club of BC indicated that in 1995, direct forestry jobs on Vancouver Island accounted for only 5.3% of the total, compared to 7.3% in 1991.

During that period, 4,000 forestry jobs were lost despite an 8.3% increase in the amount of timber cut, dispelling the myth that increasing the cut leads to more jobs.

As well, the Vancouver Island Summary Land Use Plan noted "historical trends that indicate overall growth in employment in both the goods producing and service industries over the 1981-1996 period, despite absolute declines in forestry and other resource sector employment."

In other words, the island's economy is growing and diversifying despite ongoing downsizing in the forest sector, and many of those burgeoning sectors rely directly or indirectly on the island's significant environmental values and quality of life.

Loss of biodiversity
And while the public's expectations from the planning processes were being eroded, so too was the basic tool that was expected to maintain biodiversity.

The Biodiversity Guidebook (September, 1995) has been substantially altered and reduced by a variety of intergovernmental memos and ministerial directives.

Biodiversity on Vancouver Island can no longer be maintained through landscape objectives set out through the Forest Practices Code. Biodiversity is now defined only in terms of the amount of timber impact allowed.

The Higher Level Plan, in proposing such a large land area dedicated to radical simplification of ecosystems, will fail to protect biodiversity, economic diversity, and community health. In the end, this Plan's primary goal is to protect and maintain the current over cut of Vancouver Island's remaining ancient forests.

Far from resolving land use conflicts, the proposed Vancouver Island Land Use Plan, which places single-use zoning and short-term timber maximization over nearly half of Vancouver Island, is a recipe for further environmental and social conflict.

Has the first volley in a re-ignited 'war in the woods' been fired?

Window of opportunity
After May 8, it will take two to three weeks for the Ministry of Forests to compile and digest the public's comments to the draft Higher Level Plan for Vancouver Island, and another couple of weeks for the document to make its way up the bureaucracy to Ministers Doyle, Miller, and Sawicki for their signature.

Islanders have a five-to- six-week window in which to have their objections to this timber liquidation plan known. One place to start might be letters stating your comments and concerns to the constituency offices of island MLAs, and/or a fax to the premier at 250-387-0087.

* Visit the Sierra Club of BC's website for more information: www.sierraclub.ca/bc/Campaigns/VancouverIsland/VancouverIsland.html


[From WS June/July 2000]

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