Trade Off On the Peoples' Lands

BC takes first step towards privatizing Crown forests.

by Lisa Matthaus, Sierra Club of BC

The removal of more than 170,000 ha. of forest from public oversight severely restricts the opportunities for First Nations treaty settlements, community forests, the existing small business program and other needed community transition strategies.

In March, leaked documents confirmed that the British Columbia government had agreed to compensate timber giant MacMillan Bloedel (MB) $83.75 million for parks created in the early 1990s on Vancouver Island. MB held timber rights to these public lands, but did not own the land. The government proposes to use up to 120,000 hectares of prime forest land as currency for payment. If the deal goes through as planned, all of these lands will be exempt from laws that protect both jobs and the environment.

The deal will mostly affect land on Vancouver Island, but some forests on the Sunshine Coast (Powell River) and the Queen Charlotte Islands are included. This deal has serious implications for the whole province, but the location of the land up for grabs on Vancouver Island make it of particular concern.

E&N Lands

Almost all of southeast Vancouver Island, from Campbell River to Sooke (the Esquimalt & Nanaimo, E&N, railway land grant), is owned by logging companies. Some of the lands were absorbed into TFLs (Tree Farm Licenses) in the 1950s and 1960s: logging companies were granted access to more public forest in return for subjecting private land to government forest regulation.

However, this January the government agreed to remove almost all of TimberWest's private land from its TFLs (61,000 ha.) in exchange for 1,400 ha. of Goal Two parks acquired by the province. Now, MB wants to remove up to 90,000 ha. from its TFL. All of these lands will now be exempt from the Forest Practices Code, controls on logging rates and, as they are part of the E&N lands, exempt from provincial controls on raw log exports.

In addition, MB is asking for 20-30,000 ha. of public land as fee simple private land. Most of these public lands targeted by MB are the few parcels that the Crown has regained over the years in the E&N lands.

All together, removing more than 170,000 ha. (both the TimberWest and the MB deals) from public oversight severely restricts the opportunities for First Nations treaty settlements, community forests, the existing small business program and other much needed community transition strategies on Vancouver Island. It virtually eliminates the ability of the Ministries of Environment and Forests to manage for biodiversity, wildlife, recreation, and tourism on the entire southeastern quarter of Vancouver Island. This area includes almost all of one of BC's rarest ecosystems, the Coastal Douglas Fir Zone.

But it gets worse. Much of the Crown lands targeted by MB are close to fast-growing eastern Vancouver Island communities. When details of the deal first came to light, there were references to removing up to 5,000 ha. from the Forest Land Reserve (FLR) which 'protects' the forest land base from sprawling development. Landowners receive tax breaks, and can only remove their land for development with consent from the Forest Land Commission.

FLR Removal Will Happen Later

MB was to identify the parcels it wanted removed from the FLR and these would be valued more highly against the $83.75 million owed. However, the description and the maps displayed on the MoF website no longer make reference to this part of the deal. Given the huge profits to be made from properties near fast-growing communities, it is unlikely MB has given up on this wish. But if these lands were valued as ex-FLR, it would greatly reduce the amount of land transferred to MB in this deal. MB can wait for "development pressures" from the community to justify exclusion from the FLR in the (near?) future, reaping windfall gains from our public lands. If any of these lands are transferred to MB, a covenant should be award any future development gains, (over and above the value assessed for this deal) to the province.

By accepting MB's claims, especially for the TFL, the government is setting the stage for an avalanche of similar claims. Already this deal is being referred to as a 'model' for other claims from logging companies. Three more parks-related compensation deals are under negotiation elsewhere in the province, and at least nine licensees have been identified for possible compensation due to the completion of the Nisga'a treaty. The latter is particularly worrying, as the settlement of long-outstanding First Nations' claims is just beginning.

There are alternatives. The government could legislate an increase in the amount that can be removed from a forest tenure without compensation. A precedent for this was set by the Socreds in the 1980s when they set the 5% clawback that's still in existence today. Or, instead of paying MB in land or in current cash, the government could give them an annual stumpage credit, thereby paying off the debt over several years (e.g., a $10 million credit over 15 years is equal to $83.75 million today). MB could simply have the tenure they lost replaced by similar tenures — but it wouldn't be private land.

TO DO: David Perry, a Victoria lawyer, will be conducting open- house public hearings in June throughout Vancouver Island, but not in Victoria or Vancouver (so far). Fax or mail comments to let him know how you feel about the use of public land as 'currency' and to demand public debate around the compensation issue before these deals proceed. He should also be encouraged to schedule hearings in Vancouver and Victoria.

Mr. David Perry, Suite 101, 2750 Quadra St., Victoria BC, V8T 4E8; fax: (250)380-3090; ph: (250)380-1566.

Maps of the candidate parcels can be viewed on the Ministry of Forests website at www.for.gov.bc.ca
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