Kootenay-West MLA Katrine Conroy has only been in place as B.C.’s Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources for less than a year, but she has been tasked with leading a major overhaul of the province’s forestry regulations.
Conroy introduced the first major change to forestry legislation in two decades on Oct. 20. She says the changes will put the government “back in the driver’s seat of land management decisions.”
In a nut shell, the legislation promises more consultation and more government oversight.
Gone are five-year forest stewardship plans developed by individual forestry companies and then audited by government. In their place are overarching 10-year forest landscape plans developed by government.
“They will ensure the protection of the biodiversity of the forests, the ecosystems and making sure the plan is long-ranging and looks at the big picture of the area,” Conroy told Castlegar News in an Oct. 22 interview.
These plans will be developed by the province’s chief forester in conjunction with First Nations.
From there, forest licensees have to develop forest operations plans that are in alignment with the forest landscape plan.
Licensees will have to show what they will harvest, how they will harvest it, where they will build roads and how those roads will be maintained. All of this information will be made public and local communities will be allowed to provide input on the plans prior to approval.
The forest minister then has final say as to whether a proposal is approved or denied.
Another major component of the new legislation is bringing policies into alignment with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.
Conroy says that the NDP government has spent the last two years consulting with First Nations regarding forestry policies in preparation for the new legislation. Similar consultation will now be ingrained in the legislation and forestry approval processes.
Other changes included in the legislation include expanding provisions for wildfire management, enhancing road management and new and increased fines.
Conroy says there will be a transition period as the new landscape plans are developed. She also expects it will take about a year to get the regulations resulting from the legislation put into force.
“It’s about harvesting. But, it’s also about conserving,” says Conroy, adding that the new legislation should ensure healthier forests.
“I want to make sure we are modernizing forest policy … That we have a sustainable forest industry that is here for years to come.”
Meanwhile, Conroy is still continuing to work on plans to implement the recommendations of an independent review of B.C.’s old-growth forest management released last year.
Harvesting quotas and old-growth logging are not addressed in this new piece of legislation, as those items are governed under the separate Forest Act. But Conroy says changes to the Forest Act and more announcements regarding additional old-growth deferrals are expected soon.