Will the provincial government pay for an independent scientist to assess terrain stability in Laird Creek? The answer is not clear.
In April, the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) board decided to write to forestry minister Doug Donaldson requesting an independent report on the terrain stability in the contentious logging area near Balfour.
The request was prompted by logging company Cooper Creek Cedar’s plan to reopen an old logging road and use it to access a nearby cutblock. But the road has some history.
The construction and location of the road is widely believed to have been the cause of a slide in 2011 that plugged a number of rural water systems below it. The company that built the road, BC Timber Sales, temporarily provided drinking water to about 100 homes after the slide.
Ramona Faust, the RDCK’s director for the Balfour area, told the Star last week that she met with local forest managers in June and asked that the reopening of the road be assessed by an independent professional.
The key word is “independent,” because ministry practice is to base logging decisions on reports written by experts hired by the forest companies, in this case Cooper Creek Cedar.
“We had a discussion about the possibility of a third party review,” Faust said, “and I was hoping that it would be conducted this field season, but I guess because of fires, etc., it did not happen.”
The foresty ministry, however, told the Star this week that the RDCK has never requested such a review.
“The ministry does not have a record of a request for a peer review from the RDCK,” said a ministry spokesperson in an email. “However, as a result of your enquiry, program staff will follow up with the regional district to determine if a peer review was requested,”
The Laird Creek Water Users group is disappointed that the independent review has not happened.
“We are very upset about Cooper Creek Cedar’s plans to re-open the road above the 2011 landslide next spring,” said group spokesperson Al Walters. “Local residents thought the RDCK proposal for a third-party review proposed by Ramona Faust might offer some hope, however slight, for reason to prevail.”
Faust said it is not the RDCK’s job to get involved in logging disputes, but the regional district is being asked to do so with increasing frequency.
“I have heard from nine different watersheds with concerns. It is overwhelming,” she said.
“We don’t have a department, we don’t have the expertise, we don’t collect any taxation for this. But we as directors have been put in this position and it is a heavy load to carry.”
Laird Creek residents and other rural water user groups in the region are up against a provision of the province’s Forest Planning and Practices Regulation that states that the ministry’s objective is to prevent damage to watersheds but “only to the extent that it does not unduly reduce the supply of timber from British Columbia’s forests.”
Also operating in the background is the professional reliance model.
That’s a legislated practice that allows forest companies, not the government, to decide on the the safety and impact of their logging plans. They do this by hiring specialist consultants such as professional engineers, biologists, and foresters to advise them.
The provincial government, over the past year, has studied the professional reliance model and recently released a report and recommendations that will change it.
Many of the proposed new rules are aimed at how professional associations, such as the Association of BC Forest Professionals, regulate their members.
But the report contains a few recommendations that would allow the government to insert itself into decisions in ways that have not been possible since the professional reliance model came into effect in 2001:
• Forest stewardship plans prepared by a forest company must include information on the locations of where logging will occur and where roads will be built. At the moment, this is not required.
• The government must review site-specific plans for cutblocks and road building to determine if they will meet government objectives. Currently this is not required.
• The government may reject logging plans that are not in line with government objectives, do not contain enough information, or threaten the environment or the rights of First Nations and other rights-holders.
The report also recommends the creation of more opportunities for the public to take part in land-use planning, operations planning, and monitoring.