The Ministry of Forests has suspended Meadow Creek Cedar’s forest license and fined the company $42,000 for failing to meet reforestation obligations.
The ministry says a recent investigation by compliance and enforcement staff found the company didn’t achieve “minimum restocking requirements” on six separate cut blocks.
The harvesting occurred in 2006 and 2007. By law, the company had four years to comply with the replanting requirements of its license.
However, none of the blocks were found to be sufficiently restocked when the company surveyed them in 2010. A professional forester confirmed those results in a followup survey last year.
Meadow Creek Cedar’s former professional forester acknowledged the company’s violations in an agreed statement of facts submitted at a hearing on December 13.
Kootenay Lake Forest District manager Garth Wiggill advised the company of its suspension on Friday, which takes effect at the end of the month.
The company has three weeks to appeal the decisions.
In addition to the fine and suspension, Wiggill issued a remediation order requiring the company to reforest each of the blocks to levels prescribed in its site plans.
The company’s suspension won’t be lifted until the requirements are met. If Meadow Creek Cedar fails to meet those obligations, the ministry can do the work on the company’s behalf and levy additional fines to cover the costs.
Wiggill said in an interview that although Meadow Creek has been on his radar for some time, “until now our hands have been somewhat tied.”
He issued one exception to the license suspension to allow the completion of logging on one cut block, to protect the interests of the contractor who is being paid directly by log buyers.
“Other than that, all operations are suspended effective February 29,” Wiggill says. “That’s the first step toward cancellation if we go that route.”
However, the company must first be given an opportunity to comply with the remediation order.
“To lift the suspension they have to reforest those sites that are in contravention. They can’t do that under snow, so they’re going to have to wait until summer.”
The fine isn’t directly tied to the suspension, but Wiggill says it can be if it remains unpaid 90 days after the appeal period.
“Once [owner Dale Kooner] is in default of that, I could add that to his suspension. But because he’s not in default as of today, I can’t.”
The province can also take other steps to ensure payment, including issuing liens on properties.
Wiggill says he determined the $42,000 fine by considering the “gravity and magnitude” of the situation, ruling that the company’s violations affected the long-term timber supply.
“Planting trees after logging is one of the fundamental requirements of forestry practices in BC,” he says. “If you’re going to have the right to log, you need to follow up with reforestation.”
He also took into account the company’s poor performance over the last three to five years, what economic benefit it gained by not replanting, and the need for deterrence.
The file involved six separate contraventions, each with a maximum penalty of $50,000.
“So I could have gone up to $300,000,” Wiggill says. “But I looked at the situation, removed all economic benefit and applied a deterrent roughly 2.5 times the economic benefit.”
Wiggill has been manager of the Kootenay Lake district for about a year, and was district manager in Clearwater for three years before that.
He says the $42,000 fine is the largest he has assessed in that time, although he is aware of larger ones in cases where the economic benefit resulting from the infraction was greater.
He says the suspension is the first he’s issued to a major licensee, although he has handed out others to holders of woodlot and salvage licenses.
Ministry spokeswoman Vivian Thomas concurred that suspensions of forest licenses are “very rare” and “staff recall only a handful across the province.”
Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall says she was “not entirely surprised” by Wednesday’s announcement.
“It seemed to be the inevitable conclusion,” she told the Star. “I’ve talked to many people across the province. They’re aware of Meadow Creek Cedar and find their practices shocking.
“That said, will Meadow Creek Cedar comply or appeal, and how long are they potentially able to drag this out and keep the community from moving forward?”
Mungall hosted a public meeting at Meadow Creek in December to discuss a community response to difficulties created by the company’s practices.
About 50 people talked about economic development in the Lardeau Valley, including the potential for a community forest and rebuilding the agricultural sector.
Mungall says they left with a better view of the possibilities and what’s required to make them happen.
She adds that while there are lessons to be learned from the Meadow Creek situation, Ministry of Forests staff have followed the process spelled out by legislation.
“A lot of people were concerned the government wasn’t doing its job, but the process is clearly outlined and they are following it,” Mungall says.
Meadow Creek Cedar is the subject of several other non-compliance investigations, some of which are expected to come before Wiggill for decision in the next month or so.
However, they aren’t considered as serious as the infractions that led to the license suspension.
The company can ask Wiggill to revisit his decision if it feels he erred in calculating the fine, but failing that would have to take it up with the Forest Appeals Commission.
The same body would also potentially hear any appeal of the suspension and remediation orders.
The BC Forest Professionals Association, meanwhile, is contemplating legal action against the company for logging without the services of a registered forester.