Monday, December 23, 2013

Open letter to British Columbia Government

Congratulations to the nine British Columbia British Columbia organisations for the following open letter:  (See Comments below letter)

Open letter calling for public consultation on changes to Tree Farm Licences

DECEMBER 18, 2013
This open letter was sent to Premier Christy Clark and Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Minister Steve Thomson on December 9, 2013, and released to the public on December 19.
Dear Premier Clark and Minister Thomson,
We are a diverse group of organizations, representing many British Columbians. We share a common desire to see our forests nurtured and sustained as resilient ecosystems that can provide economic, social and environmental benefits for present and future generations.
Near the end of your government’s previous mandate, you introduced an omnibus Amendments Act that included provisions that would have enabled an increase in the number of Tree Farm Licences or TFLs. Such licences grant their recipients exclusive, long-term, compensable rights to log trees on defined areas of public forestland. As a result of concerns raised by many British Columbians, your government voted to remove the TFL clauses from that omnibus bill.
During and after the provincial election campaign you indicated your government intends to reintroduce legislation that could result in the awarding of more TFLs. The promise was also made that before doing so you would consult with the citizens of British Columbia.
We write you today to urge you to carefully consider whether the changes your government proposes to make to provincial forest tenure policy are in the public interest, and to request you conduct the promised public consultations on these proposed changes well in advance of introducing any legislation.
We believe that consulting widely with the public is an essential prerequisite before any substantive changes are made to tenure policies. Changes that will have long-term implications for the health of our forests, First Nations rights and title, the stability of forest-dependent communities, the economic futures of dependent businesses and contractors, and forest workers’ jobs.
Before embarking on a consultation process, we believe the public would benefit from your government publicly addressing some key questions:
  • What is the government’s vision for our forests? (particularly in light of climate change)
  • What public benefits and forest management objectives is the government attempting to achieve by enabling more TFLs?
  • How will the proposed changes to the tenure system provide additional benefits to the owners of the resource: the citizens of British Columbia?
Answering these questions will provide a vitally important context for any public consultation process. Our hope is that consultation will be province-wide, open and transparent, be completed in a timely manner prior to any legislation being introduced, and that a clear question or questions are asked in advance so the public can provide informed responses.
The forests of British Columbia are our single, largest, publicly owned, renewable asset and the public has the right to a province-wide consultation process during which they will have the opportunity to respond to clear, unambiguous proposals from their government. Rural communities and First Nations must also have the opportunity to be fully involved in the process and have adequate time and funding, as needed, to participate.
Lastly, we urge you not to rush any consultation process in order to simply justify re-introducing your proposed “rollover” legislation this spring. This is such an important area of pubic policy that we believe it is vital for government to be very clear about what it wants to do and why and a clear mandate is obtained from the public before changes to the tenure system are made.
Otherwise, your government risks re-igniting the significant resistance that caused the failure of its last attempt to make these changes.
Thank you in advance for considering our requests and we look forward to engaging with you in an informed dialogue about the future of our forests.
Sincerely,
Ancient Forest Alliance
BC Government and Service Employees Union
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives' BC Office
ForestEthics Solutions
Independent Wood Processors Association of BC
Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada
Sierra Club of BC
Union of BC Indian Chiefs
Wildsight
Comments: It is good and diplomatic letter that may enable discussions between these organisations and the British Columbia Government. It is also quintessentially Canadian in its expectation that a general discussion and public consultation will arrive at a consensus that is favorable to everyone.
This open letter is unlikely to effect major change. British Columbia Government administrations have been on the same trajectory in forest policy for the last seventy years. That trajectory is about handing over more and more responsibilities for managing public forests to forest corporations. Essentially it is a form of creeping privatization or public land enclosure into the private interest. This is not the first attempt to move to long term area based leases. British Columbia Governments will keep trying to do this and will be successful, if not this time, in another future attempt. 
The only thing that will stop the inevitable is some new and better ideas for the stewardship of BC's public forests. These organisations should select or develop a better alternative and use their resources to sell it to the public. A travelling road show through BC's forest dependent communities will help sell the better ideas and create a social movement for change. Show the BC Government some ingenuity, rather than wait for them to dish up the same old stuff from a seventy year old menu.
Stewardship of a public forest should be a trust rather than a tenure. Click on "Democratic area based forest trusts" in the side bar to learn more. 
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