Government has left itself only a few weeks to draft a complex array of regulations to accompany the new Forest and Range Practices Act and the transition process from the old Code.

Forest and Range Practices Act: regulations to be drafted in next few weeks

According to medieval folk tradition the Countess of Henneberg gave birth to 365 children in one confinement. The British Columbia provincial government may have to pull off a similar feat to get all the regulations required for the new Forest and Range Practices Act in place by the new year as it plans. It is really only a few work weeks to produce a prodigious amount of detail. In fact this body of pending work makes the claim that the Act amounts to a gutting of the previous Code rather premature. There is very little specific substance in the Act other than an enabling process to develop the regulations. If there is to be an evisceration of B.C. forest practices it hasn’t been written yet.

Or has it? The truth is there are likely a number of draft regulations already well along. And of course this likelihood has a number of stakeholders who already feel left outside the previous process worried they will be further marginalized. Perhaps justifiably, they are concerned that a cabal of industry licensees have had too much of a hand thus far. To counter that Minister de Jong has invited more players into the regulation draft process including the Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association.

Some skeptics (and they are not all environmentalists) may have a point in noting that the industry reps used as props at the Act’s press conference last week were having a hard time pretending they had not just swallowed the canary. It was a one-sided looking group; conspicuously minus communities, First Nations, environmentalists as well as a few forest industry groups including the Interior logging associations.

Whether the now promised consultations will be little more than commenting on various draft fait accomplis or whether these consultations will be more instrumental remains to be seen. So far, it appears tales suggesting that the licensees have had their way completely are exaggerated. Optimistically that suggests minds will not be closed while drafting the final regs.

For instance, the industry majors had tried to extricate themselves from vicarious liability which holds them culpable for the actions of their contractors. This was denied them. Contractors, of course, remain liable for their lapses of compliance. But the interest on the part of the licensees in this area suggests some increasing sensitivities around contractor behavior. This is largely driven by government’s emphasis on results and voluntary compliance plus the market pressures brought on by environmental certification. In other words forest companies realize they can’t afford to have their contractors screwing up under the new scrutiny of the Act and the growing attention of the likes of Home Depot. Contractors should expect to see clients expanding diligence around contract management in the future. I will expand on this potential effect on contracting in a subsequent missive.

In the meantime silvicultural and forestry contracting needs to pay attention to new forestry regulations governing stocking standards, hazard abatement, environmental requirements, the elimination of the government’s obligation to restore lands damaged by fire, pest and disease, the Crown’s assumption of liability for catastrophic destruction of pre free-growing plantations, vicarious liability, etc. Every one of these, and they are likely only a good sample, will all effect how the business of silvicultural contracting operates under the new Act. Much is at stake and the WSCA is taking the minister’s invitation to participate seriously.