B.C. Forests Minister Pat Bell has promised a massive increase in provincial forestry investments—largely based on future carbon revenues—to restore forest ecosystems and optimize forest management practices in British Columbia.

Speaking to the Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association annual conference in Victoria (5 February 2009) the Minister also revealed that government is considering strategies to move beyond the ‘free growing’ standard required under today’s tenure system. He said a discussion paper to be released later this year will canvass the free-growing issue and ask whether forest license holders could be ‘de-coupled’ from their silviculture obligations. This may lead to more diverse management regimes including silviculture stewardship tenures. Bell estimated the total investments could be as high as $600 million based on projected carbon values. His vision could be a reality by 2012 the Minister said.

Speaking earlier at the conference NDP Leader Carole James reviewed her party’s 2008 five-point forestry platform while committing to a first year $200 million government investment in rural economic development followed by a guaranteed minimum $100 million annually should they be elected. This provincial funding commitment would be used to lever federal investments to further increase rural development which would include an expanded provincial forestry program. James said she would invite the WSCA to sit on a proposed permanent Commission on Forestry to advise the Legislature on forest policy. The Leader of the Opposition criticized the BC Liberals for missing the chance on hundreds of millions of dollars of federal assistance for the mountain pine beetle plague because they had no clear or convincing forest health strategy.

When asked about the specific structures and carbon rights issues that would have be settled in order to deliver dollars to his proposed forestry program Minister Bell admitted all that had yet to be fully thought through. He also said that the Ministry of Forests was beginning to implement some of the principles and practice framed in the 2008 WSCA pilot proposal aimed at jump-starting MPB restoration and bio-energy possibilities.

NDP Forest Critic Bob Simpson described Minister Bell’s enthusiastic forestry outlook as empty ‘boosterism’ faulting the minister for being short on specifics and for not moving with more urgency given the situation on the land and the condition of the forest economy.

Mr. Simpson stated that he would try to avoid compensation believing that the Liberals have established an awful precedent on this issue. He remarked that he had asked the Auditor General to investigate these compensation practices. He added that in his view “we have to be creative in avoiding compensation when we reform the tenure system.” He cited not renewing NRFLs and other short term licenses as an immediate step that would not involve compensation. He also said that an NDP government would need to find ways to offer non-cash compensation, like taking over any contingent liabilities, especially the accruing silviculture liabilities.

John Betts
Executive Director
Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association
Ph: 250-229-4380