Results-based pilot projects based on BC's Forest Practices Code are making good progress.
By Jim Stirling
Proposals that demonstrate how a more efficient, results-based Forest Practices Code can work in British Columbia are advancing well. In all, seven pilot projects are currently being developed involving the participation of all forest users. The licensees involved have timber-harvesting rights ranging from the Sunshine Coast in southwestern BC to the Peace River area in the province's northeast. The projects share a vision: to move away from the code's present unwieldy prescriptive straitjacket, which has been much criticized by the BC industry.
They suggest using extensive consultation to deliver an on the ground, operational approach to forest land management that fully upholds the code's standards for environmental protection. BC's Forest Practices Code was drafted hastily by the provincial NDP government in the early 1990s and was an attempt to assure the end users of wood products that BC's forests were and are responsibly managed. Industry applauded the goal but not the approach taken to achieving it.
They have consistently maintained that the system's "how-to" pile of legislation, bureaucratic regulation and guides under regular review was actually counter-productive to operational efficiency and sound environmental protection practices. Seven licensees in the Cariboo region of south central BC are forging what they hope and anticipate will be a template for better working relationships and resource management.
The participants are: Ainsworth Lumber's Exeter Division in 100 Mile House (being courted by West Fraser); Lignum Ltd, Williams Lake; Riverside Forest Products, Soda Creek Division; Slocan Group, Quesnel Division; Tolko Ltd, Questwood Division; Weldwood of Canada, Quesnel Division; and West Fraser Mills' Williams Lake Division. The Cariboo Lumber Manufacturers' Association (CLMA) is acting as facilitator for the licensees, each of which has identified a geographic area in which to test their pilot.
The key objectives of the Cariboo licensees' proposal are reduced costs to industry and resource ministries, increased flexibility and improved consultations with stakeholders- including the public-without any detriment to environmental protection, says Gord Rattray, general manager of the Williams Lakebased CLMA. Approval, assessments and monitoring by statutory decision-makers like the ministries of forests, environment, lands and parks are an integral part of the process.
The region was fortunate to have the Cariboo Chilcotin Land Use Plan as a building block. The plan was hammered out in 1995 through extensive debate and compromise. It identifies a range of information including protected areas and zones where only modified or restricted timber harvesting can be planned, protecting other landscape values. "Having such a comprehensive high level plan puts us well down the path," says Rattray.
The Cariboo licensees are proposing moving away from the forest development plan model. It is a costly method- $100,000 plus to build each plan-and time consuming to all parties involved. Instead, the licensees want to institute a five-year Forest Stewardship Plan. The CLMA recognizes substantial consultation, public review and comment is required in formulating a stewardship plan. This very much includes better communication with First Nations about their interests.
They have to understand the results that need to be achieved and commit to meeting those results, explains Rattray. Getting away from a "blocks on the map" approach provides more flexible movement around the land base, contend the Cariboo licensees. Apart from lowering administration and planning costs, it will permit licensees to better meet lumber market requirements. Licensees have the historical data and can augment through additional cruises the profile of species, size and grade in their areas.
They can also assess stumpage rates from an appraisal of that information. Once armed with cutting authority within the Forest Stewardship Plan, the licensees propose returning to the statutory decision-makers with annual operating plans for up to three years. "We believe an annual operating plan is the key consultation document," says Rattray.
"We can get better consultation from it and we know the stakeholders on the land." Rattray emphasizes the key remains meeting code requirements. "Nowhere in the pilot proposal are we targeting a lower level of environmental protection. In fact, we should attain higher levels." A further major step is consultation on the Cariboo regulation and its role within the framework of the Cariboo Chilcotin Land Use Plan and the Forest Stewardship Plan.
The regulation is defined, in part, as "an effective system of forest planning and management for the pilot area". Rattray is cautious about allotting a firm time frame to the pilot proposal process. They are not going to rush things and want to get it right, he says. Levels of consultation will continue and, if all proceeds well and approvals are obtained, implementation could begin in 2002.
Weyerhaeuser's Stillwater Timberlands Pilot Project near Powell River is also well advanced and will be the first implemented on BC's coast. The Fort St John results-based pilot project has sought public advice on both its detailed proposal and draft pilot project regulation. Proponents there are Canfor, Louisiana-Pacific, Slocan and the Ministry of Forests. Their planning takes into account the unique conditions in the north Peace region.
They state that the participants must ensure that the new planning systems will maintain the level of protection for forest resources that is provided by the Forest Practices Code. The focus, however, will move from "process" to "on the ground" results- certainly a welcome change for the forest companies involved.
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