Forest stewardship plans intended to guide logging in British Columbia and offer transparency about forestry activities are failing to deliver results that are enforceable and do not provide information to the public that is meaningful, the province’s forestry watchdog said Wednesday.
Forest licensees are supposed to spell out in the plans how they will meet provincial objectives to protect environmental values such as biodiversity and water quality as well as declare what measurable, verifiable results they will achieve.
The requirement to produce the five-year plans was introduced in 2004 as part of the Forest and Range Protection Act.
However, after a decade of experience, the Forest Practices Board studied a sample of 43 of the plans and issued a report saying they “do not meet the public’s needs, are not enforceable by government and provide little in the way of innovative forest management.”
Board chairman Tim Ryan said the Forest Practices Board warned the Ministry of Forests that there were problems with the plans when it reviewed them in 2006, but in the ensuing years “there has been no improvement.”
Ryan drew a distinction between the plans and forest practices on the ground, which he said are generally sound and meet regulations.
The plans, however, are the only documents that forest licensees are required to file that the public gets a chance to comment on and to influence, and in many cases, they are written in language that isn’t clear.
“In the end, this is about credibility,” Ryan said of the plans. “It depends on clear, unambiguous commitments to meet sound forest practices and high environmental standards.”
“Let’s be clear on how we’re going to do this and describe how we will do so (in ways) that are open to the least amount of interpretation.”
Forest Minister Steve Thomson said the recommendations are timely, and his staff will work on incorporating the board’s recommendations to improve the stewardship plans, but he disagrees with some of the reports conclusions.
He said 218 of 260 forest stewardship plans in B.C. will be up for renewal in the next two years.
His main criticism was that the investigation and report only looked at the plans and did not reflect on actual, on-the-ground forest practices, which have been recognized as sound and sustainable.
“It doesn’t provide a linkage between planning and what’s happening on the ground,” Thomson said.
Thomson said beyond the forest stewardship plans, many licensees also share with the public their detailed logging and road-building plans before they are approved.
However, Ryan said the lack of clarity in the plans around meeting visual-quality objectives in scenic corridors has led to problems enforcing violations.
The board made four key recommendations, three aimed at the province, and one at the association that represents B.C.’s professional foresters asking for each to respond to by Nov. 30
For the province, the board asked that stewardship plans not be extended if they contain strategies and measures that are unenforceable or inconsistent with objectives, ensure the public has the opportunity to comment on plans at least once every five years and establish a public-review process for licensee road and cutblock plans.
For the Association of B.C. Forest Professionals, the board recommended that it impress upon its members and their employers that professional foresters have independent responsibilities for ensuring the results in stewardship plans are measurable of verifiable, consistent with government objectives and appropriate.
CEO Sharon Glover said in a statement that the organization recently approved bylaw changes strengthening requirements to write measurable or verifiable results in new stewardship plans.