B.C. VIEWS: Seeing the forest and the trees

British company buying up farms to plant trees says it's looking at pine beetle regions as a carbon offset instead

Mountain pine beetle has affected vast areas of B.C. forests.

VICTORIA – There was a flurry of excitement in the B.C. legislature last week, as Delta South independent MLA Vicki Huntington released documents suggesting that a multinational manufacturing company continued to buy up B.C. farms for carbon offsets after they said last June they would stop.

False alarm, as it turns out. Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick clarified that three more farms in the Peace and Cariboo region had indeed been bought, but the company was merely following legal advice to close deals on farms that it had already agreed to purchase.

The company, British-based cleaning product and pharmaceutical maker Reckitt Benckiser (RB) confirmed this. A company official reiterated that its program to buy farms and replant them with trees is suspended.

By the time the B.C. government became aware of this global public relations scheme, thanks to the work of NDP MLA Lana Popham and others, about 10,000 hectares of farmland was already planted with seedlings. RB initially said they were buying up abandoned and unproductive farms, but local government officials disputed that.

RB soon realized that undermining already precarious farming communities was going to provide the opposite of the green publicity they sought, at least in B.C. The company told me it is now looking to switch its carbon offset program to replanting forest areas depleted by pine beetle and fire.

I’ll believe that when I see it, but on the face of it, this sounds almost as questionable as converting farmland back to forests. Pine forests need fire to regenerate, so fires have been part of the regeneration of the ecosystem since the retreat of the last Ice Age.

Beetle-kill areas are already coming back, and they were never completely denuded in any case, so the notion of manual planting these areas seems impractical. Most are now criss-crossed with deadfall and all but impassible.

Another situation that received little public attention was a report issued late this summer by the B.C. Forest Practices Board about forest stewardship plans.

The board reviewed 43 stewardship plans from all regions of B.C., prepared as required under provincial law by forest tenure holders on Crown land. They are supposed to deal with things like where roads go and how streams are protected.

This is the management system put in place in 2003, when the B.C. Liberal government changed its approach to forest management. Gone was the NDP’s infamous seven-volume “Forest Practices Code,” which attempted to micromanage every detail of a timber licence, right down to inspecting for litter left at a logging site.

In came “results-based” forest management, where licence holders had to produce a plan showing stream protection and other values. The Forest Practices Board has found these plans often aren’t good for much, although results are generally good when they follow up with on-the-ground audits of actual timber harvest areas.

The investigation found that many of the plans cover “vast and overlapping areas of the province, and were written using legal language that makes them very difficult for public understanding or review.” Little has changed since a similar finding in 2006.

During that time, the forests ministry was turned into Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, with greatly increased responsibility over wildlife, mining, gas drilling and so on.

Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald, who traveled the province as NDP forests critic in recent years, says the problem now is there just aren’t enough people on the ground to assess what’s going on in our huge expanse of Crown land.

Meanwhile the city media covers professional protesters issuing demands about the Walbran Valley.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Boundary non-profits now eligible for emergency funds

Local charities can apply to get grants from the $40,000 pot, managed by the Phoenix Foundation

Drive-in theatre proposed for Grand Forks

City councillors will vote next month on whether to permit the use of the private property

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

Snow expected to hit West Kootenay passes overnight on Thursday

Up to 15 cm of snow could fall on Highway 3 between Paulson summit to Kootenay Pass by Friday morning

Six homes ordered to evacuate early Tuesday morning in Grand Forks due to flooding

Two of the six were put on evacuation alert Monday evening

B.C. legislature coming back June 22 as COVID-19 emergency hits record

Pandemic restrictions now longer than 2017 wildfire emergency

B.C.’s essential grocery, hardware store employees should get pandemic pay: retail group

Only B.C.’s social, health and corrections workers are eligible for top-ups

Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto vying to be NHL hubs, but there’s a catch

The NHL unveiled a return-to-play plan that would feature 24 teams

B.C. sees 9 new COVID-19 cases, one death as officials watch for new cases amid Phase Two

Number of confirmed active cases is at 244, with 37 people in hospital

Nanaimo senior clocked going 50 km/hr over limit says her SUV shouldn’t be impounded

RCMP say they can’t exercise discretion when it comes to excessive speeding tickets

Illicit-drug deaths up in B.C. and remain highest in Canada: chief coroner

More than 4,700 people have died of overdoses since B.C. declared a public health emergency in early 2016

CMHC sees declines in home prices, sales, starts that will linger to end of 2022

CMHC said average housing prices could fall anywhere from nine to 18 per cent in its forecast

B.C. Paralympian named to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

Three-time world and Paralympic gold medalist Sonja Gaudet is part of 11-member class

Restorative pole project underway in Edgewood

The pole was made almost 50 years ago to pay respect to local First Nations

Most Read