Forest tenure reform – stay the course

Government should not abandon the consultation process

Central Interior Logging Association

The debate on the latest round of tenure reform – a process to allow conversion of volume-based forest licensees to area-based tree farm licensees in the Interior – has taken some unusual twists.

Going back 18 months or so, forest companies were pushing hard for legislative changes that would allow the shift to area-based tenure.

Government was quite agreeable, planning to set up a process to screen such applications and move ahead.

But proposed legislation drew such a strong outcry from public, environmental and special-interest groups that Minister Steve Thomson pulled it off the table back in March, 2013, stating a need for more public engagement to “… ensure everyone is better informed about area-based tenures, their intent and their benefits.”

The consultation process is underway, with a deadline of May 31, and with five weeks to go Canfor CEO Don Kayne suddenly announced that he believes consideration of area-based tenure now is ill-advised.

“The risk of aligning the public against B.C.’s largest forest companies outweighs any marginal benefits of expanded area-based tenures,” he said. “We consider it a needless diversion of vital government staff time – and our own staff time – away from higher priorities.”

We disagree.

Government should not abandon the consultation process – it should continue it, extending discussions as necessary, for very good reasons.

Some day, six months or six years from now, there will be renewed pressure to allow conversion of volume-based licensees to area-based tenures because they will allow a higher level of long-term control over the forest land base and economic benefits to the holders.

There is no better time than now to prepare for it, while industry; public and environmental awareness is at a high point.

Ground rules for tenure conversions should include clear criteria – how will the public benefit, what obligations will be enforced around maintaining milling facilities and meeting silviculture commitments, and who has the hammer in the process.

The onus should be on tenure-holders to prove their case on clear, established criteria before being allowed to convert to area-based tenures, and competition should be encouraged so the Crown and the public get the best deal – the highest level of public benefit from a tenure conversion that will also benefit existing licence-holders or new entrants.

This is the best opportunity in several decades for meaningful tenure reform; let’s stay the course. If you haven’t read the government discussion paper and either made direct input or contacted the CILA to help us draft our submission, now’s the time.