Canadian Biomass Magazine

WPAC – Voicing opposition

December 13, 2013
By Gordon Murray

Philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Voicing opposition  

British Columbia’s forests are owned mostly by the Province: with about 95 per cent being in public ownership. Approximately 80 per cent of forests are under “volume-based” tenures, where a tenure holder is typically one of many having rights to a specific volume of timber within a timber supply area. The remaining 20 per cent of forests are under “area-based” tenures – in First Nations woodland licences, tree farm licences, community forest agreements or woodlot licences.

The Social Credit party governed B.C. during the 1980s. In 1983, Premier Bill Bennett and the B.C. Council of Forest Industries met secretly to hatch a plan to convert volume-based forest licences to area-based tree farm licences. While it took some time for the plan to materialize, by 1988-89, the government began encouraging the industry to submit applications to roll over their forest licences into tree farm licences. However, the government was met with public outrage at what was perceived to be a massive giveaway of the public’s resource. Then-provincial forest critic and MLA for Prince Rupert, Dan Miller, called it “privatization on a massive scale” and warned: “Never before in the history of the province has this kind of giveaway been contemplated.” The Socreds were forced to hold a series of public meetings throughout the province, and Forests Minister David Parker was not only forced to disclose to the public the names of the 54 companies involved in the 122 applications, but also to release a “secret” map showing their areas.

Unrelenting opposition from First Nations, hundreds of community and environmental organizations, academics, professionals, forestry workers, the NDP opposition, and the general public resulted in a media backlash, stopped the roll-over process, and ultimately precipitated the defeat of the government and the ultimate disintegration of the Social Credit party in September 1991.

Now, a quarter of a century later, the Liberal party is in power in B.C. and embarking on the very same initiative.
After being lobbied by B.C.’s largest forest companies, the Liberals are now working to enable them to convert their volume-based forest licences to area-based tree farm licences. Premier Christy Clark has instructed Forests Minister Steve Thomson to pursue this as a high priority.

So why does this matter to the wood pellet industry? The answer is simple. Just five companies dominate control over B.C.’s public forests – Canadian Forest Products, West Fraser Timber, International Forest Products, Tolko Industries and Western Forest Products. Converting volume-based forest licences to area-based tree farm licences will increase the power and control of these five companies and has the potential to further deteriorate the pellet sector’s ability to access the low-quality fibre it needs as feedstock.

How did the government come to resurrect this old initative? It started on May 16, 2012, when B.C.’s Legislative Assembly appointed a Special Committee on Timber Supply to “examine and make recommendations with respect to mid-term timber supply for British Columbia resulting from the pine beetle epidemic-related loss of timber supply in the central interior, and to conduct consultations on this issue with the public and local governments, including communities and First Nations, by means the Special Committee considers appropriate…”

Major firms, such as West Fraser Mills Ltd., lobbied the Special Committee to recommend the expansion of area-based tenures, arguing that this would enable harvest levels to increase and that they would do a better job of forest management. The Special Committee agreed and included this along with its other findings and recommendations in its report to the legislature in August 2012.

In February 2013, the government introduced its proposal concerning area- based tenures in Bill 8. However the bill’s passage was interrupted by a May 2013 provincial election. Following re-election, Premier Christy Clark instructed Forests Minister Steve Thomson to get on with the job of expanding the area of forest under area-based tenures. The government argues that area-based tenures will, “create an incentive for licence holders to make enhanced silviculture and infrastructure investments that will improve the mid-term timber supply.”

Conversions of volume-based replaceable forest licences to area-based management are to be guided by the following principles:

  • clear public benefit
  • return of a portion of the allowable annual cut (AAC) to government to support – among other things – development of the bio-energy sector
  • commitment to higher standards of forest management
  • tenure that supports sufficient AAC
  • the AAC and management of the residual timber supply area will not be unduly impacted
  • a fair and balanced exchange of rights and opportunity
  • support of existing government forest tenure commitments
  • no undue impact of existing forest tenure holders
  • protection of Aboriginal interests and existing land-use plans

The application must be available for public review and comment for at least 60 days, and the applicant must submit the results of the public review process and show how public concerns have been addressed before submitting to the minister for decision.

The wood pellet sector must carefully monitor the progress of this initiative and respond vigorously to any proposed conversions. This may present an opportunity for pellet producers to offer support for conversions in exchange for secure access to residual fibre. This could help the pellet industry to reach its full potential. If proposed conversions do not provide for the needs of the pellet sector, then we must protest in the strongest possible terms.

Whether the government’s second attempt at this legislation will move forward remains to be seen. We will see if the government is serious about its commitment to its publicly stated guiding principles. The voices of opposition were heard loud and clear in the lead-up to the provincial election. Now that the election is in the rearview mirror, we will soon see if the government will continue to listen or if it will repeat the failure of the last government that tried this.

Gordon Murray is executive director of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada. He encourages all those who want to support and benefit from the growth of the Canadian wood pellet industry to join. Gordon welcomes all comments and can be contacted by telephone at 250-837-8821 or by e-mail at

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