Conservation | Public Participation and Forestry Planning: A Personal Account

By Van Andruss –

I seem to be one of those people who lag behind the times. For instance, I assume that BC’s Crown land is owned by its citizens, both native and non-native. Certainly logging companies do not own our land; neither does government. Besides this, I believe in the responsibility of the Ministry of Environment (now Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks) to guard the values of the land, its forests, air, water, and animal life, while the Ministry of Forests (now Forests, Land and Natural Resource Operations) must stand vigilant to oversee the day-to-day conduct of all who make use of forests.

On this old-fashioned basis, I feel entirely warranted to assert my opinion on land-use issues in the province, especially if they impact my community and watershed.

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The Yalakom Valley: the revered motive of our participation in land use planning. Photo: Van Andruss

As for my community, public participation in forestry issues is nothing new. The Yalakom Valley has found its place at every possible table and conference since the early 80s of the last century.

Of these many events, the two most outstanding happened in the “Turnaround Decade” of the 90s when the Environmental Movement was at its height. Both tables, the Yalakom Local Resource Use Plan (YLRUP) and the Lillooet Land and Resources Management Plan (LLRMP), occurred when Ainsworth logging company was active in our timber supply area(TSA).

The territory under examination in the YLRUP was small. Maps in the possession of the local forestry office were out-of-date and empty of relevant detail. Thanks to one of our members who had tramped around in the watershed on foot and horseback, and really knew what he was talking about, we offered useful information.

I can’t but laugh when I remember how uncomfortable the Forestry Branch Manager was with our questions, our knowledge, our opinions. We approached the topic with a landscape-scale perspective inspired by BC’s premier forester, Herb Hammond. We boldly spoke our vocabulary, spouting words like “biodiversity,” “fragmentation,” and “ecology.”

“Ecology!” growled the district manager. “What’s ecology?!”

The man was astonished when one of our members blandly asked, “Do you really know what you are doing?”

We were treated like school kids. Sometimes I got so bored, I resorted to a book under the table. Years were absorbed establishing Terms of Reference. It wasn’t until 1998 that our “advisory” plan was finally signed off by the district manager. Meanwhile, roading and clearcut logging rolled on as per usual.

By this form of participation, we may not have changed forest policy but we did become well educated to bureaucratic forms and to the land features of our watershed.

In 1995, along came the LLRMP. We plunged into that morass as well. While the YLRUP had been small in scale, here we faced an expansive TSA-wide analysis that downplayed or minimized our fine-grained investigations.

The Lillooet LRMP was a big deal. It included four representatives from our community and over 40 other parties: Fisheries, the Community Resource Board, the Ministries of Forest and Environment, the Guide Outfitters, the Rod and Gun Club, and of course, the ever-vigilant Ainsworth Ltd., keenly sensitive to any agreement that would affect their sacred revenue.

By 2001, after a thousand hours of painstaking deliberation, the table submitted two plans to the government. The slightly more ecology-minded one

was selected. This caused a furor in Lillooet. Soon thereafter, the NDP government was voted out of office, and neither plan was ratified.

Coming up to the present, 2017, the local branch of the Ministry of Forests is gone, Ainsworth is gone, replaced by another company, and government policy is radically different.

At the beginning of the new millennium, our forestlands came under a new regime called Results-based Forestry, directed by what is called “professional reliance.”

Results-based Forestry follows a checklist of very general (that is, vague) regulations – by no means ecology-based in the Herb Hammond style – carried out by “professionals,” such as registered professional foresters (RPFs), who are expected to represent the standards and ethics of their governing associations.

The rub here is that the RPFs are in fact employees of logging companies and would lose their jobs if, from lack of discretion, they became unduly diligent. Besides, they seldom live where they are passing their judgments and therefore lack the cautionary approach you would expect of local residents.

Worst of all, in the face of logging, the Ministry of Forests has been disempowered. This means the public no longer has anywhere to appeal when obvious malpractices are taking place in the woods. The Ministry’s Compliance and Enforcement Program and the Forest Practices Board remain, but it’s unclear whether they possess any effective powers.

It would not be going too far to say the indispensable office of Public Participation in Forestry Planning has been shut down. For the local resident discovering new logging blocks in the neighbourhood, “consultation” with the logging company is possible; slight concessions are not unheard of. But in most cases involving public input, site plans are already made, permits are issued, and one is simply “informed” of the operations to be carried out.

At the same time, in the absence of governmental authority, it falls to local residents to defend their forest from harm. Such is the world we live in, and it is a deep question what is to be done. Obviously we need to press for better regulation of forest practices. This has always been the case. But who will do the pressing?

Here’s my answer in brief: it is still possible for concerned people to form committees in their home regions to deal with forest practices and policies. Let us form Coalitions of Committees, and by the strength of social organization, make renewed demands on the current system.

It is true that people all along have tried and mostly failed to influence obdurate forest policy. But then, what’s the alternative? Life is not over with yet. We are still obliged to deal with what is destructive or unjust in our familiar worlds.

I say onward, then. Make Coalitions! Organize! Up with Public Participation in Forestry Planning!

Van Andruss is editor of the magazine Lived Experience, available at The Open Book and The Station House Gallery in Williams Lake. He enjoys the bioregional life and community in historic Moha outside of Lillooet, B.C.

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