SpruceRoots Magazine - July 2001


by Erica Thompson

The most powerful phrase in British Columbia just might be "adequately manage and conserve."

This prime provision in managing and conserving forest resources is embedded deep within the Forest Practices Code at Section 41(1)(b), but finding evidence of these protective promises is more difficult to locate on the ground than on the page. What it means to 'adequately manage and conserve' is widely interpreted and contested and considering its legacy is converting ancient forests to farms, Section 41 has come to be known as a firebrand in forest politics.

Forest Development Plans (FDP's) identify the roads and cutblocks, moving from maps to forest floor over a five-year period. FDP's are also obligated to describe how plants and animals living within these forests will be protected as logging operations move from cutblock to cutblock. Granting approvals for FDP's is a precarious marriage of politics and risk management to the power of one. Statutory decision-makers, most commonly district managers, must be "satisfied that the plan or amendment will adequately manage and conserve the forest resources of the area to which it applies," before signing off.

It is a peculiar vision, this strategy which applies degrees of risk to forest communities affected by logging. Impacts, such as the occurrence of landslides or the elimination of food gathering grounds and habitat can either be considered 'real' risks or 'perceived' risks. Determining the extent to which logging plans and practices will or will not "adequately manage and conserve forest resources" is a formidable task.

What the public expects from district manager's when they are determining levels of acceptable risk is documented in the Preamble of the Forest Practices Code, which states: "British Columbians desire sustainable use of the forests they hold in trust for future generations; and whereas sustainable use includes managing forests to meet present needs without compromising the needs of future generations, providing stewardship of forests based on an ethic of respect for the land, balancing economic, productive, spiritual, ecological and recreational values of forests to meet the economic, social and cultural needs of peoples and communities, including First Nations, conserving biological diversity, soil, water, fish, wildlife, scenic diversity and other forest resources, and restoring damaged ecologies." Any decisions or approvals which compromise these ideals by putting wildlife, biodiversity or the trust of future generations at risk is a logical contravention of the Code's Preamble, of the public's legitimate expectation the Preamble be respected, and Section 41(1)(b)'s declaration to "adequately manage and conserve forest resources."

In a recent special report, the Forest Practices Board - the independent watchdog for public interest - suggests some people who's expertise is the business of forest development planning, are not confident that "adequately manage and conserve" is ensuring forest values such as fish, wildlife, biological diversity are receiving sufficient protection as legislated by the Code.

The report, Review of the Forest Development Planning Process, examined eighteen FDP's selected randomly from the province's forest districts and interviewed 361 people involved in the FDP process to determine whether the current legal and policy framework is appropriate. The report says the Ministry of Forests District Managers who approved the 18 FDP's were satisfied the plans they approved adequately manage and conserve the forest resource values of the areas to which they apply. Licensees shared the sentiment. But, beyond these opinions and confidences "the majority of Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (MELP) staff, Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) staff, First Nations, licensed users, interested parties and the public did not feel FDP's adequately achieve this objective," reports the Board.

Several MELP staff stated FDP's are not required to contain sufficiently detailed information to permit them to judge whether values such as biodiversity, habitat and wildlife will be adequately managed and conserved. DFO staff interviewed, say the Code is inadequate to protect fish habitat. Others said, measures describing how forest resources will be protected are too vague, lacking the information needed to properly assess risks posed to forest resources. Current government interpretations and policies related to the Code prevent adequate management and conservation of resources, says the Board.

"The project has also reinforced concerns about the role of the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (MELP) in providing direction on FDP content. MELP has an important role to play and yet, in some districts, MELP involvement in FDP's is very limited, or non-existentThe Board also shares MELP staff concerns that current government interpretations of "risk management" places MELP staff in a position where they feel they must prove there is a serious risk to forest resources before any protection will be provided for those resources in FDP's," says the Board.

Known Info
In concert with Section 41, the Forest Practices Board says regulations guiding the kind of information that can be included in forest development planning, in itself, does not allow for adequately managing and conserving forest resources and can in fact prove inadequate.

Imagine for a moment, a 747 airplane preparing to taxi onto the runway. Minutes prior to its scheduled takeoff a leak is found in a fuel line. However, instead of delaying the flight, regulations enforce mandatory take off because the concern was not identified in the "appropriate time" or "deemed mandatory" in the decision-making process of whether to fly or remain grounded. If regulations required the pilot to fly the aircraft or even consider flying it, it would be ridiculous. However absurd this scenario appears, a similar logic mires forest development planning and the information which may be considered, and afforded sufficient weight, by decision-makers.

The use of "known" information, as determined in the Operational Planning Regulations (Section 18), "is resulting in resource information being excluded from some FDP's, even when it is more than four months old, because of the way Section 18 is being interpreted by some forest districts. Limiting the inclusion of resource information only to that information which is legally made known is neither sound forest management, nor is it consistent with the professional responsibilities of foresters."

The Forest Practices Board reports that with "few exceptions those members of the public interviewed have no idea about "known" information. Most people would assume that any information licensees are aware of will be considered when FDP's are developed. The public expectation of what must be considered in FDP's is clearly much broader than provided by the legal definition of 'known' information."

If a forest resource has not been declared 'known' there is no requirement for the best available information on that resource to be considered in the forest development plan. For example, someone preparing an FDP may have information about a draft forest ecosystem network (FEN) but if that information has not been declared "known" there is no legal requirement to consider the information in the forest development plan, explains the report.

Yew are not known
The Pacific Yew tree is a forest resource, therefore subject to adequate management under the Forest Practices Code, and part of the grey area known as non-mandatory information. The yew tree is rarely mentioned in forest development planning or is afforded such little weight it bares little impact on logging operations which pose risk to the tree and surrounding forest.

Despite a number of inquiries to the Vancouver Forest Region, the amount of yew, the number of trees or cubic metres logged in a year or per block remains a mystery. How much is gone and how much remains is not known, for despite the fact that they are 'known' to be present, in and beyond cutblock boundaries, according to the Ministry of Forests yew are rarely evident in cruise compilations and inventories. The issues of quality and quantity of inventory information used in FDP planning has also been reported by the Forest Practices Board as a challenge to the effective application of Section 41.

The report, Review of the Forest Development Planning Process shows FDP planning processes are most successful when there is an effective strategic plan in place, there is consultation throughout the planning process, plan preparers listen and incorporate comments into the plan, people feel their comments are respected, people feel their comments can influence change, the plans are well written and content is accessible, and most importantly there is a good working relationship among preparers, reviewers, the local community and plan approvers.

Improving trust levels and communication styles may make a better picture in the way forest planning is carried out but does it go far enough to hit the heart of dissatisfaction, which is the viability of Section 41(1)(b) to 'adequately manage and conserve', to protect biodiversity, wildlife, endangered species, spiritual places and remaining old growth sites as the legislation promises to do?

The Forest Practices Board is currently examining the adequacy of Section 41(1)(b) of the Forest Practices Code to "adequately manage and conserve forest resources" as set out by the objectives of the Code's Preamble.


Review of the Forest Development Planning Process can be found online at http://www.fpb.gov.bc.ca/reports/special/fdp/index.htm


SpruceRoots Magazine - July 2001

graphics - InHouse/SRs