Victoria, BC–Triggered by mounting public concern over the future of land use on southern Vancouver Island, the Environmental Law Centre (ELC) has requested, on behalf of Sea-to-Sea Greenbelt Society, that BC’s Auditor General investigate a government decision to release large amounts of land from Crown control without compensation.
“The amount of land we’re talking about is equivalent to a line of football fields stretched from Victoria to Nova Scotia,” says Ray Zimmerman for the Sea-to-Sea Greenbelt Society.
In a detailed letter, the ELC has asked the Auditor General to examine Minister Rich Coleman’s January 2007 decision allowing Western Forest Products (WFP) to remove over 28,000 hectares of land from three Tree Farm Licenses (TFLs).
TFL is a land management system created in the 1940s and 1950s in response to concerns about the long-term sustainability of BC’s forest industry. Private companies could place lands into a TFL in exchange for exclusive access to logging on vast areas of a Crown land TFL. Land in TFLs is owned either privately or by the Crown.
In the past, both government and industry have recognized that compensation to the public is appropriate when private lands are removed, or deleted, from provincial TFLs if the licensee retains its rights to log Crown TFL lands.
In this case, however, the government failed to insist on public compensation in return for allowing the lands to be deleted. Nor has it imposed environmental protections requirements on the deletion. Consequently, WFP is free to sell the removed private land for residential development while retaining its TFL logging rights on adjacent Crown land.
“The company is clearly going to make a fortune from this decision and the Minister could have obtained significant public benefit in exchange for these removals,” says Zimmerman. “He could have required the establishment of new parks; or lands to replace lost habitat and watershed protections; or lands to use as part of the First Nations treaty process. He could have obtained compensation for the loss of sustainable forestry jobs from diminishing TFL lands. He could have removed the right of WFP to continue logging on Crown land.”
The government’s decision to approve the land deletions without compensation or imposing land use restrictions to protect public interests has stunned local community organizations. As a result, many of these organizations including affected First Nations, community NGOs, forest workers unions, environmental and recreation groups are supporting the ELC’s call for an investigation by the Auditor General, who has the power to conduct an independent audit and advise how well government is managing its responsibilities and resources.
“This sort of development creates the worst kind of urban sprawl. It will forever alter Vancouver Island’s magnificent south coast,” says Zimmerman. “Once these patterns of development are laid down on the land, they are almost impossible to change.”
Contact and Information:
Environmental Law Clinic Calvin Sandborn, Legal Director (250) 472-5248 Melinda Skeels, Articled Student
Community and Urban Planning Organizations Vicky Husband, Greater Victoria Greenbelt Society (250) 920-9355 Arnie Campbell, Otter Point & Shirley Residents & Ratepayers Association (250) 642-3113
Forestry Workers Arnie Bercov, Pulp, Paper, and Woodworkers of Canada (250) 753-8721
Recreational Users Sid Jorma, Juan de Fuca Community Trails Society (250) 642-2767B Brooke Finlayson, Surfrider Foundation, Victoria Chapter (250) 886-6534
Environmental Groups Ken Wu, Western Canada Wilderness Committee (250) 514-9910
The Environmental Law Centre (“ELC”) is a non-profit society that provides pro bono advice and representation on public interest environmental issues to clients across British Columbia through a clinical program offered in partnership with the UVic Faculty of Law.