Private Forest Rules Betray Nature

With contributions from Emily Benoit, ELC Clinic (Fall 2018), Coop student (Spring 2019)

Current rules for managing private forest land in BC fail to protect the province’s streams, fish, wildlife and other natural values. If not managed responsibly, logging activities on private land can damage fish and wildlife habitat and contaminate drinking water. This urgent situation led the ELC to produce a report on behalf of Wildsight to outline the problems and offer specific law reform solutions.

The Private Managed Forest Land Act (PMFLA) and regulations established in 2003 are intended to 1) encourage private land owners to manage their lands for long-term forest production, and 2) encourage sustainable forest management practices on private forest land that include protecting key public environmental values. Private forest land owners who opt in to the regime obtain significant tax breaks and are subject to lower environmental standards than those that apply on crown forest lands

This regime affects land across the province. The PMFLA applies to over 800,000 ha of private managed forest across BC, a significant proportion of which is on Vancouver Island. Additionally, the Kootenay region is currently experiencing dramatic forest liquidation on private forest lands, much of it centralized in the Elk Valley where a great deal of old and mature forest exists.

As the land can be easily declassified without significant deterrent, private managed forest land is disappearing as owners clearcut forests and subsequently sell land for development, leading to loss of tax revenue and no meaningful long-term forest protection on private lands. There is no real limit on how much can be logged at one time, and the current rules do not address cumulative effects. In contrast to tree cutting rules that apply to Crown land, there is no “annual allowable cut” restriction – there’s no cap on annual logging to ensure sustainable levels of harvesting, and no requirement for operations to be sustainable over time.

Private managed forest land in BC is concentrated within the territory of a small number of Indigenous Nations. This is largely as a result of historic colonial land grants of unceded and collectively held Indigenous land in connection with railway development. Indigenous Nations have been excluded from decision-making activities under the PMFLA and have lost access to harvesting and spiritual sites and culturally significant resources. A renewed framework for private forest land requires collaborative governance with impacted Indigenous Nations. The eight law reform recommendations in the ELC report include introducing measures to protect riparian areas and community watersheds, setting clear standards to ensure sustainable logging practices, developing a means to ensure the retention of forests, considering cumulative effects, and establishing collaborative governance measures with Indigenous Nations affected by private managed forest land.