BC’s revamped forest policy puts the environment and people first

British Columbia has introduced legislation that will make BC’s approach to forests more focused on sustainability, return more benefits to people and local communities, and position BC to take full advantage of future economic opportunities through long-term planning.

Amendments to the Forest and Range Practices Act, introduced on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, by Katrine Conroy, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, build on the government’s vision of how BC cares for its forests. This legislation complements ongoing work to preserve old growth and supports the smarter management of forests, ensuring that public benefits are the priority.

“Forestry policies – put in place two decades ago – have limited our ability to fight climate change, protect old-growth forests and share the benefits with Indigenous and local communities,” Conroy said. “By increasing public control between government and First Nations, we’re committed to smarter management of our forests that prioritizes public benefits and engagement now and into the future.”

In June 2021, the government released its vision of how it cares for its forests. When implemented, it will create jobs, support healthier forest ecosystems and deliver higher-value from the province’s forests through three guiding principles: increased sector participation, enhanced stewardship and sustainability, and a strengthened social contract to increase public oversight.

The legislative changes introduced bring this vision closer to reality by increasing local control and prioritizing forest health. A key part of this will be replacing forest stewardship plans, which are now developed by the sector, over time with forest landscape plans. This will better address ecological and cultural values, in addition to timber values.

Through the development of forest landscape plans, the amendments will create new opportunities for shared decision-making between the government and First Nations. This is aligned with government commitments to implement the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act passed in 2019.

First Nations, communities, and the public will have more opportunities to view and comment on forest-sector harvesting plans, increasing public trust, and participation in forest management decisions.

The changes will also improve efforts to mitigate against climate change by allowing the chief forester to set stocking standards for replanting and reduce wildfire risk by creating wildland buffers between communities and forests.

New components of the legislation include:

  • reshaping British Columbia’s forest-management framework by repositioning the government as the land manager;
  • reasserting the public interest in forest management;
  • equipping land managers with appropriate tools to establish resilient forests; and
  • supporting reconciliation with First Nations through changes that authorize the government to establish landscape-level plans in collaboration with First Nations.

Changes to the act build on amendments made in 2019 and respond to feedback and analyses received over the past decade from First Nations, the Forest Practices Board, the forest industry, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, and others. Changes to the Forest Act, expected this fall, will support industry and Indigenous forest licence holders and further evolve forestry management in BC.

The Forest and Range Practices Act governs how forest and range practices and activities are conducted on Crown land and came into effect in 2004. Proposed changes will come into effect by regulation expected over the next year.

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