B.C. introduces new measures on old growth, innovation, forest stewardship

THE B.C. government is launching new measures to protect more old growth by fast-tracking innovation and co-developing new local plans with First Nations to better care for B.C.’s forests.

“Our forests are foundational to B.C. In collaboration with First Nations and industry, we are accelerating our actions to protect our oldest and rarest forests,” said Premier David Eby on Wednesday. “At the same time, we will support innovation in the forestry sector so our forests can deliver good, family-supporting jobs for generations to come.”

At the centre of the eight-point plan is $25 million for new Forest Landscape Planning (FLP) tables that will drive improved old-growth management while incorporating local knowledge and community priorities. Enabled by 2021 amendments to the Forest and Range Practices Act, forest landscape plans are a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to forest stewardship that will replace existing, industry-developed plans.

In response to requests from First Nations for more in-depth discussions about old growth, this funding will support eight new regional FLP tables with the participation of approximately 50 First Nations. These tables will prevent harvesting in old-growth forests important for ecosystem health, biodiversity, clean water, carbon storage and Indigenous values. They will also provide greater certainty about the areas where sustainable harvesting can occur to support jobs and investment.

The announcement also includes ramping up government investments to support innovation in the forestry industry. The Province is doubling the new BC Manufacturing Jobs Fund to $180 million and expanding eligibility provincewide. The BC Manufacturing Jobs Fund will, for example, support mills to process smaller-diameter trees and manufacture higher-value wood products, such as mass timber. It will accelerate shovel-ready projects across the manufacturing ecosystem that will bring direct benefits and stable, family-supporting jobs to communities throughout the province. Previously, the fund was restricted to projects outside of the Metro Vancouver and the Capital regional districts.

“As we work to protect more old growth, we know we need to accelerate our efforts to build a stronger, more innovative forestry industry that better shares the benefits with workers and communities. Forestry is a foundation of B.C.’s economy,” said Bruce Ralston, Minister of Forests. “That’s why we are doubling provincial investments to help mills retrofit to get off old-growth logs and manufacture more high-value wood products right here in B.C., so we create more jobs from every tree.”

Additional actions to accelerate implementation of the Old Growth Strategic Review during the next year include:

* developing and implementing alternatives to clear-cutting practices, such as selective harvesting techniques, that better support forest resiliency, ecosystem health and climate adaptation, through a new $10-million silviculture innovation program;

* repealing outdated wording in the Forest and Range Practices Act regulations that prioritizes timber supply over all other forest objectives, like water quality, wildlife habitat and biodiversity;

* increasing Indigenous participation in co-developing changes to forest policy through $2.4 million provided to the First Nations Forestry Council;

* protecting more old-growth forests and biodiverse areas by leveraging hundreds of millions of dollars of philanthropic donations to fund conservation measures supported by the Province and First Nations, through a new conservation financing mechanism to be set up within six months;

* enabling local communities and First Nations to finance old-growth protection by selling verified carbon offsets that represent long-term emission reductions through the new Forest Carbon Offset Protocol 2.0, which will be finalized this year; and

* completing the Old Growth Strategic Action Plan by the end of 2023, to be developed in collaboration with First Nations and in consultation with stakeholders.

Since November 2021, the Province has been engaging with First Nations about deferring harvest within old-growth forests. Deferrals have now been implemented on approximately 2.1 million hectares of old growth. As recommended by the Old Growth Strategic Review, deferrals are intended to prevent biodiversity loss while the Province, First Nations and other partners develop a new, long-term approach to forest management that prioritizes ecosystem health and community resiliency.

The Technical Advisory Panel recommended that the Province implement deferrals within 2.6 million hectares of forests identified as most at risk of biodiversity loss. An additional 1.4 million hectares was already permanently protected.

Since November 2021, 11,600 hectares have been harvested while engagements with First Nations were underway. This is equal to less than 0.5% of the area recommended for deferral.