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Indigenous leaders concerned over B.C.’s old-growth deferral process

Click to play video: 'B.C. unveils plans to defer logging of old-growth forests' B.C. unveils plans to defer logging of old-growth forests
The province's plan to defer logging 2.6 million hectares of old-growth forests isn't sitting well with B.C.'s forestry industry, which warns thousands of jobs will be lost – Nov 4, 2021

Indigenous leaders and experts in B.C. outlined their concerns Wednesday over the provincial government’s process to save old-growth forests, while underscoring the urgency to preserve at-risk ecosystems.

The province announced on Nov. 2 that an independent panel of scientific experts had mapped 26,000 square kilometres of old-growth forests at risk of permanent biodiversity loss. It asked First Nations to decide within 30 days whether they support the deferral of logging in those areas or if the plan required further discussion.

Retired judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond told a news conference hosted by the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs that the government’s actions aren’t consistent with free, prior and informed consent, a key principle of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

B.C. adopted the declaration through legislation passed in 2019.

Read more: British Columbia moves to defer old growth forests within 2.6 million hectares of land

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The 30-day timeline is too short for many First Nations to make informed decisions, and the process lacks clarity on economic impacts and potential compensation for nations that elect to set old-growth forests aside from logging, Turpel-Lafond said.

In the Fraser Canyon, the elected council for Spuzzum First Nation is part time and there was “no way” they could have decided on the deferral within 30 days, although they want old-growth logging to stop in their territory, Chief James Hobart said.

Click to play video: 'British Columbia announces 2.6 million hectares of old-growth forest will be preserved' British Columbia announces 2.6 million hectares of old-growth forest will be preserved
British Columbia announces 2.6 million hectares of old-growth forest will be preserved – Nov 2, 2021

B.C.’s plan includes about $12.7 million over three years to support nations through the process, but Hobart said he hasn’t heard anything about receiving funds. In the meantime, he said Spuzzum doesn’t have access to comprehensive mapping showing where forests have been logged and what’s still standing.

“It’s like pulling teeth trying to get an overlap map of what’s not in your territory anymore,” Hobart told the news conference.

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“How can we even start the conversation in a month if we don’t even understand what’s gone?”

Read more: B.C. deferring old-growth forestry in Fairy Creek and the Central Walbran for 2 years

Khelsilem, elected chairperson for the Squamish Nation, told the news conference that 97 per cent of old-growth forests have been logged in Squamish territory and the nation has been fighting for years to protect the remaining three per cent.

“Asking for consent to defer, but not asking for consent to log, is a total about-face and a misalignment on (the province’s) values when they say they want to partner with First Nations and they want to respect Indigenous rights,” Khelsilem said.

The Forests Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Fairy Creek injunction extension quashed by judge claimed as a victory by protestors – Sep 29, 2021

B.C. has been following the recommendations of an independent review released last fall, which found inaction could result in permanent loss for the most at-risk old-growth ecosystems, Forests Minister Katrine Conroy said last month.

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The initial deferrals would last two years, Conroy said, allowing for consultation with First Nations about old-growth management in their territories. After that, old-growth forests identified as being at risk would either remain off limits for logging or be included in new, more sustainable management plans, the minister said.

Under B.C.’s plan, forest license holders may volunteer to stop harvesting in the deferral areas, or the deferrals would be implemented under the Forest Act, which allows for a pause of up to 10 years, with compensation required after four years.

Read more: Letter signed by 200 leaders seeks protection for B.C.’s old growth forests

In fall 2020, the province announced the temporary deferral of harvesting across 196,000 hectares of old-growth forests in nine different areas. In June, it approved a request from three Vancouver Island First Nations to defer logging across more than 2,000 hectares of old-growth forests in the Fairy Creek and Walbran areas.

One of those nations, the Huu-ay-aht, released a statement Wednesday, saying it has decided to defer 96 per cent of the old forest identified as being at risk by the scientific panel, while upholding its right to harvest in the remaining four per cent.

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Protesters claim underhanded tactics by police and forest company at Fairy Creek logging blockade – Sep 16, 2021

Chief Councillor Robert Dennis Sr. said much of the deferral area is protected under existing conservation measures or not slated for logging in the next two years.

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The B.C. government also introduced legislation last month that would amend the Forest Act.

If passed, the new legislation would allow the province to reduce the timber harvesting rights of existing forest companies, compensate them and redistribute the harvesting rights to First Nations, local communities and BC Timber Sales, it said.

The province has also appointed a new commission to provide advice on strengthening the long-term stability of the forest industry, with recommendations on how to protect workers affected by harvesting changes due in February.

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