The British Columbia government says it is finalizing plans with First Nations that have indicated support for plans to defer logging in certain old-growth forests, while it continues talks with nations that need more time to decide.
The province announced last month that an expert panel had mapped 26,000 square kilometres of old-growth forests at risk of permanent biodiversity loss.
It asked more than 200 First Nations in B.C. to decide within 30 days whether they supported deferrals in those areas or if the plan required further discussion.
The Forests Ministry released a statement Thursday saying it had received responses from 161 nations, with nearly three-quarters indicating they need more time to review technical information or to incorporate local Indigenous knowledge into the proposed deferral plans before making a decision.
The plan and timeline has drawn criticism from some Indigenous groups, including the First Nations Leadership Council, which includes the executives of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the B.C. Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Summit.
Council members issued a statement last month saying they were concerned that at-risk old growth remained unprotected while B.C. passed responsibility to First Nations without providing details on financial support to replace any potential lost revenues if the nations opted to defer old-growth logging in their territories.
The province has been following the recommendations of an independent review released last year, which found inaction could result in permanent loss for the most at-risk old-growth ecosystems, Forests Minister Katrine Conroy said last month.
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forest license holders may voluntarily stop harvesting in the old-growth deferral areas, or their permits would be rescinded under the Forest Act.
The Forests Ministry said about half of the 26,000 square kilometres of at-risk old-growth forests are “not threatened by logging for the foreseeable future,” while about 500 square kilometres overlap with previously approved cutting permits.
Many forestry companies have indicated they will not proceed with harvesting those areas while discussions with First Nations are ongoing, the ministry added.