A Look at Current Forestry Trends in British Columbia


A Look at Current Forestry Trends in British Columbia

On February 15, 2023, Premier David Eby announced new measures to protect old-growth forests in British Columbia, while encouraging innovation in the forestry sector to “deliver good, family-supporting jobs for generations to come.” These measures include increasing the logging deferral of old-growth forests from 1.7 million hectares to 2.1 million hectares, implementing alternatives to clear-cut logging, funding regional forest landscape planning tables with 50 Indigenous Nations, and repealing legislative wording that prioritizes timber supply over ecological values.

Collectively, these measures represent a significant shift in the underlying values of the forestry sector. Those opposed to the change may point to the Fairy Creek protests, increasing mill closures, and other forestry job losses as evidence that the forestry sector cannot be premised on Indigenous rights or conservation. Others may argue that the critics can’t see the forest for the trees: these changes are long overdue and necessary to meet various cultural, economic, social, and environmental values that our forests provide.

The announcement follows other recent developments impacting British Columbia’s forestry sector, including:

  • The passing of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA) which, among other things, requires that all legislation be amended in alignment with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and provides for Indigenous Governing Bodies to enter into decision-making agreements with the Province of British Columbia (Province);
  • The precedent-setting decision Yahey v British Columbia by the Supreme Court of British Columbia, regarding cumulative effects of industrial development on Aboriginal and Treaty rights; and
  • The Province’s strategic report by Garry Merkel and Al Gorley “A New Future for Old Forests” made through public engagement containing 14 recommendations for old-growth management.

While there may be a divided opinion about forestry management, one thing is certain: there is uncertainty in the forestry sector. The Province has not yet provided sufficient guidance as to how the sector may evolve to meet these various and competing goals.

To many, the path is clear: an industry developed in collaboration with Indigenous Nations is the future and the time to take action is now. Stakeholders are bypassing the Province and working directly with Indigenous Nations, proponents are launching Indigenous-led resource planning for Tree Farm Licences (TFL), TFLs are being transferred directly to Indigenous Nations, and Indigenous Nations are increasingly involved in regulation and decision-making through private agreements. These actions are aligned with the principles of UNDRIP and illustrate the progression toward legal certainty, economic reconciliation, and a more resilient forestry sector through meaningful Indigenous involvement and environmental protection.

With the culmination of Yahey, DRIPA, criticisms of old growth logging, and uncertainty caused by Crown inaction, Indigenous authority over forestry activities through private arrangements are certain to continue. This transition raises an array of questions for the future of forestry regulation: What are the practical implications for Indigenous Nations taking on additional regulatory involvement? How will proponents advance partnerships in areas where forestry has and continues to be contentious? What will regional decision-making look like as more Indigenous Nations assert their inherent jurisdiction through regulation?

All of these questions, and more, sit at the intersection of reconciliation and forestry — two concepts which are necessary roots for a sustainable, strong, and long-lasting economy in British Columbia.

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