B.C. Government Waits for First Nations to Agree Upon Old-Growth Logging on Shared Lands

The B.C. government announced last fall that an independent panel of ecologists and forestry experts had mapped 2.6 million hectares of old-growth forests at risk of permanent biodiversity loss. It asked 204 First Nations to determine within 30 days whether they supported the temporary deferral of logging in those areas, or if they needed more time to decide.

The B.C. government today still wants First Nations to reach a consensus before logging is deferred in old-growth forest on shared Indigenous territories.

Tara Marsden, sustainability director for the Gitanyow Nation’s hereditary chiefs’ office in northwestern B.C., said consensus represents a “high bar” in a complex process, which was not made clear when Forests Ministry staff introduced the province’s deferral plan last November.

“I think the public who are concerned about old growth need to know that high bar, that it’s very challenging to work in this landscape with multiple nations,” said Marsden, the main point contact for her nation on deferrals.

Marsden said she had initially understood from the ministry’s messaging that “if you support these (deferral areas), they’re going to be protected.” Instead, there was an “unspoken expectation” from the province that consensus among nations with overlapping territories was needed, she said.

B.C. Forests Minister Katrine Conroy told The Canadian Press that if consensus on deferrals could not be reached among First Nations with overlapping or shared territories, the province would assess the strengths of their claims.

“We can’t automatically go with one deferral over another if nations aren’t in agreement,” Conroy said. “So, we’re trying to work that out and staff are working really hard with nations to look at, you know, what can we do to reach consensus, but in the end, it becomes an issue of strength of claim.”

So far, the province has not had to issue any orders and “many” companies have indicated they will not proceed with logging in proposed deferral areas where discussions with First Nations are ongoing, the Forests Ministry said.

B.C.’s 2022 budget allocated $185 million over three years to support forestry workers, First Nations, and others who may be affected by deferrals, as well as legislative changes that Conroy said would “reshape” forest management. The vision is for a forest sector that “delivers higher value from our forests, with secure, long-term jobs and healthier ecosystems,” she said last fall.

The province also announced last month that it was doubling the amount of Crown forestry revenues shared with First Nations, an increase of $63 million this year, while it works on a new revenue-sharing model for the long term.

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