With the release of new forest practices regulations effective January 31, 2004, the BC provincial government has now finalized its “results-based” forest management regime. In November 2002, it passed the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA), but the legislation did not contain enough details to give a clear indication of what the overall regime would look like. The government claims to have reduced regulatory requirements by 55% by eliminating unnecessary red tape and paperwork. But in the process, measures designed to protect the environment have been cut. Examples include:
- Industry writes the environmental results that they are legally required to achieve;
- Elimination of longstanding requirements for logging plan approvals at the cut block or site level, removing a key method by which government and the public can ensure protection of critical habitat;
- Extraordinary restrictions on when government can reject a plan for failure to adequately protect resource values;
- Extraordinary restrictions and bureaucratic hurdles to government taking action to protect environmental values such as wildlife habitat, water quality for community watersheds, and endangered species;
- Elimination of requirements to undertake precautionary assessments aimed at preventing landslides on steep slopes;
- Reduced likelihood of forest industry liability for landslides and other environmental consequences;
- Provision for industry to ‘opt out’ of many of the standards from the previous Code;
- Greater opportunity for political interference in decision-making;
- Reduced opportunity for successful enforcement action now that more defences are available for administrative penalties;
- Reduced accountability for forest companies due to narrow definitions for terms such as “damage to the environment”.
The Forest and Range Practices Act and regulations bring in a new era of forestry deregulation which places an unprecedented degree of control over public resources in the hands of forest companies. There are inadequate checks and balances in the regulations. The impact of these changes, especially when coupled with major cutbacks to Ministry of Forests staff and budgets, is to reduce public control over forest industry operations on public land.