Indigenous leaders say a month is not enough to decide the fate of old growth in BC

Indigenous leaders and experts from British Columbia on Wednesday outlined their concerns about the provincial government’s process to defer clearing of primary forests, while underscoring the urgency of preserving ecosystems at risk.

The province announced on November 2 that an independent panel of scientific experts had mapped 26,000 square kilometers of primary forests at risk of permanent loss of biodiversity. He asked First Nations to decide within 30 days whether to support deferring logging in those areas or whether the plan requires further discussion.

Retired Judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond told a press conference organized by the Union of Indigenous Chiefs of British Columbia that the government’s actions are not consistent with free, prior and informed consent, a key principle of the Declaration of Nations. United on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

BC adopted the statement through legislation passed in 2019.

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

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

BC’s plan includes about $ 12.7 million over three years to support nations in the process, but Hobart said he has not heard anything about receiving funds. Meanwhile, he said Spuzzum does not have access to a full mapping showing where the forests have been cut down and what is still standing.

When asked about access to finance, the Forest Ministry said in a statement that it would have “more to say on this soon.”

“It’s like pulling your teeth out trying to get an overlay map of what is no longer on your territory,” Hobart said at the press conference. “How can we even start the conversation in a month if we don’t even understand what happened?”

Khelsilem, president-elect of the Squamish Nation, told the press conference that 97 percent of the primary forests have been logged in the Squamish Territory and the nation has been fighting for years to protect the remaining three percent.

# Indigenous leaders concerned about the postponement process of the old growth of the # BC government. #OldGrowth #BCPoli

“Asking for consent to defer, but not asking for consent to log in, is a total change and misalignment of (the province’s) values ​​when they say they want to partner with First Nations and want to respect indigenous rights,” Khelsilem said.

The province recognizes that there is a diversity of perspectives on old growth and is committed to working directly with indigenous rights and rights holders to “get this right,” the Ministry of Forests said in its emailed statement.

First Nations were asked to tell the province what next steps they were interested in taking, whether it be an immediate postponement or discussing postponements through existing agreements, or whether they require more time and involvement, he said.

At the end of the 30-day period, the ministry said it would provide an update on the initial responses received, “respecting the fact that many communities have been affected by the recent floods and the ongoing pandemic.”

British Columbia has been following the recommendations of an independent review published last fall, which found that inaction could result in a permanent loss of the old growth ecosystems most at risk, Forestry Minister Katrine Conroy said last month.

The initial postponements would last two years, Conroy said, allowing First Nations to consult on managing old growth in their territories. After that, primary forests identified as at risk would remain off-limits for logging or be included in new, more sustainable management plans, the minister said.

Under BC’s plan, forestry license holders can volunteer to halt harvesting in deferral areas, or deferrals would be implemented under the Forestry Law, which allows a hiatus of up to 10 years, with compensation required after four years.

In the fall of 2020, the province announced the temporary postponement of harvesting in 196,000 hectares of primary forest in nine different areas. In June, it approved a request from three First Nations on Vancouver Island to defer logging on more than 2,000 hectares of primary forest in the Fairy Creek and Walbran areas.

One such nation, Huu-ay-aht, issued a statement Wednesday, saying it has decided to defer 96 percent of the old forest identified as at risk by the scientific panel, while maintaining its right to harvest in the remaining four. percent.

Chief Counsel Robert Dennis Sr. said much of the deferral area is either protected by existing conservation measures or is not scheduled for logging in the next two years.

The British Columbia government also introduced legislation last month that would amend the Forestry Act. If approved, it would allow the province to reduce the logging rights of existing forestry companies, offset them and redistribute logging rights to First Nations, local communities and BC Timber Sales, he said.

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

This Canadian Press report was first published on December 1, 2021.

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