Campbell’s new forest code: A “pathway to extinction”

By Paul Koberstein

Enacted in November 2002, British Columbia's “results- based” forest practices code replaces a 1995 law that was hailed at the time as a model for protecting wildlife.

But the old Forest Practices Code never lived up to its reputation. It required the government to guard the health of forested landscapes and protect wildlife habitat. Instead, the government paid closer attention to making sure timber companies met tar gets for the number of trees cut down. The focus on protecting the environment was always secondary , environmentalists say.-

But now , the old code is looking pretty good. The new forest code, which took effect April 1, contains no minimum standards or environmental regulations. It also undermines the democratic process. Government officials excluded small businesses, working people and environmental groups from meetings last September when the new law was being written.

Only representatives of big timber companies were allowed in the room. The government apparently was helping citizens get used to a new way of doing business in the woods. They no longer can preview site plans or appeal them in court. Government officials won’ t even review these plans. Information about logging sites —inventories, ecological values and other planning details that were public under the previous code — now belongs to the company and out of reach of the citizens.

In short, timber companies will monitor themselves for compliance with a new law they helped to write, says George Heyman President B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union .

“Citizens are going to have much less information about what is going on out in the forest, “says Lisa Matthaus of the Sierra Club of Canada, BC Chapter . “Finding out what is going on will be hugely difficult.”

No one will necessarily know that loggers are trashing a watershed until long after the fact. And even if a company is proven to have damaged a stream, it will not be liable for the damage so long as it had been acting in accordance with its own plan. Under the results-based code, “we tried” will be an acceptable defense against environmental violations. All the company needs to do is demonstrate that it exercised “due diligence” — in other words, the company will go free if it made reasonable efforts to comply with the code.

 The code does nothing to reverse the province's trend of cutting down trees much faster than it can grow them. “Falldown,” a 1999 report from Ecotrust Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation, showed that harvest levels were already too high in the late 1990s to sustain for the long run. In large swaths of the province, the rate of logging was 50 to 100 percent or more above the level that could be sustained over time.

The new code further weakens forest protection, critics say , by reducing government oversight of industry . “British Columbia has lost its capacity to enforce its environmental regulations, even as inadequate as they are, “says Dr. Brian Horejsi, who analyzed the lack of enforcement in “Losing Ground,” a report for the Raincoast Conservation Society .

The final rules implementing the new results-based code will not be in place for another year . No one knows yet what measurable results timber companies will be required to meet. Some say this lack of clarity will make the new code more difficult and costly to enforce. Many have referred to the new law as a “pathway to species extinction in BC.”

The northern spotted owl may be the first to go. Fewer than 25 pair exist in the province, and most of those live in areas that are being logged by the BC government’ s own small business logging program. Horejsi says 11 small but critical populations of grizzly bear could be next. The most likely results of the new results-based code, he says, will be more logging and more extinctions.   ¦

Paul Koberstein