Submitted by Wildsight Invermere

From the jagged peaks of the Rockies to the granite slabs of the Purcells, the East Kootenay is known globally for its wild forests and intact ecosystems. However, in the last few years, new large clear-cuts have been showing up in the steep hillsides around our communities. It turns out that many of these areas are privately owned — and logging on private land has few regulations compared to logging on crown land.

The vast majority of B.C. logging occurs in two ways. The first is through a tenure-based system in which the province allocates crown land to logging companies. Essentially, the province is divided into operating areas called Timber Supply Areas (TSA). The amount of wood to be harvested is allocated for these areas on a year-to-year basis and companies operating within this system pay a stumpage fee for the wood they harvest. The second form of logging is on private land and is subject to less stringent regulations.

The large amount of private land in B.C. is largely the result of extensive railway land grants from the late 1800’s. Crown land was offered by the government to railway companies as an incentive to build railways. Over time, many of these land parcels have changed hands and inevitably ended up in the hands of forestry companies. In 2003, the Private Managed Forest Land Act came into effect. Companies that qualified under this framework got a huge tax incentive for managing their land as Private Managed Forest. This is essentially how we came to be in the position we are in today: it is economically viable for companies to purchase private land for logging because they receive tax breaks and pay no stumpage fees.

Under current private logging regulation, there is no limit or cap on the amount of wood a logging company can harvest annually, and there are no requirements to maintain forest cover or wildlife values. Additionally, there’s no legal requirement for logging practices on private land to be sustainable over time. Riparian areas (the transition zones between land and water) are critical in preventing erosion and ensuring healthy and functioning streams. They are also extremely sensitive to disturbance. Lack of regulation means that private landowners can potentially cause downstream effects, such as increased flooding and negative effects on fish, and face no legal recourse.

In September 2018, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities passed two resolutions at their Annual General Meeting, calling on the provincial government to place stronger regulations on private land logging. The provincial government has been reviewing the rules, regulations and systems that govern private land logging under B.C.’s Private Managed Forest Lands Act, but still, no action has been taken to stem the tide of forest liquidation on private lands. 

What should be done? Stronger restrictions on the amount of wood harvested by a company in a given area should be implemented. Placing stronger protections on riparian areas, streams, and wildlife habitat is another key component of stronger and more sustainable private managed forest regulation. We, as consumers, can buy sustainable forest products (FSC certified) and collectively push for stronger regulations on private land logging. Stronger regulations will ensure that water quality and wildlife values are protected. We, as citizens, have the power to not only encourage sound environmental practices but to shape legislation through the power of our collective voice. Let’s make sure we continue working towards a more sustainable forest industry and a brighter future for the next generations by encouraging sound environmental practices.