Public open houses no longer required of forestry industry New "closed door" forestry policy will lead to protests, says WCWC By Andrew Mitchell Every March, for the past five years, all the forestry companies — and the ski operators — wanting to cut trees in the Sea to Sky area were required to gather under one roof to present their immediate and five year plans for logging in the forest district. For the public, this forest development plan (FDP) open house was an opportunity to keep tabs on what logging activities were going on in their backyards, to talk to the companies, and to express concerns to the district forest manager. For the logging companies, however, it was another hoop to jump through that took too much time and money. Moreover, it was a redundant hoop — by this time, cut permits had already been issued. This year, largely due to policy changes, there will be no open house in Whistler, Squamish or Pemberton. "The forest development plan open houses were unique to this area, not a part of the provincial Forest Practices Code," says Paul Kuster, manager of the Squamish Forest District. "Since we started hosting these open houses, a number of things have changed that prompted us to take another look at the effectiveness of the program." The first reason for the change has to do with the Forest Practices Code, which until this year required logging companies to submit a forest development plan to the Ministry of Forests for approval. In response to logging company demands to cut red tape, the provincial government reduced this requirement to every two years. "There are quite a few licensees operating in the area," says Kuster. "For that reason, we decided to take a staggered approach — half would submit a two-year FDP one year, and the other half the next. These are big documents, with detailed maps and reports, and they don’t really change all that much every year." The second reason is the poor attendance at the open houses. "What would happen is that we would book these large venues, like the (Whistler) conference centre, and fill it with all these company people — managers, logging supervisors, and so on, and they’d be left standing around like the Maytag repairman, waiting for customers. Attendance was better in earlier years, but it has really declined as of late," says Kuster. The third reason is cost. The open houses were costing the logging companies, the forest district, and the Ministry of Forests "significant money" every year, according to Kuster. Cutbacks at all levels of government have made the program difficult to finance. Kuster says he has not given up trying to get the information to the public, and is currently looking into the possibility of getting the FDP’s onto the internet in the near future. In the meantime, anybody who wants to see what and where logging is planned for the 2000 season will have to visit the logging companies’ headquarters — which Kuster admits could be difficult with 10 major companies and a handful of small logging operations in the district. Some have head offices as far away as Victoria and Nanaimo. Many environmental groups, including the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) and the Western Canada Wilderness Committee (WCWC) are concerned that the public is being left out of the process. "This is publicly-owned land, and we are no longer being given the opportunity to find out what’s going to happen," says Vincent Massey, a director of AWARE, a member of the group’s forestry committee and a member to the municipality’s Forest and Wildland Advisory Committee. "You could hike into one of your favourite areas only to find a cut block where the trees used to be, without knowing a cut was even planned. "Personally, I have a job and other commitments. I don’t have time, and neither do any of my colleagues, to visit the office of every logging company that is working in the district and ask to see their plans. It’s closed-door forestry. With the open house, at least we could get everybody together in the same room, and see the big picture all at once. Now we have to piece it all together." AWARE is in the process of drafting a letter to the Ministry of Forests protesting the change and to Kuster, asking for the open houses to be reinstated, at least until an alternative like the internet can be found. "Every year the Ministry of Forests would put a notice in the paper around this time that an open house would be happening at such and such a location at such and such a time, and we would plan to be there," says Massey. "We didn’t even know that the open houses were being cancelled this year until we were tipped off. They kept it very quiet." Joe Foy, Director of the WCWC, believes that cancelling the public open houses will inevitably lead to more protests and negative publicity for the logging companies. "It’s dangerous to keep things like this from the public," says Foy. "When people with an interest in the forests find out that a sensitive area is being logged, and they knew nothing about it, they tend to go berserk. That’s when you get the protest camps, and the blockades, and the confrontations between protesters and loggers. I would imagine it would save the logging companies a good deal of grief, and the government a good deal of embarrassment, if they would only be up front with the people, and leave these topics open to public dialogue." Foy says he has attended public meetings at logging company headquarters before and that he has never felt that he or his questions were welcome. "The open houses gave us a neutral place to discuss the situation. It’s no secret that many logging companies don’t like the WCWC sticking its nose into their businesses, and now we have to go to their company headquarters, one at a time, taking time out of our days, to ask them nicely for plans that concern public lands." Kuster is confident that the issue can be resolved within the next year to everyone’s satisfaction and that there will be few surprises in the meantime — most of the permits issued for this season were part of each company’s five-year plan and were reviewed in previous years. Whenever a modification to a license takes place, the current Forest Practices Code guidelines require that the company advertise its intent to alter the license and hold an open house.