The B.C. Government is seeking the public's input on the future of one of the province's most important wilderness areas, the Great Bear Rainforest.
Spanning 6.4 million hectares on B.C.'s north and central coast, The Great Bear Rainforest contains one of the largest remaining areas of unspoiled temperate rainforest in the world. Now the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural wants British Columbians' feedback on "the potential for new biodiversity, mining and tourism areas (BMTAs) and a conservancy and revised land use objectives" currently being considered, according to a government release.
"It's really important to have an informed public that is involved in land use decisions in British Columbia because if we don't then we're going to end up with a result that probably isn't what we want in the long term," noted local forest ecologist Bob Brett.
The proposed land-use agreement was engineered following almost two decades of collaboration between the forest industry, the province and a coterie of environmental groups, and would prohibit commercial logging in eight new BMTAs covering 295,000 hectares of Crown land. The potential BMTAs being considered at this time include Hanson, Sonora, Gil Island, and the Kitsault, Kimsquit, Green and Braden areas.
This is in addition to the 2.4 million hectares of parks, conservancies, biodiversity zones and other protected areas already established in the rainforest.
The intent of the proposed land use order is to continue reserving 70 per cent of old-growth forests "while maintaining a viable forest industry in the Great Bear Rainforest," the release stated.
Under a 2006 agreement, large sections of the rainforest were set aside to protect them from clear-cut logging, with the remainder subject to an ecosystem-based management (EBM) plan that was intended to preserve ecosystem diversity and old-growth forest.
But a recent report called out TimberWest, a private logging company, for cutting down old-growth trees after residents of Sonora Island, on the southern end of the Great Bear Rainforest, began discovering tree stumps that appeared in some cases to be as old as 700 years.
An earlier 2013 report by Madrone Environmental Services Ltd. confirmed the trees felled on the island were "certainly well over 250 years," resulting in a formal complaint to the Forest Practices Board.
Last month the board issued its own report that found that old-growth trees were in fact being felled by TimberWest, but that, due to ambiguously worded legislation, the 400 or so trees were chopped down legally.
"The forest inventory does not necessarily classify small stands of old trees as old forest," the Forest Practices Board report said. "These stands may be lumped in with areas of young forest. In addition, groupings of older trees within a matrix of younger forest are often classified as young forest, since the stand age is an average of the age of all trees present."
Despite following the letter of the law, TimberWest did not get off scot-free, garnering criticism in the report for not following "the spirit and intent of EBM." The board also concluded that there needs to be further clarity in the regulations around the definition of old-growth forest and that Victoria needs to provide more guidance to logging companies.
The public review, and comment period on the proposed land use changes, closes Monday, Aug. 10. Comments can be provided via email at Great.Bear.Rainforest@gov.bc.ca.
Copies of the proposed Great Bear Rainforest land use order, and maps of the potential BMTAs and conservancies are available for viewing at www.for.gov.bc.ca/TASB/SLRP/GBR_BMTA_LUOR.html.