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working forest proposal slammed by environmentalists

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New legislation would see saleable timber protected

Environmental groups are slamming a proposed new bill that would see up to 23 million hectares – more than a quarter of B.C.’s total landmass of 95 million hectares – protected as official "working forest".

"This proposed law is so bad it should be considered toxic waste," said Western Canada Wilderness Committee campaign co-ordinator Joy Foy. "The NDP should be ashamed of themselves for attempting to sneak through this massive give-away of the public’s forest land to corporate interests without any real public debate."

The forestry industry, on the other hand, praised the proposed legislation for bringing certainty to forestry operations and forestry-dependent communities that have lost land to protected areas in the past.

"Government recently achieved an environmental milestone by designating more than 12 per cent of our land base for parks and protected areas," said Forests Minister Gordon Wilson in a Feb. 12 release. "The communities involved in land use planning have worked hard to designate lands for conservation and lands for development. It’s time to respect these decisions with a law that designates and secures our working forests, as our parks and protected areas are designated and secured."

Under Wilson’s proposal, the working forest would be established as Crown land is added to the forest land reserve – once its zoning and resource targets have been established through public land-use planning processes. Crown land not covered by land use plans will be added to the working forest where it is determined that is in the public interest to do so.

Wilson also assures First Nations that the working forest designations would be made without prejudice to aboriginal rights and title, and that the Forest Practices Code will continue to regulate forest management.

"A discussion paper on the proposed legislation is available for public review and comment – since all British Columbians are the landlord, we want to hear their views before we finalize the legislative package," said Wilson.

Environmentalists are quick to point out that of the 12 per cent of B.C. land that is currently protected in parks, only five per cent has any timber value. Therefore the often quoted 12 per cent figure is an irrelevant benchmark when discussing B.C. forests.

According to the WCWC, the major flaws in the working forest proposal concern the "no net loss" provision, the provision for compensation, and the legislation’s affect on First Nations and taxpayers.

The "no net loss" provision means that that if future governments decide to protect any area secured as a working forest, they will have to compensate the forest company that held tenure there with comparable area. "In other words this legislation is designed to halt expansion of environmental protection initiatives in B.C.… for all time," says Foy.

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