Half of recently audited woodlots fail to comply with B.C. government regulations

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On Aug. 22, the B.C. Forest Practices Board released audit reports stating that three out of six woodlots examined on B.C. Crown land did not comply with legal requirements for woodlot licence-holders.

The B.C. Forest Practices Board audits government and industry forestry practices and operates at arms-length from the provincial government. As part of the Board’s 2011 compliance audit program, they selected six woodlots in the Fort St. James district to audit over the course of two years. According to their first of three reports, these woodlots had not been audited in recent years.

Out of the three woodlot licensees that did not comply, all failed to submit required forms that indicate the licensees’ restocking efforts. One of the three did not do any replanting or silviculture survey work during the auditing period.

B.C. Forest Practices Board Chair Al Gorley pointed out that it is impossible for the government to track whether reforestation is taking place if woodlot licensees fail to submit important information. “This information is to include the amount of area harvested, silviculture activities carried out and the achievement of a new free-growing stand of trees within the allowed timeframes,” said Gorley.

According to Christopher Mosher, director of audits at the B.C. Forest Practices Board, the technology used to report harvesting activities, called the Reporting Silviculture Updates and Land Status Tracking System (RESULTS), can be difficult to use, which explains why certain woodlot licensees did not submit required harvesting documents.

“The reporting process through RESULTS is a fairly convoluted process, and some folks are not as computer savvy as others, and they struggle at meeting those requirements,” he says. “They can, and usually do, end up hiring consultants to do that work for them, but that is an additional cost.”

Ken Wu, director of the Ancient Forest Alliance, argues that, regardless of the difficulties, woodlot licensees have to fully follow the rules and abide by legal agreements between them and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO).

“It’s important that they comply with the regulations — which themselves are too weak, environmentally speaking — if they are going to have those licences on public lands,” says Wu.

Wu believes cutbacks and understaffing in B.C. forest services over the years have affected the government’s ability to monitor and enforce compliance with B.C. woodlot regulations.

All woodlot licensees have until April 30 each year to submit all legal documents and reports electronically to the MFLNRO. If licensees fail to comply by that deadline, the law enforcement branch of the MFLNRO can initiate penalties.

Woodlots in B.C. comprise roughly 500 000 hectares of land, most of which is allocated to individuals rather than companies. With more than 800 woodlots in B.C., Mosher says the B.C. Forest Practices Board has only formally audited approximately 20 over the past 10 years. 

Still, Wu says, while non-compliance on woodlots is serious, woodlots only account for approximately two per cent of B.C.’s 25 million-hectare Timber Harvesting Land Base.

“In the larger picture, the main concerns are what’s happening with the other 98 per cent of the forest lands largely controlled or owned by bigger corporations,” he says.

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