B.C. Forest Minister Katrine Conroy says no moratoriums on old growth logging can occur without further Indigenous consultation.
Last week the B.C. government released an intentions paper outlining its future plans for the forestry industry, the first major changes in 20 years.
Included was a commitment to implement “further deferrals of old growth forests,” but the government stopped short of calling an immediate halt to old-growth logging, much to the disappointment of activists across the province.
Conroy told Castlegar News that it is not as simple as some might think to call a moratorium and that managing old growth forests is intertwined in the work of reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous peoples.
She points out that the No. 1 recommendation in the 2020 strategic review on how the province should manage its old growth forests was the need to fully engage Indigenous nations in discussions.
“You can’t just go and defer land and then turn around and say to the Nation, ‘Oh by the way, we’ve deferred this and now we should talk to you about it.’ That’s disrespectful,” said Conroy.
Conroy says that’s what passing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People act is about — consulting before decisions are made.
“You have to respect the wishes and the needs and the wants of the Indigenous nation on whose traditional territory these old growth forests are growing,” explained Conroy.
“There are some nations that want to preserve the old growth forests for the value of the ecosystem or for a tourist opportunity. And then there are others who want to have a well-managed forest because they are involved in harvesting or they have sawmills or value-added mills, they are involved in the forest industry.
“If we agree with the declaration and reconciliation, we need to respect that.”
Conroy says the government is committed to implementing all 14 recommendations of the old growth review, but it is going to take some time to get there.
“Even the review panel said it would take several years to undertake, and that was before COVID. [They] also didn’t ask for a moratorium because they know that is unrealistic.”
Conroy likes to point to the nine areas and 200,000 hectares of old growth forest that the government has already deferred and the 1,500 groves of iconic trees protected by law last September to show progress is being made. She also hopes to be able to announce more deferrals this summer.
Conroy sums up her philosophy on managing the forest industry with a scenario involving her grandchildren.
“If any of them want to work in the forest industry, I want to make sure I have ensured there is a well managed, sustainable industry for them to work in.
“At the same time, if they want to go for a walk and they want to go see iconic ancient trees and ancient forests, I want to make sure we have preserved those trees.
“I think we owe it to future generations to make sure we have done that.”