B.C. Consulting First Nations on Logging Old-Growth Forests

British Columbia has announced it will halt logging more than 2 million hectares of old-growth trees in the province if First Nations in the area agree. The province is now consulting with First Nations on how to move forward.

On November 2, the province identified 2.6 million hectares of “ancient, rare and priority large stands of old growth” forest at risk of irreversible biodiversity loss. The province will be consulting with each of the First Nations in the 2.6 million hectares identified to determine whether logging should be deferred. If those First Nations agree that deferrals should take place in their territories, the province will defer any logging authorizations for two years. The deferrals were first recommended in the province’s 2020 Old Growth Strategic Review.

B.C. has now launched a 30-day consultation period with First Nations whose territories would be affected by the deferrals. The province is asking First Nations whether they “support the deferrals, require further engagement to incorporate local and Indigenous knowledge, or would prefer to discuss deferrals through existing treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements,” according to a release.

The 30-day consultation period presents a significant opportunity for First Nations in B.C., some of whom are already working with the government on sustainable forestry plans. ‘Na̲mg̲is First Nation recently signed a letter of intent with the B.C. government to negotiate a new Forestry Reconciliation Agreement. Na̲mg̲is is also working on a forest management planning process with Western Forest Products Inc.

First Nations to Have a Say in Future of Forests

B.C. said it plans to work with First Nations to determine which areas of forest in the deferral zone should be protected forever, which areas can be logged with strict oversight to preserve the health of the ecosystem, and which areas are suitable for sustainable timber management.

The province currently has 3.5 million hectares of old-growth forests that are off limits to harvesting. The newly identified at-risk forests will either be added to that list or included in new forest management plans when the deferral period ends, the release said.

The B.C. government said its new approach to sustainable forestry recognizes that a “shift to prioritize ecosystem health is necessary if the forests are to continue to provide essential benefits, such as clean air, clean water, carbon storage, conservation of biodiversity and timber.”

The province acknowledged new logging restrictions would result in job losses, and said it planned to work with First Nations, forestry workers and affected communities to “offset job and economic impacts” through short-term employment opportunities, education and skills training, and funding to bridge some workers into retirement.

MLT Aikins Indigenous Practice Group

MLT Aikins was pleased to advise ‘Na̲mg̲is First Nation in its recent negotiations with the Province of British Columbia. Our Indigenous practice group represents many Indigenous communities on matters including water rights, forestry, energy development, land use policies and land development. Learn more about our Indigenous practice group.

Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.