Legislative Session: Second Session, 40th Parliament
COMMITTEE A BLUES
This is a DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY of debate in one sitting of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. This transcript is subject to corrections, and will be replaced by the final, official Hansard report. Use of this transcript, other than in the legislative precinct, is not protected by parliamentary privilege, and public attribution of any of the debate as transcribed here could entail legal liability.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
FORESTS, LANDS AND
NATURAL RESOURCE OPERATIONS
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); M. Bernier in the chair.
The committee met at 1:42 p.m.
On Vote 26: ministry operations, $372,345,000.
The Chair: Minister, would you like to make some opening remarks?
Hon. S. Thomson: I appreciate the opportunity to start the process for the estimates debate on our ministry. It has been, I think, about eight months since we debated the '13-14 estimates for our ministry, so I'm pleased to be here.
I firstly want to thank the members opposite for providing us with a general schedule of the themes and the areas that we'll be canvassing during the estimates. That's been very helpful in terms of helping organize staff, given the diverse nature of our ministry. I really appreciate that.
We do, as you know, have a very diverse ministry — so lots of different staff areas. We'll be moving staff, probably, in and out of the chairs behind you. I'll try to keep that organized and introduce them as they come through, but I may miss it sometimes. I'm sure that's probably all right, too. I'm not sure what the protocol is in terms of having to introduce them or not, but we'll try to keep everybody informed.
I'll just introduce the staff I have with me, to start: Tim Sheldan, the deputy minister; Dave Peterson, the assistant deputy minister and chief forester; Murray Stech, who's our director of timber pricing branch; Tom Jensen, who's the ADM of timber operations and pricing; and Trish Dohan, who's the ADM of corporate services. That's the way we'll start, and we'll see how the questioning goes and the information goes, and we'll adjust accordingly.
In the last eight months we've seen very positive changes in the industry. B.C.'s forest sector continues to show steady improvement from 2009, which was the most difficult and worst year of the global economic downturn. In 2013, 58,200 people were directly employed in the forest sector, up 13 percent from 2009. In 2013 forest products exports totalled $11.6 billion, an increase of 53 percent from 2009, and accounted for over one-third, or 33 percent, of B.C.'s total exports by value.
On the heels of a very successful forestry trade mission — which I had the opportunity to lead, along with forest industry representatives and association representatives both in Japan and China in October — we've also set new records in total softwood lumber exports to China, which exceeded $1.4 billion by the end of 2013.
Of course, forestry is only a part of the ministry's mandate. In our role as one land manager, we review and process applications for a variety of natural resource development projects. Since July we've worked closely with the Ministry of Energy and Mines and have managed to facilitate approvals for the new Roman coal mine near Tumbler Ridge and the new Yellow Giant Gold mine near Prince Rupert, which was just announced yesterday.
We've committed to processing natural resource authorizations in a timely manner while upholding strong environmental standards and meeting our duties and our obligations to consult with First Nations. We're continuing to streamline our permitting process by moving more applications on line. So far, notices of work, notices of deemed authorization, water licence transfer applications for new water licences, name change notifications and certain low-impact exploration notices have been moved on line, resulting in quicker approval times.
Changes to the legislation have resulted in a simpler process for clients by exempting certain low-impact exploration activities, such as time extensions for previously approved exploration drilling, from having to participate in the same process the larger projects are subject to. As well, new multi-year area-based permits allow the mining industry to avoid applying for multiple permits when working in the same exploration area.
Also during 2014 we'll continue to streamline permitting processes for major projects, for water licence applications, for range tenure replacements and for Crown land authorizations, and continue to move more applications on line.
Earlier this month we introduced legislative changes to the Range Act to streamline the Range Act tenuring processes; amendments to the Wildlife Act to provide guide-outfitters with more business certainty, which they've been asking for; and amendments to the Forest Act to help continue to streamline our processes.
I was also pleased to introduce the new Off-Road Vehicle Act to replace the outdated Motor Vehicle (All Terrain) Act, which will improve safety for all users and also help with insuring environmental protection and compliance.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations is, as I said, a diverse ministry with a wide range of responsibilities, including managing our forests, Crown land and water resources, overseeing provincial fish and wildlife, heritage, archaeology and outdoor recreation activities.
As the minister, I'm very, very proud — well, humbled — to be in the position of leading this ministry, but I'm also very, very proud of being able to work with a group of qualified professionals, dedicated professionals, across many disciplines, who are all dedicated to ensuring that we meet the mandate of our ministry and dedicated to ensuring that we help grow our economy while ensuring environmental stewardship for future generations.
With those opening comments, I'm looking forward to the questions and the discussion that I know we're going to have. I look forward to the time I have, and I hope, as we have done in the past, that we'll continue to do this in a very engaging and respectful manner, because this is about going through the process of being transparent and making sure we provide the information. That continues to be the focus or the approach that I look forward to taking into these discussions and into these estimates. With those opening comments, I'll take my place and look forward to getting the process underway.
N. Macdonald: I thank the minister for those opening remarks.
My colleague here, the co-critic, from Cowichan Valley and I have done this now for five years. To begin with, I think we'd like to start by saying that we take the job very seriously. We've tried to do the best to come in here prepared.
A few things that I always want to thank…. Of course, as the minister will know, this is a field that is tremendously technical. It's a very, very difficult field. As time has gone on, we've always been helped by people who have passion, who are professionals, who have tried to guide us, and we've tried to make sure that the work that we do here is something that is reflective of the expertise that's here in the province.
I see all the professionals that you have here, many of them that we've come to know in different things over the past five years. We appreciate very much the expertise that's there. Our intention here is to be as aggressive as possible in putting forward ideas but, as always, to be as respectful as possible. If there's any language that sounds disrespectful, it's certainly not intended. We don't think it's there — we're prepared — but if there is, it's simply us trying to do our jobs.
There's one thing that is not part of anything I've prepared. Today we met with families from Burns Lake and from Lakeland. I know that the minister would feel exactly the same as we did when we met. They asked us to make sure that we did everything we could to make sure that the mills are safe and that they feel justice has been done.
I know that the minister feels the same way, so I pass on to him the same obligation that we felt when they spoke to us — that in the corners, in the offices where key decisions are often made, you would keep in mind what needs to be done there.
Certainly, the minister talked about the improvements that we've seen in forestry since 2009, which was a very difficult period for the province. I think we need to remember, as well, that between 2002 and 2013 we saw a 58 percent fall in value-added exports. Under the B.C. Liberals, what we've seen with lumber exports is that overall, with the last figures that we could get, they're down 23 percent — shakes and shingles down 51 percent, plywood and other panels down 30 percent.
The trend that we see here is the real growth in raw log exports, which in 2001 were at about one million cubic metres. A cubic metre, of course, is a telephone pole. This year it's a record, going up to 6½ million raw logs. What that's translated into is 151 mills closed and 25,000 forestry jobs lost. I think that if there was an area to focus on for government, there's opportunity there.
My colleague here talks about Sweden. Sweden has Ikea and can point to value-added. It seems that we're not even as ambitious as British Columbia was 100 years ago in terms of making the most out of what is an amazing resource.
In the preamble to the 2013 estimates debate we made what we felt were important points about how one could secure revenue, how one could plan and manage forests sustainably and ideas around rebuilding a secure and viable forest sector. I think it's fair to say that, from our perspective, the government chose to ignore most of those recommendations.
From what I can see in the letter of June 10, 2013, when the Premier outlined her government's priorities and 12 expectations — in a letter that the Premier sent to you — the government seems still to be intent on plans to go against what I would say are the people's wishes by privatizing some of the land into the hands of about five or so corporations — the right to harvest public timber on Crown forest land through the creation of more TFLs.
The Premier's letter is instructive in that it convincingly shows the public that this government, in our view, has lost sight of the ministry's mandate to act as the public's forest agent in managing forest resources in the financial interest of the people of British Columbia.
I think what's most striking about the Premier's mandate letter is what she does not address. Here I'll mention 15, among many, critical issues that we feel are facing this ministry and facing the province.
The first is the ministry's internal staffing crisis and the loss of corporate memory, both exacerbated by the government's failure to implement its own staffing succession plans.
Secondly, declining levels of funding for the ministry's statutory obligations for forest resources management. This budget continues that trend.
We see greatly reduced emphasis on and inadequate laws for stewardship. We see pending mill closures facing some Interior forest-dependent communities, resulting from unsustainable rates of logging.
We see community safety as it relates to fire protection around towns and cities and to clean and safe drinking water, and as I've already mentioned, there are concerns that we have about safe employment in local sawmills.
Another issue is the increasing economic dependency on the foreign log markets and on log exports instead of creating what I think would be advantageous — an open and honest B.C. log market and rejuvenating primary, secondary as well as value-added manufacturing industries on the coast.
Another issue is the outrageous wood waste throughout the province, in light of government-acknowledged fibre shortages in some areas of the interior of B.C. Unacceptably large areas of productive forest land, known as NSR, are left devoid of forest cover because the government fails to connect the dots between planting trees for future timber supply and the positive effect that tree planting has on mitigating the present timber shortfalls for communities worst-affected by the mountain pine beetle as well as climate change.
Another issue is turning a blind eye to corporate concentration, monopoly control of timber supply and the many mill closures throughout the province and the resulting negative impacts that all three of these have on timber pricing, on the ability of contractors to negotiate fair rates of remuneration and on community health, both economic and social.
Another issue is failure to address First Nations interests in securing replaceable forest licences and access to timber. Another is the findings and recommendations of two recent audits by the Auditor General on forest management, on biodiversity and on the task of the species at risk.
[The bells were rung.]
The Chair: Division has been called, so this Committee A will recess until the completion of division.
The committee recessed from 1:57 p.m. to 2:06 p.m.
[M. Bernier in the chair.]
The Chair: We'll continue on again with the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke.
N. Macdonald: Just to continue with a list of things that my colleague and I felt needed to be dealt with and that we don't see either in the Premier's letter or the….
[The bells were rung.]
Okay. Democracy in action. We're back for, presumably, another vote?
The Chair: Yes, thank you.
Division has been called again, so we are going to have to recess until completion of division.
The committee recessed from 2:06 p.m. to 2:16 p.m.
[M. Bernier in the chair.]
N. Macdonald: We'll just continue with the opening, where we had talked about the Premier's instructions to the ministry. We're just pointing to what my colleague and I see as the deficiencies in terms of what is not included in the instructions to the ministry, which does not have the resources actually, we feel, to do many of these things that need to be done.
I'll just repeat what may have been missed with the bells — the findings and recommendations of two recent audits by the Auditor General on forest management and on biodiversity and on the task force on species at risk.
We also have concerns about the potential catastrophic economic damage posed by invasive zebra and quagga mussels if they were to become established in the province.
We have concerns about delay in introducing a bill, the natural resource road act, and the critical issue of road density and, related to that, the need for deactivation plans; the systemic problem of centrally controlled forest governance and what many are calling a failed tenure system; and finally, British Columbia's emerging reputation as an international laggard in sustainable forest management.
Now, the Premier's stated emphasis is on jobs. But her mandate letter to the minister, the ministry's service plans and the estimates before the House all fail to make the connection between investment in manufacturing facilities, adding value to timber and manufacturing, and the creation of new forest industry jobs.
All three documents chart an economic trajectory of continued loss of manufacturing facilities and jobs both on the coast and, in our view, in the Interior as well. Really, the only thing we have is a plan — an unwritten plan — for failure.
If the government were truly sincere about creating a sustainable forest sector for the social and economic benefit of British Columbians, it would plan for, fund and achieve these three priority policies.
The first is the resolution of outstanding treaty claims by groups of First Nations.
The second is public discussion of alternative models of governance to the status quo, which would devolve jurisdiction of our local forests to forest-dependent communities and First Nations so that they could manage local forests sustainably to meet their needs, as well as those of the forests, the waterways and wildlife.
The third is the drafting of new forest legislation and policies that would allow a resident of British Columbia to hold politicians, bureaucrats and forest professionals accountable in the courts for poor forest practices, for unsustainable management, and for aiding the extirpation and extinction of animals and plants; require a provincial conservation plan and protected areas strategy based on science, to which all land use planning and resource use decisions would be subordinate; require assessment of cumulative impacts on the landscape to inform resource use decisions to protect a full range of environmental values while enabling land use by multiple groups and interests, even though they might have conflicting objectives.
I think we're in a place now where we can say that we should be looking at replacing the Forest and Range Practices Act, FRPA, with new forest practices legislation that is compatible and aligned with internationally accepted criteria for sustainable forest management and provides visions, goals and standards against which performance can be measured.
I think we need to define clear mandates, responsibilities and standards of forest practices for all levels of government, including First Nations, over the management of public forest lands; establish a province-wide open and honest log market; accord proper value to the services provided by the ecosystems; and mandate effective public consultation processes for each level of government, commensurate with their respective mandate and responsibilities for forest management.
Perhaps the single greatest indicator of this government's failed forest policy in deregulation is the social impact on human health in many of the forest-dependent communities around the province. Here the minister will know that very often in these communities there are social problems that are more profound than one might find in other parts of the province.
The sound management of B.C.'s forest is, of course, in our view, a matter of utmost public importance. Its management moving forward will be even more so given the known challenges around biodiversity decline; climate change; failure of second-growth stands; our vitally important water resources; and escalating competing demands on our forest land base, most notably in the energy and mining sectors.
All are made the worse for uncertainty resulting from what, in our view, is an outdated forest inventory and questionable processes for the determination of AAC harvest levels. We hear routinely about the number of trees killed over the 17-million-plus hectares of land and about the timber supply challenges that such tree mortality poses.
What we rarely hear talk about are the implications that such tree mortality poses for our province's vitally important shared public water resources, biodiversity and growth-in-yield modelling. And yet it is this ministry that bears stewardship responsibilities for our publicly owned forests, the province's biodiversity and fresh water resources.
It's a responsibility that was given added weight and public concern by this government just last year when it transferred those responsibilities for allocating public water resources to energy company applicants from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to the Oil and Gas Commission, which many would say is putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop.
It strikes me as key, then, that we have a full understanding of both revenue streams moving forward and how investments in forests will benefit the land, water and animal life, especially some of our iconic species, such as salmon, caribou and grizzly bear — all important to regional and provincial economic accounts.
I want to emphasize my approach to the estimates before us. British Columbia's Crown land base is immense. It is a public asset of the first order. Some of the figures we have used are up to a value of $1 trillion — our most valuable asset. British Columbians own 94 percent of the land, the entire fresh water in the province.
The challenges ahead are enormous given the rate of climate change, the status of biodiversity and the absence of a clear vision for a sustainable forest sector.
The government, on behalf of the people, has a responsibility to — and this is a quote — hand down to future generations "their vast heritage of forest wealth, unexhausted and unimpaired."
Here we are talking primarily about the province's renewable resources, for which this government has progressively cut funding by over 52 percent over the past 13 years while having increased the total provincial budget by 56 percent and the provincial debt from in the neighbourhood of $20 billion up to what is now $62.5 billion.
When viewed from this perspective, the health and well-being of our communities are tied very closely to the health of our forests. If our forests are healthy, then the air we breathe and the water we drink are clean and safe, and the communities we live in are safer and more resilient because the land surrounding them is resilient as well.
Realizing this vision is not easy, however, it is made more difficult when the government persists in very short-term thinking around the electoral cycles. If our forest-dependent rural communities, in particular, are to have a future, the province does need to embrace a longer-term vision with goals and strategies in keeping with the healthy rotation cycle for our forests.
These visions, goals and strategies should be embodied in a clear and transparent provincial plan that sets out how key objectives relating to our forests, land and water resources will be met.
Our Auditor General, who has since gone back to Australia, did some good work. He sounded the alarm.
The people of British Columbia are also concerned, yet this government fails to see the forest for the trees and often seems to be trying to convince itself that it somehow knows where it's headed. In our view, that's not the case.
At the 2013 estimates debate the opposition did an examination of the estimates, and we tried to provide strong evidence that the budgetary allocations in our last budget in the summer were grossly inadequate for ensuring that the ministry, which is a relatively new super ministry, is able effectively to undertake the enormous number of statutory responsibilities to care for our forests, soil, water, salmon and other wildlife resources that sustain all British Columbians.
During this debate we're going to illustrate that not only is the ministry grossly underfunded and understaffed but that in many areas that they should be in control of, they're not.
With that, we'll move to the first series of questions. I thank the minister for his patience on that, but I wanted to outline where we're going with this.
The first question for the minister is: can the minister confirm that the revenue projection from forests for the fiscal year is $752 million and that the updated actual revenue from forests for 2013-14 is $637 million?
Hon. S. Thomson: I can confirm that the revenue forecast for '13-14 is $674 million and that the forecast for '14-15, estimate, is $785 million.
N. Macdonald: Can the minister further confirm that in the 2013 estimates the projected revenues from forests in 2014-15 were $657 million and in 2015-16 were $693 million? This is from the 2013 estimates.
[D. Plecas in the chair.]
The Chair: Minister.
Hon. S. Thomson: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Welcome to the chair.
To confirm the forecasts from the fiscal plan that the member opposite is referencing, in '13-14, $618 million; '14-15, $659 million; and '15-16, $702 million.
N. Macdonald: Will the minister further confirm that in the 2014 estimates the projected revenues from forests in 2015-16 are $792 million, and in 2016-17 are $824 million?
Hon. S. Thomson: The forecast revenue for '15-16, according to the fiscal plan, is $825 million, and for '16-17, $857 million.
N. Macdonald: If we compare the projected revenues from 2014-15 and 2015-16, between the 2013 estimates and the 2014 estimates, the projected forest revenues for 2014-15 — I can't do the math — has increased by, it looks like, over 10 percent. I think, similarly, for 2015-16 we have an increase that is ballparking about 10 percent more, in terms of the projections.
We talked about this in previous estimates. Does the minister still attribute this upward revision in projection to which factors? Is it to improving markets, to increased harvest levels, to continued growth in export markets? What are the factors that are driving this? Are these explanations no longer the drivers for the upward revision of projected revenue from forests, and if not, what is it?
Hon. S. Thomson: The ministry is confident that as the forest sector continues to improve, the forecasted revenues from the forest harvest activities will increase steadily through 2016-2017. The 2014-15 budget estimates forecast reflects the slow but steadily improving North American recovery and the global economy. North American demand for B.C. lumber and forest products exports continues to show steady improvements. Lumber product price increases are showing sustained strength by remaining above historic norms.
B. Routley: I, too, want to join with the others in acknowledging the amazing staff that work for the ministry. I'm sure all of the challenges they have in this day and age are unique.
I did want to add that my experience with the Timber Supply Committee that went around the province, while it was unique, was also, to me, encouraging — the fact that four Liberals and three NDP could actually come to an agreement and forward that on to the government of British Columbia as recommendations.
I do want to add that I feel those recommendations have been cherry-picked and that I was shocked and surprised. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that the budget was actually cut as a result of the outcome of the recommendations, some of which were dealing with things like the need for additional forest stewardship and planting, dealing with not sufficiently restocked areas, that kind of thing. And yet the government chose to cut the budgets.
Again, I get that. That's the nature of the government of today — to choose to cut, no matter what kind of a swashbuckling approach to slashing whatever is in the way of getting to what they want, and that's a budget that, as they call it, balances.
But I do want to insist that the people of British Columbia, and certainly in forest communities, are not well served by a plan that ultimately is not doing the work that's necessary — even agreed by four Liberals and three NDP when we travelled the province and saw an area, 18 million hectares in the province of British Columbia, with dead and dying pine.
We know that there are continuing disease challenges, that kind of thing. But we also know that there could be a lot more done in terms of dealing with forest health.
I think generations today, certainly forest workers today that are facing challenges with layoffs and mill closures…. I don't see a plan to engage forest workers and forest communities in actually renewing the forests of British Columbia, making them safer — whether it's dealing with fire issues, helping deal with all of the huge volumes of down and dying trees or even the areas that are difficult to get at. There is no real plan to connect displaced forest workers with what I see are tremendous opportunities, huge opportunities.
Back when I started in the forest industry in 1970…. I guess I have to put the minister through this again. Back in 1970, when I first started at the Youbou sawmill, I must say that I never imagined myself here. It's an interesting path. After years of involvement working on everything from the chip plant and cleanup to….
I remember most fondly the years spent in the veneer plant cutting great big fir peelers. It was great work. It was dignified work, working with ordinary working-class type of people. I learned from that — particularly from the experiences of Youbou — that with all of the changes, the one thing that we can take for certain is change.
I've seen dramatic changes, just in my lifetime in the forest industry — everything from that veneer plant that I once worked in, which I'm sure at the time I thought would be there forever, closed. The veneer plant closed first, lost 84 jobs. We went then down to an A mill and a B mill. Those mills soon went from what used to be three A-mill shifts and two B-mill shifts down to either-or — one mill or the other working, first three shifts then down to two. Of course, that wasn't economically sustainable, and eventually we saw those mills close.
Sadly, those mills were operated by a private land owner who saw the advantages of exporting logs and laying off the masses of people, first at Youbou and then it was Fletcher Challenge, then TimberWest that closed the Elk Falls mill. Still, when I go back to my community, there's a certain part of me that twinges every time I drive down the road and see those logging trucks headed for the export market.
I want you to understand that when I speak passionately about issues like that, I think you would understand me a lot better and where I'm coming from and where that passion comes from if you could spend those years with me working, taking your lunchbox to work every day, working with those same people day in and day out — first, as I say, in the chip plant and then in the A mill and the B mill, also in the veneer plant — for years on end, getting to know and remember those guys.
I actually represented the workers at the time as president of the local. We had 3,000 to 4,000 workers. I had to deal with the mill closure. It was very painful, a very difficult experience. There are workers today going through the same experiences, whether it's in Quesnel or in Houston, that are now looking at the end of their futures. It's difficult stuff.
Again, this is important. What we've done is focused on, to start, the budget questions. I want to carry on in that vein, but I did want to emphasize for the minister that this is important work that we're doing, not just for British Columbians for today but for the future.
As a former forest worker myself, I'm in awe that I get to stand here and say anything about that at all. But I'm also glad that I can convey, on behalf of the forest workers I knew and worked with, that they would want us to do more in terms of planning for the future of their communities and the communities where their families live, work and play. There's a lot of feeling that we could do better. Together, we must find a way to do that.
My question, Minister, is…. During the 2013 estimates debate the minister forecasted an average percentage increase in stumpage for the Interior of $2 and a more modest increase for the coast. What are the adjusted average percentage increases in stumpage for the Interior and for the coast in 2014-15 and in 2015-16?
Hon. S. Thomson: The average forecast stumpage rates to be billed for '14-15 for the coast for the majors is $3.80 and for '15-16, $4.73 per cubic metre. For the Interior for the same time period, '14-15, $10.87 and '15-16, $11.28 per cubic metre.
I think you may have asked for percentages. I haven't forecast percent. I've given you the actual rates. You can quickly do the math if you need the percentages.
B. Routley: Almost seems like it should be backwards to me as a coastal guy. But anyway, for the coast, $3.80 and $4.73?
Hon. S. Thomson: Yes, for average revenue forecast stumpage rates.
B. Routley: Okay. Popular perception is that the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations relies wholly on revenue from forests and for the last 12 years has not generated revenue sufficient to cover needed expenditures on the land. I would like to explore the truthfulness of this perception.
The 2014 estimates before us detail the expenses by ministry and revenues by source, not by ministry. The revenues we have been discussing so far in this debate are from forests, largely derived from stumpage and from B.C. Timber Sales. Over the past six or so years expenditures for the ministries closely match forest revenues.
My question for the minister is: what is the real, all-inclusive revenue for the ministry for fiscal years 2012-2013, 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16?
Hon. S. Thomson: We're just getting the information for 2012. We'll have it shortly. I'll provide it as soon as it's received. But for '13-14, $1.266 billion; for '14-15 estimates, $1.409 billion; for '15-16, $1.432 billion; and for '16-17, $1.394 billion.
B. Routley: Given the ministry's total revenues listed on page 28 of the ministry's 2014-15 service plan and the corresponding ministry expenses of $622 million, $591 million, $592 million and $603 million listed in the estimates before us, the government has chosen to invest in the land about 45 percent on average of the ministry's present annual revenues, down 8 percent from the 53 percent on average invested in 2013-14.
With the stumpage rates and resulting forest revenue forecast to rise in fiscal year 2014-15, could the minister explain his decision to invest in the land 8 percent less on average in 2014-15 than the ministry did in 2013-14 when the need has never been greater, especially in the interior of the province?
Hon. S. Thomson: Before responding to the specific question, I just want to provide the information that was requested for 2012, which is $1.061 billion.
I should correct for the record, as well, the previous answer that I gave with the forecast for '13-14 and estimates for '14-15, '15-16 and '16-17. I think I said $1.394 million in each case, which should be $1.394 billion — just to make sure it's correct on the record. Thank you for that.
In terms of the revenue that's derived from the forest sector and across the ministry in other areas of revenue that make up the revenue portion of our ministry, what's important to recognize is that these revenues are part of contributing to important social programs, education, health care and social services within the provincial government.
The important focus is on ensuring that we have a balanced budget, so it's making the decisions about the basis between what is invested within our ministry operations and programs and the important contribution that the resource sector makes to the broader imperatives of social services, education and health in the province.
B. Routley: During the 2013 estimates debate the loyal opposition pointed out a number of areas in which the government had the opportunity to increase revenue to the Crown. A subsequent media exposure of the giveaway water rental rates to oil and gas companies and to Nestlé. underscored the point for water.
During the 2013 estimates debate the minister provided the House with a breakdown in revenue estimates for other resources as follows: water resources, $482 million; Wildlife Act fees and licences, $20.2 million; Motor Vehicle (All Terrain) Act licences and permits, $19,000; land registry fees, $25,000; and land tenure revenue and other income and interest earned in relation to those, $123 million.
Is the forecasted revenue from water resources for 2013-14 still $482 million? And what is the estimated revenue for 2014-2015?
Hon. S. Thomson: The 2013-14 revised forecast for water revenue is $415 million and for '14-15, $401 million.
B. Routley: Given that the statutory law requires the government to act in the financial interests of the Crown, would the minister please explain why these estimated revenues for water resources are not greater than they are?
Hon. S. Thomson: As the members will know, B.C. Hydro makes up roughly 90 percent of the water revenues received from major producers. The corporation's power generation is impacted by the previous year's snowpack and rainfall, and as a result, the revenues fluctuate from year to year. Also, as I'm advised, this is based on the previous year's utilization. That lags from year to year. That will explain the variations in the revenue forecast.
N. Macdonald: Just to follow up on the question from my colleague. I recognize that a vast majority of the revenue comes from B.C. Hydro. I think the premise of the question is: is there not an obligation for that 10 percent — here again, we're talking about a vast amount of publicly owned resources being used — to get more revenue from that? Has the ministry considered that in any way?
Hon. S. Thomson: Just to confirm, the greatest majority — close to 97 percent — of this is from the hydro rates, hydro rental. Our rates are amongst the highest in Canada, and that's being confirmed through the reviews. The remaining, as the members opposite know…. The commitment to bring in a new water sustainability act and government's…. All of the reviews as part of a new act will replace the outdated Water Act. Fees are part of that consideration, and that will be appropriately canvassed with the Minister of Environment.
N. Macdonald: Let's turn to a few of the iconic species that we have in British Columbia — first with the grizzly bear. The question that I have for the minister is: would he please confirm that revenues from the trophy hunting of grizzly bears fall under the Wildlife Act fees and licences collected by his ministry? And would the minister please tell the House what the estimated revenues from trophy hunting of grizzly bears are for fiscal year 2013-14 and 2014-15?
Hon. S. Thomson: I think the question was: are they part of the revenue estimates on the fish and wildlife revenue? The answer is yes, they are. The direct revenue varies from year to year, but between $414,000 and $500,000.
N. Macdonald: So that I make sure I have it in the right place, for the Wildlife Act fees and licences, the total is $20.2 million. Am I looking in the right area? What you're saying is that of that $20.2 million, between $400,000 and $500,000 would be for grizzly bear trophy hunting in terms of revenues. Is that accurate?
If not, maybe the minister can give me the total for the area that this would be shown. I have, of course, the figures that the minister gave me for the fees for the grizzly bear hunt.
Hon. S. Thomson: To confirm, the hunting permits and licensing for '13-14 is $9.2 million; for '14-15, $9.2 million. As I have advised, the royalties and licences from the grizzly bear hunt are $500,000, or it fluctuates between that range of $414,000 to $500,000.
N. Macdonald: Does the minister concur that the best available science can influence policy decisions on wildlife management that affect revenue to the Crown? For example, does the minister apply the best available science to estimating grizzly bear harvest rates and to decide on the reopening of areas to limited entry trophy hunting of grizzly bears, such as those recently reopened in the Flathead and south Rockies and in two management areas in the Cariboo?
Does the minister agree with that idea, or not?
Hon. S. Thomson: Yes, I can confirm that I'm confident that our decisions and the management decisions with respect to the management of grizzly bears through the population units are based on the best available science. It's the same principle we apply to wildlife management across all of the species that we manage.
N. Macdonald: The government claim, then, is that its management of the trophy hunting of grizzly bears is sustainable and, as the minister said, based on the best available science. The government recently trumpeted this assertion in a press release on December 18, 2013, when it announced a peer-reviewed study entitled "Predicting Grizzly Bear Density in Western North America." It was published in the science journal, PLOS One.
The minister had good reason, I think, to be enthused. To his credit, the ministry had largely funded the study, and two ministry wildlife biologists are listed among the authors, including the lead author.
Unfortunately, the minister and his executive staff told the media and the public, in their view, what the scientific study showed. I think there are questions as to whether that's really accurate.
Just for the minister's reference, I'll table copies of the press release, which I have here, and the PLOS One paper to which I refer. I'll just ask if I could table these and give copies to the minister and his staff for reference.
If ministry staff remember this press release and the study, in the press release the minister suggests the study shows that grizzly bear harvest rates in British Columbia are set conservatively. I think that's the language that's used. That, in fact, is not stated anywhere within the scientific study. It references a study. It makes an assertion that I and others have not found in the study.
In fact, the abstract of the paper states that: "Because our predictions are static, they cannot be used to assess population trends." In other words, whether the populations are stable, growing or shrinking, this is clear admission by the authors that while their methods might prove useful information to inform management, they do not provide any indication of the sustainability of current harvest levels.
The authors further highlight concerns about kill rates in the discussion section of the paper, which the minister can refer to, where they point out that 12 management units in British Columbia "appear to have annual kill rates higher than allowed by policy."
I guess the question is: if we've read it properly, and that's the understanding, how would the minister justify a press release that makes claims that appear to us to be unsupported by the study that it supposedly describes? By making these claims in a press release, is there not the danger that the minister will appear to be intentionally misleading the media and the public on the state of the science on grizzly bears?
That's the question I have for the minister. If staff are familiar with this, or if we've misread it, I would be interested in hearing. If it's something that the minister wants to come back to at a later point, that's possible as well.
Hon. S. Thomson: As I indicated, we base our management decisions on the best available science and stand by the statements in the release. The estimates, when we…. The study informed, was part of, the decisions with respect to those management units.
But it's also recognized that when we look at each unit, we consult with regional biologists, with other information, with the wildlife specialists and biologists and take all of that into account to ensure that we continue to manage each of those units on the basis of sustainable populations for those units. We're confident that that is the case. As we've stated previously, where we do not have that confidence, we will adjust the rates of harvest in those areas or close those areas, as we have in many areas of the province.
N. Macdonald: The minister will know, of course, and he's received the same e-mails and seen the same stories that I have, that the grizzly trophy hunt is highly contentious in the province. Upwards of 80 percent of people…. Some polls — and I don't know whether they're accurate or not — suggest that British Columbians are uncomfortable with the hunt, and of course, we have people from outside looking in.
I think what the minister has said and what seems to be the position of government is that the hunt is conducted with good science, right? Now, the problem with this is that when you look at what the ministry put out to back up that assertion, it appears in many ways that what is asserted in the press release does not match what is there in the study. I've given the minister a few examples, and I can give more.
In the press release it is stated: "The number of bears killed by people was not related to population density, which suggests that current levels of mortality do not measurably reduce population size." In the paper the authors do state that human-caused mortality explained little of the variability when other factors were accounted for, but they are careful to point out that reductions in population size might be masked by immigration from adjacent populations.
More importantly, the authors admit that populations that have historically been reduced by excessive human kills and are now unable to recover due to low population sizes would confound their analysis. This is what the study is saying, in my view and in the view of others, and it doesn't appear to correspond with what the ministry is asserting in the press release.
Due to the study design, the effect of human-caused kills might be masked. The authors are quick to point out that the results do not necessarily suggest that human-caused kills have no effect on population sizes. Why does the minister in his press release state otherwise?
Hon. S. Thomson: As I mentioned, we manage the populations based on the best available science. The use of population estimate, combined with a conservative human-caused mortality rate, ranges from 4 to 6 percent.
On the average, maximum allowable harvest rate is 4.2 percent, and our current provincial harvest rate is 2.1 percent. About 50 percent of the 135 hunts have a 6 percent maximum allowable morality rate, while 24 percent have 5 percent, and 26 percent have 4 percent.
[M. Bernier in the chair.]
We take all the measures, as I said, to ensure we have a management regime through the population units that ensures that we have a sustainable population, based on those conservative estimates and based on sound science behind the population estimates.
N. Macdonald: But something has to give when you cut these budgets constantly, right? I think everybody who follows this knows that on the ground, we do not have people doing the inventory work that needs to be done in a whole host of areas, including with grizzly bear populations.
Here's the problem with the trophy hunt. There are some people that just have a moral position that it's the wrong thing to do. I come from an area where there's a lot of hunting, so that's not a position that would characterize how I feel about it. I'm used to people hunting. But when I talk to people who hunt, the one thing that they will always say is that they do not support hunting if it's going to damage the population.
Here we have the assertion from the government that people who are concerned about that shouldn't be concerned because there's a study that backs up the government assertion that these decisions on the trophy hunt are made based on science. And it seems to me that what the government is asserting in a written press release is inconsistent with what one finds in the study that's cited.
I'll go on. The minister's press release finishes with the sentence: "The study released today reaffirms that grizzly populations in B.C. are being sustainably managed and with the best available science." I think this clearly could be what the government wants it to say, right? That may well be what the minister would have liked the study to find, but unfortunately, the study doesn't find that.
In fact, it is not about whether populations are being managed sustainably or with the best available science. It is simply a study about determinants of grizzly bear population size.
Why is it that we're in a place where it appears that the government is misleading the media and the public on what this study is about? Why does he ignore the findings of the ministry's professional staff, on which he should be ostensibly relying, who are telling him that we don't have the data that we need to properly manage this important and iconic species, the grizzly bear?
Hon. S. Thomson: What's important to point out here is that this study is only one piece of the information that we use in making the management decisions, as I pointed out earlier. This is information that is taken into account by our regional biologists and by our provincial specialists in making the decisions around the harvest, or not to harvest, in each of the population units.
We've spent over $7 million since 1997 on grizzly bear research. We have taken other steps to protect the family units in any area where harvest of females exceeds 30 percent. Those areas are closed. Every kill, every bear is inspected. So we have all the information on the harvest and monitor that very, very carefully.
As I said, we continue to make decisions that are based on best available science, population estimates that are combined with a conservative grizzly bear mortality rate, to make sure that we continue to maintain the sustainable population of the province. What the study confirmed with the estimates of population is that we're being successful in that approach, because there are over 15,000 grizzly bears in the province.
N. Macdonald: I mean, the minister and everyone here knows that the trophy grizzly hunt is contentious. The minister also knows that beyond simply getting away with making an assertion, the minister would need to provide evidence.
What the ministry chose to provide as evidence, I think, as the minister and staff go through the press release and the study cited…. There is an inconsistency. The ministry and the minister and the government chose this study as evidence for an assertion that they were making about the proper management of the grizzly bear. I think what you can see is that to me and to my colleague and to many who have looked at it, the study cited does not prove the things that the government asserts it does.
That's a problem, because credibility is at stake here. If you're going to disregard science simply to have something meet a government agenda, that is clearly not appropriate management and not what the ministry should be doing.
What I would suggest the ministry could do is if you look at November 2013, just one month prior to the publication of the study featured in the press release, another study by Artelle and five other B.C. scientists was published in the same PLOS One journal. I want to stress that from what I've been told, the study is the only independent peer-reviewed audit of the rigour of the management of grizzly bears by the minister and his agency.
The study, for the ministry's reference, is entitled "Confronting Uncertainty in Wildlife Management: Performance of Grizzly Bear Management." It assesses the inherent uncertainty in population and harvest rate estimates of grizzly bears, using techniques that have been common in fisheries management for decades.
The study finds, one, the targets are not set conservatively, and two, there is considerable risk that due to management unknowns, current harvest rates could be far greater than those rates the minister and his staff have deemed to be sustainable.
I guess the thing is with these…. I guess the problem with government making an assertion based on a study that doesn't seem to be accurate is that suddenly we're left questioning everything that the government asserts. On this issue that's particularly problematic.
The minister claims to have management based on the best available science, but then the ministry seems to ignore the only peer-reviewed audit to date of his ministry's management practices. The question is: why is that the case? Has the minister looked at that study? Are there problems with it, or is it simply one that they're not aware of?
I'd be interested in hearing what the minister has to say.
Hon. S. Thomson: Certainly, as the member opposite referenced, the study which he talked about, "Confronting Uncertainty in Wildlife Management," was published in 2013 in the journal PLOS One and was critical of B.C.'s grizzly bear harvest management. Ministry scientists who conduct research and management of grizzly bears have reviewed and do not share the conclusion of the paper, because our harvest procedure does recognize and accommodate the scientific uncertainty.
Furthermore, the authors did not consider all the information that we use to help ensure our grizzly bear populations are sustainably managed. Again, as I've said, we base our decisions on all of the best available science.
The current population estimate of 15,000, which is a result of refinements in the methods used to estimate populations, does not represent a decline in grizzly bear population. Each year, as we've indicated, about 300 grizzly bears are harvested by hunters, another 60 are taken as a result of conflicts with humans and other human-caused mortality, and that level is well within sustainable limits of mortality for grizzly bears.
N. Macdonald: Of course, the problem here is that, on the ground, what the minister likely will hear is the same as we're hearing, where the work that needs to be done is simply not being done in terms of counts on wildlife. It's not being done because the people that are crucial to doing that work simply aren't there in the numbers that they need to be.
You do have that general sense that things are not being managed properly and that the numbers that the government is citing are simply not accurate. Then you compound the problem with what, I would say, is a press release that cites as its single source a study that does not conclude in the way that the government asserts. Once the trust is gone, once the credibility is gone, that's a very difficult thing to get back.
Now, the minister is saying that the study that I cited is one that the ministry has no confidence in, and that could be true. That could be true. I don't have the expertise or the training that the minister has available to him.
I think the lesson that needs to be learned here is that it's always a question of credibility. People want to go to government, especially on an issue like this. This is not an issue that should be confused with more common politics. It should be straight science. If the ministry asserts that grizzly bear populations are understood and that decisions on the trophy hunt are made based on science, then it has to be the fact. It has to be something that seems credible.
I guess the question for the minister is: going forward, can he assure people here that there will be an explanation for what I've brought forward here? It is possible that in the limited time you and staff have had a chance to look at it, it wasn't enough time to fully explain.
It's possible that I've misunderstood what is found here. That's possible, but if it is the case that this was a study that was misrepresented to meet the government's agenda, would the minister commit to making sure that the media and the public are properly informed about the status of grizzly bear management and science?
The minister can…. He doesn't have to answer that. We can move now to the moose. But that's where I'll finish off. I'm sure the minister would like to say something to retort to that, and then we'll move on to moose population.
[J. Sturdy in the chair.]
Hon. S. Thomson: As I've pointed out, I'm confident that the decisions we've made are based on the best available and sound science and are decisions that ensure that we continue to have a sustainable population.
We have experts in the field, regional biologists on staff, provincial experts and, in fact, experts who are not just provincial experts but that are recognized internationally as experts in the field. We rely on the research and the sound science. The studies are part of that. I do agree with the member opposite that we need to ensure that there is credibility in our policies. That's why we rely on that expertise and that sound science.
We will — and I think it will be important to — provide a more detailed explanation in this report, how we use the model for grizzly bear management in British Columbia. We'll undertake to provide that and hope to have that available for you when we resume estimates next week.
B. Routley: We've got a series of questions about moose now.
On the subject of revenue generated from hunting licences, on February 5 the minister launched a comprehensive five-year study to investigate the serious declines in moose populations in B.C.'s interior. The decline of moose appears to have occurred across all three interior regions, and all three regions have been subject to increased logging road or industrial road construction at the same time as there was ongoing accelerated forest harvesting for the pine beetle.
While we applaud the government for undertaking this study, many hunters and members of the public question the delay in launching it.
My first questions to the minister are…. Maybe I'll ask three at once, because we've got a number of questions to ask, and I'm sure you would appreciate having a lump of them to deal with.
The first bunch are:
(1) How much total funding will the government be allocating for this five-year study, and how much funding is earmarked within the 2014 estimates that are before us?
(2) Why was the contract for the study let only for the Cariboo-Chilcotin?
(3) How much revenue did the ministry accrue through the sale of moose hunting licences in 2013, and how much revenue does the ministry expect to generate in 2014?
You can tell me if you'd prefer them not lumped together like that.
Hon. S. Thomson: That's fine.
In response to the first question, in fiscal 2014 the study will cost $430,000. The financial resources for the study for this current year — $430,000.
Our ministry is contributing $350,000 to that; First Nations and industry, $35,000; and the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund, $45,000. It's anticipated that approximately $1.5 million will be required over the next five years. Sources of the funding for each of those years have not been confirmed, but we anticipated that it will continue in a partnership approach with funding being contributed by the ministry.
In terms of the study area, it's not limited to the Cariboo-Chilcotin. It includes the Thompson, Bonaparte Plateau, the Cariboo, Skeena, south of Prince George and north of Fort St. James, so it's broader than the Cariboo-Chilcotin, as the member opposite referenced.
In terms of the specific revenue, I don't have that figure available directly. I will undertake to provide that. That was around the estimates of revenue from the moose hunt licences. We'll undertake to…. I'm sure we'll be able to. We just don't have it directly here, but we'll provide that.
B. Routley: The last few hunting seasons resulted in many complaints from hunters, especially First Nations, on the alarming and deplorable state of the moose populations across the province. In light of the serious nature of the population decline, was any thought given to a complete closure of hunting in the 2012-2013 moose-hunting seasons to allow the population a best chance to recover?
If the ministry did consider closure, what was the compelling reason not to close moose hunting? And if the ministry did not consider closure of moose hunting, would the minister explain why not? Will the minister implement closure of moose hunting in 2014 until he has the findings of the five-year study?
Hon. S. Thomson: I think the quick answer is yes, in terms of: were full closures considered? What we have done in the areas…. We have eliminated in the Cariboo-Thompson region the cow harvest. In the Omineca in 2011 the cow harvest was reduced by 40 percent and in 2012 reduced down to 90 percent of the original — so only 10 percent of the previous harvest levels. We've reduced LEHs on bull moose in many of the management units through the area.
Currently, as you know, the hunting reg synopsis comes out in every second year, but we can also make decisions off the schedule of every two years. We are coming up to the next synopsis, and we're considering further reductions and closures as part of that current review of those regulations. We'll be making those decisions shortly.
It's also important to point out that we do have healthy moose populations in a number of areas and maintain the hunts in those areas. But in this area where we've seen the declines, we've taken the specific action to reduce the hunts, eliminating cow harvests and, as you pointed out, launching the study and the review, because we do want to determine what the reasons were and the factors that resulted in that decline of this important resource.
B. Routley: We've heard from a number of residents about the probable causes of the decline in moose population across the three interior regions. To many, they feel it's only too obvious.
They referred to the vast landscapes of salvaged clearcutting resulting in high snow density; the loss of shelter; excessively fragmented landscapes; the spraying of pesticides to kill aspen fodder; excessive road densities resulting in ATV and UTV access by poachers; climate change resulting in tick and other insect infestations; abnormally large wolf packs where the ministry has not secretly culled them — I'm not sure about the "secretly" part so you can use your imagination; and the ministry's reluctance to impose closures for moose-hunting seasons, to deactivate roads or to ban the use of ATVs and UTVs for hunting.
Some may reasonably ask why an extensive five-year study is needed to find out what they believe is obvious. They're asking why the ministry does not take immediate action where causes of the decline are so obvious — in short, unsustainable forest management, some of it brought on as a result of the pine beetle in many regions.
Other points that they make are the declines in moose population are a case study in the ministry's failure to manage at the landscape scale for cumulative impacts, something the Forest Practices Board has repeatedly pointed out and the ministry seems to continue to ignore.
Since many resource professionals are of the opinion that a major cause of the moose decline may have been the gold rush mentality behind the type of salvage logging that took place after the mountain pine beetle epidemic, would the minister tell the House what kind of input did the government solicit from biologists to direct and guide this salvage logging before it was permitted, and precisely who was contacted for input?
Hon. S. Thomson: I think the reference to the wide range of points that the member opposite made in terms of impacts really points to the fact that there are lots of theories about what may have caused the decline, and that's why the study has been undertaken. That's why we've taken decisions around reducing the harvest levels, the limited-entry hunts and the closures that I've talked about specific through those regions. That's why we're undertaking and why we've initiated the study.
It's really one of the key factors in all of this. When you look across the regions, it's different in each region. There's not a consistent factor that you can point to across there.
For example, I know that in the Burns Lake area, which is one of the original mountain pine beetle significantly impacted areas, moose populations are stable in that region, so you can't point to the logging as being the specific reason for the declined harvest.
Wildlife considerations are taken into account in forest stewardship plans. That's part of the planning process, part of the wildlife management areas, and those values are taken into account.
I think the important thing here is the fact that we have initiated the study. There is a need to determine the range of factors that may have impacted all of this.
I'm advised by those behind me that moose populations go through cycles, but this one, certainly, appears not to be necessarily a normal cyclical change in the population there. I don't want to use that as any defence at this point in terms of what's happened with the populations there. I think there are a whole range of impacts.
As the member opposite pointed out, the study is a very important process in order to determine that so we can learn from that. That's why we've initiated that, and that's why we have the partnership in the approach with industry and with First Nations and with the support of the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund.
B. Routley: The minister has a template to be followed for the protection of ungulate winter range. In general, licensees are reluctant to participate voluntarily in the development and finalization of agreements on ungulate winter range within the charred areas within TSAs.
Would the minister please explain why he has not imposed a time frame by which licensees must agree to a workable plan? And would the minister provide one good reason why he does not make the protection of ungulate winter range mandatory by law?
Hon. S. Thomson: We have a target of 127 ungulate winter ranges. About 65 percent are complete, about 72. We're working on another 20. We work in active partnership with industry on this.
In our view, by working through this approach, through the consultation with industry on the approach, we believe we have more durable agreements in place, because that brings in all of the information, the research. In my view, imposed timelines would result in less progress and less durable agreements.
N. Macdonald: We'll switch to wolves now. Just a couple of questions, about three or four, on wolves. Would the minister please provide us with the amount of revenue generated from wolf-hunting in 2013 and how much he estimates the revenue will be in 2014?
Hon. S. Thomson: Again, as we referenced in an earlier question, the overall figures don't have that level of specific information broken out, but we will undertake to provide it. It includes revenue from hunting and from trapping. We can undertake to provide that for the two years that the member opposite requested.
N. Macdonald: The minister's assistant deputy minister of stewardship is on record as stating: "Any future management policies or decisions regarding wolf management will always be made with conservation as the foremost priority."
Would the minister please explain the incongruity between the ADM's conservation statement and the ministry's hunting and trapping regulations, which allows for the year-round killing of wolves and, where restricted to only 45 weeks of wolf killing, for the hunting to occur during the birth of wolf pups and the raising of pups in April, May and June?
Hon. S. Thomson: Wolf populations in British Columbia are conservatively estimated to be over 8,500 in total. Evidence is increasingly showing that the wolf populations are increasing, with distribution into other areas — Okanagan and Kootenays, in particular.
[G. Kyllo in the chair.]
We harvest about 1,300 to 1,400 per year, 15 to 20 percent — sustainable population levels. Global populations are resilient, are around 30 percent. We're well below the sustainable levels of harvest with respect to the population, so it's not a conservation concern.
The harvest during the time period referenced is a small percentage of that total. In our view, there is nothing inconsistent with our current management approach.
The statement that was referenced, the management approach or the harvest approach to wolves is not a conservation concern.
N. Macdonald: One of the questions that I was asked to relate to the minister was if he could please explain how legal baiting of wolves for hunting accords with the principle of fair chase that the ministry champions and that I think most involved in hunting would say is a principle that has to be followed.
Hon. S. Thomson: I agree that the issue of baiting is controversial. But what we need to recognize here is that in the effective harvesting of wolves, much of it is focused on reducing predation livestock conflict, much of it focused on ensuring mitigation around impact on endangered species and other wildlife species.
I recognize that it's controversial, but what we want to ensure is that there is effective harvest, particularly when we're addressing those issues of livestock conflict and impacts, and impacts on wildlife species that was referenced earlier when we were discussing the moose population and moose declines. One of the factors that was referenced by the members opposite was predation as one of the potential factors in it.
We do need to make sure that the harvest is effective. As I pointed out in response to the earlier question, the overall harvest is well within the levels that ensure that we continue to have a sustainable population and not a conservation risk.
N. Macdonald: Thanks for the answer, Minister. Again, a question that came to us, and the wording of a secret wolf cull is one that comes. Perhaps that's something that the minister will be more familiar with than I.
The question is: can the minister confirm that his ministry has initiated secret wolf culls in the Quesnel area? If the minister characterizes them as something different, maybe we can describe why people in that area have described them as secret.
Hon. S. Thomson: There is no — as has been asserted by the members opposite — secret wolf cull. Everything in our approach to wolf management is transparent.
In fact, we have recently gone through an extensive process, a public process, around a wolf management plan that's been out for public review and comment. All of those comments are being considered, and we look forward to bringing forward the management plan in the not too distant future.
There are reasons, as I pointed out earlier, where, in areas of livestock mitigation and conflict where there are risks to wildlife populations and endangered species, there is more intensive trapping or more intensive hunting taking place. But again, we need to point out that the overall management approach is to ensure that there is not a conservation risk. The harvest rate's set between 15 and 20 percent, well below ensuring that we maintain a sustainable population of wolves in the province.
So this is not a conservation concern, and there is nothing secret about a wolf cull. Programs are transparent.
N. Macdonald: Very quickly, how extensive is the cull in the Quesnel area? Is it more extensive than in other areas? Just give me a sense of how many animals are being culled over, let's say, the next year or have been culled over the past year, just to give me an idea of how extensive the cull in the Quesnel area is.
Hon. S. Thomson: Again, I will reaffirm that there is no cull program underway.
In terms of the specific numbers from that region, we don't have that specific information here, but we can undertake to provide an estimate of the numbers in that specific region.
Again, I want to point out that in the management regime here, the regulations are designed to ensure that the population is sustainable, with harvest and trapping levels well below sustainable levels for the population. Again, more intensive activity can occur where there are significant livestock conflict problems, where there are impacts on endangered species.
The members opposite will understand the significant impact that that has on ranching and livestock operations, the negative economic impact that can occur, and work with the ranchers, with the conservation office services to help mitigate those impacts, work with the Cattlemen's Association.
Again, all designed and transparent in terms of the approach and the regulations and at levels of harvest that ensure there continues to be a sustainable population.
C. Trevena: Minister, I'm sure you've had a number of letters from my constituent Gary Allan from Sointula about wolves and wolf-hunting. I have a couple of question on his behalf.
I've been listening to the conversation about the hunting in the interior, and I wanted to know, from the minister, if there is any count of the number of wolves, particularly on the Island and islands, and if the minister would consider prohibition of a wolf hunt on the Island and islands.
[The bells were rung.]
The Chair: Recess.
The committee recessed from 4:45 p.m. to 4:59 p.m.
[G. Kyllo in the chair.]
Hon. S. Thomson: In response to the question, the population estimate on Vancouver Island, which includes the islands, is between 230 and 430 wolves. That population is stable.
Since 2004 the harvest is approximately 20 per year. This is well within sustainable limits. It is, in fact, below levels in other areas — less than 10 percent — so we're not currently considering a hunting or trapping prohibition on Vancouver Island.
B. Routley: Now I would like to turn our attention to revenue from caribou. The caribou is an emblematic animal of Canada. It's also an animal that is well known to be in trouble. In 2002 the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada listed the caribou as endangered in Canada, while the B.C. conservation data centre currently lists it as threatened. Also, 98 percent of the world's caribou are resident in British Columbia.
Would the minister tell the House how much "blood money" — I've heard it referred to as this — in the form of a levy applied to oil and gas production in caribou habitat was paid to government in 2012-2013 and 2013-2014? How much revenue does the minister estimate will be collected from the levy in 2014-15? And would the minister please acknowledge that, by applying this levy, the government, in what some would call a perversely odd way, is financing the destruction of caribou habitat and the continued decline of the boreal caribou?
Hon. S. Thomson: In support of the boreal caribou implementation plan, there is a contribution from industry. It's collected through the Oil and Gas Commission. It is approximately $2 million per year. Those funds support research, inventory, rehabilitation work in support of the boreal caribou implementation plan.
B. Routley: Would the minister tell the House by how much the government financially benefited from what his ministry euphemistically refers to as habitat impact offset charges from coal-mining development in the northern caribou habitat in the northeast part of the province in 2012-13 and 2013-14? How much revenue does the minister estimate will be collected from habitat impact offset charges in 2014-2015?
Hon. S. Thomson: First of all, just to make the point that the ministry does not benefit from this; it's the caribou that benefit from this. The moneys go into a trust. The trust is specifically for the benefit and support of the boreal caribou implementation plan. I don't have the specific numbers from that impact offset, but we can undertake to provide those for the two fiscal years that the member opposite referenced.
B. Routley: I'm not exactly sure how I'm going to communicate that to the caribou — that they're the ones that are benefiting from this after all.
Anyway, during 2013 estimates debate we asked the minister: "What is the actual number of herds that reached the recovery objective" — at the time, four — "in 2012-2013…?" The minister followed up with a response on August 12, 2013, in writing: "In 2012-2013 ministry staff measured five herds that had ceased declining. However, we chose a conservative approach and reported four herds with stable populations because long-term trends with this species can be difficult to predict, and the year-to-year variations are common."
Now, as I understand it, cabinet directed or ordered the ministry to recover caribou herds. To define recovery as a herd that has ceased declining seems to me, as a layperson, to be…. Instead of jiggery-pokery, I will call it weasel wording.
Apparently, you consulted leading scientists. Or we consulted leading scientists. I've got to get my facts straight here. It's scientists we heard from in the field of biology. We asked for their views on this, and these biology scientists wrote.
Scientist 1 writes:
"Technically, recovery means that a population has returned to historic levels, which is the definition employed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada and, I think, by the federal Species at Risk Act. A population that has ceased declining can hardly be said to have recovered."
The same scientist went on to write:
"Population levels invariably fluctuate over time. If by recovery we mean that a caribou population is no longer in decline during time X, then how can we be certain there are enough caribou to prevent a population of them from crashing to zero at some other point in time? The only way to be certain to accomplish this would be to bring a population back to its prestressed levels. Certainly, that's the stated goal of the B.C. government recovery plan."
Scientist 2 writes:
"It is generally accepted a population of any species is recovered when deemed viable and self-sustaining. Essentially, that means a sufficiently large effective population — i.e., of reproductive animals — that the likelihood of extinction is nil in the next 100 to 5,000 years. There is a disagreement on the period where some say it would be in perpetuity, so a population that has ceased declining would not be considered recovered unless it met other criteria mentioned."
In light of the possibility that the ministry might be misleading cabinet in its reporting to the service plans, annual reports, on the number of caribou herds that are in recovery, I have four questions for the minister.
One, specifically which four caribou herds does the ministry claim to be in recovery? How does the ministry define recovery? Question 3 is: does the definition of recovery that the ministry uses adhere to generally accepted criteria for recovery?
If the minister is confident in how he is reporting the recovery of caribou herds to the cabinet and to the public, then perhaps he would commit to having the ministry's number of caribou herds reported to be in recovery assessed for their accuracy by independent third-party scientists.
Hon. S. Thomson: Under the mountain caribou recovery plan, in 2007 in the plan there were two objectives set. One was by 2014 to stop decline, and by 2027 to recover to 2,500. These targets were developed, as the member opposite will know, with input and expert advice from the science team. These are world-leading caribou specialists that have informed those objectives. That team continues to provide the input and oversight on the work of the plan.
Again, two objectives set in 2007: 2014 to stop decline and by 2027 to recover to a population of 2,500. The targets, as I said, were developed with world-leading caribou specialists that are informing the plan and continue to provide the advice through the scientific team.
B. Routley: Well, thank you for your answer. I would like to remind the minister that because his ministry was perceived, at least by some, to be fumbling the caribou recovery file, cabinet had to step in and order the minister to recover caribou herds across the province by 2014. As I understand it, the target was set for the herd recovery by 2014-15 to 14 herds. Now I've heard something different, so I'll be interested in your response on that.
During the 2013 debate last July the minister said: "I think it's important to set those targets so we keep the focus, again — the ability to achieve those when we have a very, very complex relationship that's impacting not just the caribou herd but caribou herds around the province." Here the minister was trying to take the focus, some believe, off of logging as one of the main impacts on the Wells Gray mountain caribou herds.
The minister talked about the complex relationship with wolves, but the root cause of the decline, as seen by some, in the caribou herds is human impact. As we understand it, the minister knows that most people believe that in that region the root cause of caribou herd decline is human impact.
For the three ecotypes of caribou in British Colombia — the mountain, the boreal and the northern — the largest human impacts are timber harvesting and recreational snowmobile use for the mountain ecotype, oil and gas activity for the boreal ecotype and coal mining for the northern ecotype.
Again, in spite of this knowledge, the ministry gave the public the opinion that by relying on wolf kills, which is not working, rather than imposing restrictions on industrial development and on the use of snowmobiles, ATVs or UTVs in the caribou's habitat….
Would the minister please tell the House what specific actions he has taken since 2010 to curtail the industrial development and recreational activity in habitat areas for all three ecotypes of the caribou? And would he confirm Canfor's intention to log mountain caribou habitat in its TFL adjacent to Wells Gray Park?
Hon. S. Thomson: We have taken very significant action in support of the caribou and of working towards caribou recovery plans in the mountain caribou area — 2.2 million hectares of area with no logging, no roads. In the mountain caribou area we've got one million hectares of no sledding.
In the Peace northern caribou region we've got hundreds of thousands of hectares of reserves. We can provide you with that exact number in terms of the total number of hectares of high-elevation reserves. In the Wells Grey area we have the park but also over 110,000 hectares of caribou winter range.
So across the province, there are very significant protections in place to provide habitat protection for the caribou herds.
In response to the specific question around Canfor's intentions in their TFL that the member opposite referenced, we will need to get back to him with that specific information. I don't have that available with me.
B. Routley: I would like to turn now to talk about fish. In 2013 estimates debate last July the minister told the House that as part of the B.C. Liberal platform, he was committed to providing the full amount of revenue from fishing and angling licences to the Freshwater Fisheries Society. My question to the minister is: has he honoured that commitment?
Hon. S. Thomson: As was indicated, the government has committed to transferring the balance of the angling licence revenue to the Freshwater Fisheries Society. That commitment was to be by April 2015. Negotiations to formalize the transfer of the funds have been initiated with the Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C. executive and our resource stewardship division.
We expect those negotiations to be completed, anticipated in early summer 2014, at which point a decision note will be brought forward to me as the minister to allow for implementation of a new agreement for 2015.
N. Macdonald: We're going to switch now to public consultation on TFL rollover and TFL rollover legislation. On March 12, 2013, the minister commented in the House on the withdrawal of sections of Bill 8 dealing with forest licence rollover.
I quote the minister from Hansard:
"As a result of the need for broader public consultation on this, as was mentioned by the Attorney General, in committee stage we'll be setting aside those sections of the legislation directed at area-based tenure change and initiating a process, a broader public consultation, this summer based on the recommendations of the mid-term timber supply special committee and this proposed legislation."
Then three months later, at the height of summer in July 2013, on the very same issue the minister is on the public record, saying: "As I committed earlier this spring and as is noted in the mandate letter, the ministry will launch and engage in a public engagement process this summer to raise awareness about the differences between the volume-based and area-based tenures and will solicit the feedback from communities, First Nations, the forest industry and the general public."
Then, during the same estimates debate, the minister began to prevaricate. I quote from Hansard, "My expectation is that the time frame we're looking at would probably be getting into September, which depending on your definition of summer, still includes the summer," which is true, of course.
Next, we heard that the minister had postponed the public consultation process until the fall of 2013, and his staff were underscoring the fact that by official definition fall does not end until December 20. Well, summer and fall 2013 have long since passed by any definition. The minister really has failed to conform to his previous mandate letter, and it has raised speculation as to the reasons why there was a choice to delay initiating a public consultation process on TFL rollovers.
During the 2013 estimates debate the minister is on the record as optimistically saying, "The member opposite asked whose interest is being served by considering this" — in reference to TFL rollovers. "I think that very, very clearly the interest that's being served is the interest of workers, the interests of communities, the interests of everybody involved in the industry through that area."
Now, I suspect that, during the extended delay in mounting this public consultation, the minister has heard from forest workers, contractors, communities, licensees and First Nations that TFL rollover and more entrenched privatization of rights to timber on Crown land does not necessarily accord with their interests quite as well as the minister confidently asserted that they would last July.
Will the minister confirm that the reason a public consultation process has been repeatedly postponed is because the backroom lobbying by his deputy minister and ministry staff with the forest industry, with industry associations, with the mayors of targeted communities and with selected groups of First Nations did not go according to plan and these special interest groups, like the general public, have deep-rooted concerns about the policy agenda of the government toward further privatization of the rights to public timber on Crown land?
Hon. S. Thomson: Firstly, I disagree with the member's characterization of this as a TFL rollover. The member was part of the mid-term lumber committee process that made the recommendation that we look at increasing the diversity of area-based tenures. I still believe that this could be one of the tools in the toolbox to help address mid-term timber supply in the future and the many attributes that support the basis of area-based tenures.
As committed, and as the member opposite knows, we have communicated publicly that we are not intending to bring in legislation with respect to that in this session. We are committed and remain committed to a public consultation process around this to clearly receive the input and to clearly identify the provisions and the criteria and the approaches that would be utilized here.
We are taking the time to make sure that when we go into that public consultation we have all of those criteria and options developed and as part of the consultation process, because I think it is going to be important in that process to not only just talk about the attributes of area-based management but also how it would be implemented and what criteria would be utilized in terms of considering options to ensure that it does meet community and public and industry and stakeholder and First Nations interests in the process.
We're taking the time to make sure that we have that full criteria developed. That's the work that's underway, and we intend to move forward with the public consultation process in the near future.
N. Macdonald: Of course, we have this debate a lot. As the member will know and as many people in the room will know, the recommendations that the committee put forward were very carefully crafted and don't align with the legislation that was presented nor the concept of a TFL rollover. That's not what we were talking about.
I think that's part of the reason there's been a tremendous amount of public resistance to what the government put forward, which forced, prior to the election, the removable of the TFL rollover legislation — or the element, the sections, within the act that had that in there.
Can the minister give us definitive dates for the public discussion on TFL rollover enabling legislation? The second part of that is: whom among the public does the minister plan to engage?
Hon. S. Thomson: Again, I disagree with the member's assertion that this is a process around rollover conversion. What I've said is that we are committed to a process of consultation. We're not talking about introducing the legislation, as I've said here and publicly, both at the truck loggers annual meeting and the association of professional foresters annual meeting.
What we are committed to do is to have an engagement process, which we will be launching shortly. That engagement process will include all parties and stakeholders. We'll gauge those in that way through a variety of means. This will be a public engagement process that we will be launching shortly.
N. Macdonald: The Premier's letter, as well as documents that we have here — the service plan — put it as a priority for the ministry. I think there's no question that it's a flawed policy.
The recommendations that the committee put forward I think give us a place to go in consideration of what we could be doing differently. Clearly, what the government has been talking about and what we saw in the legislation benefited only a few companies and represents poor public policy. I think that's likely what the minister is hearing again and again as he consults and talks with various groups.
During the 2013 estimates debate last July we pushed the minister to provide evidence that area-based forest management on TFLs is better than on TSAs. The minister was unable to provide that evidence because it does not exist.
In fact, one can go back on the public record. During the discussions that we had with the Timber Supply Committee, I know that I and my colleague asked this question many times. We had the resources of the ministry available to us, and that question was never satisfactorily answered. It doesn't exist.
The minister also committed to provide a follow-up answer to our request for the average investment per hectare in TFLs and in TSAs. The minister responded in writing on August 12, 2013: "The ministry has no direct means of recording or comparing silvicultural investments on area-based tenures to those on volume-based tenures. There is little difference in the intensity of management between area- and volume-based tenures." That's the answer we had back.
It seems pretty clear to me that the political spin around area-based forest management being better in TFLs than it is in TSAs is nonsense, frankly. That's not to say that area-based management might not be better than volume-based management under a different form of governance than TFL tenure. But the TFLs as a means of area-based management are clearly a failure, with a few exceptions to the rule. That was all part of the discussion that we had in formulating the recommendations from the Timber Supply Committee.
My question to the minister is: does the promised public consultation process make it clear to the public that, in the minister's own words, "the ministry has no direct means of recording or comparing silvicultural investments on area-based tenures to those on volume-based tenures," and that the ministry has no evidence to support the assertion that forest management is better in TFLs than in TSAs?
Is that going to be made absolutely clear at those meetings, or are there going to be meetings where something that's better described as propaganda is simply presented?
Hon. S. Thomson: As I indicated, we're intending on initiating the public consultation process. That process will have extensive information and will have the evidence on a publicly available website.
We will ensure that there is a broad discussion. I'm sure that discussion will include all the pros and cons with respect to that. But the discussion paper, the evidence will be thorough in this process.
As I indicated, we believe and continue to believe that this is one tool in the toolkit that can have benefits. That's why the recommendation was made by the mid-term timber supply committee to look at increasing area-based management.
We know that there are differing views. We also know that it will be important to ensure in that process that it is clear what approach and what criteria would be utilized in looking at any movement from volume- to area-based tenure.
Noting the hour, I move that the committee rise and report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 5:49 p.m.
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