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. Dalton in the chair.
The committee met at 2:40 p.m.
On Vote 26: ministry operations, $372,345,000 (continued).
N. Macdonald: On Thursday when we left off, we'd started estimates debate. In one of the early sections I presented a media release from the minister and a copy of a study the minister used as evidence — that the government claimed was evidence — that grizzly bear hunts were being managed using the best available science.
However, I showed the minister that the claims made in the government media release are a misleading description of the findings of the study that the media release cited. The study is not evidence that the grizzly hunt uses the best available science.
Now, the minister's name was put on a media release that I think most would agree deliberately misled the media and the broader public. In his answer on Thursday the minister said that he had other proof that the government was managing the grizzly hunt sustainably. They haven't presented that.
The question I have for the minister: if there's other proof, will he table that evidence or commit to providing it?
Hon. S. Thomson: As I indicated on Thursday during the discussion, we indicated that the populations are being sustainably managed, based on the best available science. We did commit to providing the additional information, the other factors that are being used beyond the modelling study that's referenced in the report.
I think it's important to recognize that this was one piece of the information that was used. The ministry reviews all of those estimates, including those that come from population inventories; the modelling, such as analysis in the report; and expert opinion.
For the 12 management units in question, the best estimates, as determined by biologists, in four of those cases were based on inventory; in five of the units it was based on expert opinion; and the model estimate in three of the units.
Again, it's a combination of all the information, not just one single report that is used. But the study did affirm that the grizzly bear populations in B.C. are being sustainably managed, along with the best available science.
As we agreed to on Thursday and as we committed, we will undertake to provide all the additional information that was used in each one of those units, whether it was inventory, the model, the expert opinion or the combination of all three of those in each of those units.
Clearly, the basis of the decision was based on best available science, again — that populations are being sustainably managed. That's based on a number of factors and a range of information, not just the report and the model itself.
N. Macdonald: But the problem here is that the minister is, again, referencing a study that, when one looks at it, is not aligned with what the media release says. So it's a bit troubling for the minister to again go back to that as evidence, because it's not. Everything else that the minister has said is evidence that's not in front of us.
I understand that very often we get information later. But the minister has asserted something — and they did it months and months ago — and has yet to provide evidence that backs up their case. In fact, the only thing that was put forward as evidence turns out to be inaccurate. That's troubling.
The second piece that I brought to the minister on Thursday was a report. It's called "Confronting Uncertainty in Wildlife Management: Performance of Grizzly Bear Management," and it is peer-reviewed. It does deal specifically with the issue that we're talking about. It finds in that study that grizzly bear management here in British Columbia is not being done sustainably. It raises serious questions.
Now, the minister on Thursday rejected out of hand that study but has provided no evidence. So the question I have for the minister is: can he provide the scientific information that was given to him as minister that led him to the conclusion, or led senior staff to the conclusion, that the study I cited was, indeed, something that should not be considered?
Clearly, there must be a body of scientific argument. I don't want political argument. I want scientific argument that can be presented that actually supports the assertion that the peer-reviewed study that questions the sustainability of the grizzly hunt in British Columbia is, as the minister states, something that we should discount. Where's the evidence for the minister's claim?
Hon. S. Thomson: Again, as I indicated, when the information is reviewed, we review all the information that's available. The modelling and the studies are one piece of that. We also review population estimates that are based on DNA studies, best available information from experts. All of those go into the factor. As I said, when we went through all of the units, a number of them were based on…. When the best estimates were used, the inventory numbers were used in four of those units, expert opinion in five and model estimates in three of the cases.
When those best estimates are used, the concern with the harvest rates exceeding the policy was eliminated in eight of the 12 cases. As a result — and those harvest rates are below 6 percent — in the remaining four cases the ministry responded to the new population information from the model, combined with recent mortality data, by either closing the areas to grizzly bear hunting or lowering the number of hunting authorizations and reducing the allowable mortality limits in those areas.
We can go through each of the responses through each of those areas, but again, as I said, the information is based on all the best available information. We remain confident that the population is being sustainably managed, and as I indicated, we will be prepared to follow up with the specific scientific information that was used in analyzing and assessing the report referenced by the member opposite.
A. Weaver: I must admit to being deeply troubled that a grizzly bear analysis is based on a single scientific study, from what I'm hearing — an expert. I would ask if the minister could be so kind as to please table the list of experts that were consulted to develop the opinion, in addition to the scientific analysis, if he would be prepared to do so.
Hon. S. Thomson: To the member opposite: yes, we will provide that list. I don't have the full list with me of all the experts and biologists who would have reviewed that, but we can provide that.
I think, as the member opposite will know as well, that during the process of peer review of those studies, sometimes it is done independently and anonymously, so in those cases we would not be able to provide that. To the extent that we can provide the names of people who have provided that opinion, along with the scientific information that I have already committed to the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke to provide, we'll undertake to do that.
A. Weaver: The peer-reviewed study that was referred to was published on December 18, 2013. In the field of science a peer-reviewed study is just one study. It needs to be assessed and critically analyzed by many others.
In looking at and reading this study, I noted that in fact, it's a study that measures grizzly bear density by doing a simple regression analysis, a correlational analysis with ecosystem function and type. This hardly, anybody would say, would be the type of thing that you would base policy in terms of extrapolation on — a statistical regression analysis.
I would urge the government to take a very close look at this particular study and see whether or not, if it is the basis of their assessment and their determination of the kill, they should actually move on and find some other evidence. Frankly, one study based on statistical regression is not sufficient to base policy on.
My question is with respect to an ecosystem that there has been some analysis on. It's the Great Bear rainforest, and it's specifically asking if the minister could provide an update on the progress of the Great Bear rainforest treaty in light of the fact that industry, a number of environmental groups and First Nations communities have come to an agreement which was sent to the government for ratification.
Hon. S. Thomson: I appreciate the member opposite's comments around the analysis. Again, just to point out that we used a variety of information in order to make those decisions and didn't rely on one specific study. But I, again, appreciate the suggestion and advice from the member opposite.
To just go to the second part of the question, which really is an update on the Great Bear rainforest agreement. As you know, in March 2009 a joint announcement, supported by First Nations, environmental groups, forest sector, confirmed that the province met its commitment to establish and fully implement an ecosystem-based management system for coastal B.C. which is reflected in land use objectives and orders for the area.
The province — along with First Nations, environmental groups, forest sector — has made additional commitments for what would be done in the following five years leading up to March 2014. One of those commitments was to review and amend the land use orders before March 31, 2014, with the objective of concurrently achieving the low ecological risk and the high levels of human well-being or, if that was not possible, to make meaningful increments towards both. This also, as the member opposite will know, has to be consistent with First Nations agreements.
Meeting this commitment by March 2014 has been delayed somewhat, due to the necessary discussion between the forest sector and environmental groups to achieve consensus on the joint solution for the final implementation of EBM to be recommended to the province and the First Nation governments.
I'm very, very pleased to confirm that on January 29, 2014, the environmental groups and the forest companies that were part of that joint solutions project submitted their joint recommendations to the province — to the ministry — and to some First Nations. A very, very significant milestone and progress and step forward in the agreement.
Again, as I've commented previously, I want to congratulate both the environmental organizations that were part of that process and the forest industry on coming to that agreement. It is a milestone towards reaching the agreement for amendment to the land use orders for the Great Bear rainforest.
As I said, they were provided to ourselves, and now we are in the process of working with First Nations on a government-to-government basis to incorporate the recommendations into the land use amendments and conclude a package that will address both the ecological integrity and the human well-being commitments in that. We have the basis of the agreement, but we do need to work with the First Nations on a government-to-government basis to get the agreement for implementation.
That process is well underway and fully engaged with the coastal First Nations — with the Nanwakolas and with other First Nations throughout the area. We're going to work as diligently and as hard as we can to bring that full agreement and implementation forward. It won't be by March 31, 2014, but in my view, we have met that initial target of having that agreement in place: the basis or the foundation on which to get that agreement.
It took a little longer than everybody may have hoped, but it was very, very significant, and the industry and the organizations wanted to make sure they took the time to get it right. There was a lot of diligent work.
Now it's into the next step, and we look forward to completing that process. We're engaged directly in government-to-government processes with the First Nations. It's not just the council and the coastal First Nations group; there are a number of other First Nations that we need to engage.
We're going to work to complete this process, building on the foundation agreement that came between the environmental organizations and the industry.
B. Routley: I'd like to go back to the questions that we had about caribou. In the estimates process in 2013 we asked the question: what is the actual number of herds that reached the recovery objective of four in 2012-2013? The minister followed up with a response on August 12, 2013, writing: "In 2012-13 ministry staff measured five herds that had ceased declining." That's the interesting choice of words that we want to explore a little bit more. Specifically, which four caribou herds does the ministry claim to be in recovery, that ceased declining?
Hon. S. Thomson: Rather than hold up the process here too much — I did have that information, but I've misplaced the piece of paper where I had that list of the herds, because I knew that this question was coming — we will undertake to provide it very shortly here. If you want to address the next question, then I'll come back to providing that. We will have it very shortly.
B. Routley: Okay. The next question is: how does the ministry define "recovery"?
Hon. S. Thomson: The four herds are the Nakusp, Columbia North, Barkerville and Purcells South. The member opposite asked around the recovery strategy. As we've stated, the goal is to stabilize the herds by 2014 to stop the decline and then to recover those herds by 2027 with a population target of 2,700. That's the basis of the recovery plans that are in place.
B. Routley: Does the definition of "recovery" the minister has used adhere to generally accepted criteria for recovery?
Hon. S. Thomson: As the member opposite will know, the recovery plans — there's a very, very complex set of factors and circumstances. The approach for our plans has been to set the goals in terms of stabilizing the herds, as I mentioned, by 2014 and by setting the targets for recovery to levels of 2,700 animals by 2027. The basis of that is to have that at a level that has population viability, is self-sustaining — one that responds to the management framework that's in place for those.
While there are many definitions of what recovery may be, what criteria, those are the base and the targets that we have set in the plans, and that's the focus of the work that is being done — to work to, as I said, stabilize and then to meet those target levels that have been set.
B. Routley: I take it from that that the minister has some comfort in his definition of recovery. If the minister is now confident that he's reporting the recovery of caribou herds to cabinet and to the public, perhaps he would commit today to having the ministry's number of caribou herds reported to be in recovery assessed for accuracy by independent, third-party scientists.
Hon. S. Thomson: As the members opposite may know, the recovery process is overseen by a progress board and a science team that provide direct advice and review of the plans and the progress. I appreciate the member's perspective and can certainly review that with the progress board and the science team. As you know, that progress board includes a wide range of perspectives on the review of the plan.
In terms of the direct suggestion, I think it's something that would be appropriate to place in front of the progress board and its science team.
N. Macdonald: Just two questions coming on wolves. The minister will have seen the article in the Tyee. It follows up on the statement that the minister made again on Thursday, where the minister asserted that wolf harvests were conducted in a clear and transparent manner by the government. But in reading the article, it talked about a media-generated freedom-of-information request that was anything but consistent with the minister's claim of an open and transparent process.
So I guess the first of two questions. The first question is: will the minister table the current wolf management plan?
Hon. S. Thomson: The wolf management plan or the draft plan was put out for public review and comment over a period of time. We received a very significant amount of input and comments on the plan. We're currently incorporating all of that input in development and completion of a final plan.
The wolf management plan is currently being finalized. As soon as that has been completed and finalized, we'll be making the plan public. At this point it's in the process of being finalized, and it will be made public. It will be fully transparent.
N. Macdonald: Just on being open and transparent. I mean, it was a very constrained period that people were asked for input. It's been a pretty long period since that input was provided, and we haven't seen the plan. It is a long period of time that we're talking about. In the meantime things are going on.
I guess the next question I would have for you — one of the more contentious parts of it — would be around poisoning. The question I have, really specifically, is: is the government currently poisoning wolves as part of its wolf management plan? Has it in the recent past poisoned wolves? Is there any intention in the future to use poison in the management of wolves?
Hon. S. Thomson: I hope sort of a short answer to this is, first of all, no. No poisoning is being done.
Secondly, the draft management plan. If you review, the draft management plan did not contemplate poisoning as one of the techniques or tools to be used. From my perspective, it will not be a tool in the final plan. Stakeholders and people inputting into the plan did not request that — the B.C. Cattlemen, for example, don't support that — so the answer is no and no.
N. Macdonald: We return now to where we left off at the end of Thursday, which is the TFL rollovers. I just want to pick up on, again, something that the minister gave us as an answer and, as well, to provide some background as we get started again in this debate.
What the minister will know, and what people should know, of course…. Tree farm licences, or TFLs, are a form of area-based tenures, as are community forests, woodlots. You can even have areas within TSAs. But TFLs are particularly contentious with the public because they represent a privatization of the public land.
There are three companies that I'm aware of that were pushing for TFL rollover legislation. It's West Fraser, Dunkley and Hampton. Those are the three I've heard most often. Other companies clearly would benefit but appear to be passive on pushing the government to create TFL rollover legislation.
Many companies do not want TFL rollover legislation because of the public backlash that we already saw when this legislation was presented prior to the election in 2013. The fear, of course, is that part of that public backlash would be campaigns aimed at B.C. markets for timber. Of course, that would be devastating. The TFL rollover legislation was part of the deal that Bob Clark, on behalf of Pat Bell, was making with Hampton, and it is found as action 5 in the 2012 leaked cabinet document.
The genesis for the Timber Supply Committee, of course, was the leaked cabinet document. It talked about a whole host of very contentious ideas. One of them was the idea of TFL rollover legislation. Bob Clark was candid when he came before the committee. He said, basically, that the work that he did on behalf of Pat Bell was represented by the leaked cabinet document. That seems to be the genesis of it, and it continues to be pushed, as I say, by certain companies who feel that there is a benefit to them.
From my perspective, the TFL rollover clearly will enrich a handful of private companies, but I see either no public benefit or, in fact, significant public loss. Behind the initiative, I think people need to understand, is raw politics, right? There is around it an attempt to justify something as being about forestry when it really isn't. There's an awful lot of government spin. It's part of that spin that I want to address with the minister today, because it's part of the spin that was presented in answering the question on Thursday.
On Thursday the minister stated, as he has many times before, that the idea for TFL rollovers…. We can be specific here, because we saw exactly what the government intended to do in legislation that was put forward and then withdrawn. We know exactly where the government is going with it. The assertion that the minister has made as recently as Voice of B.C. but also here on Thursday was that that came from the Timber Supply Committee.
It didn't. I'm going to walk the minister through that.
[S. Sullivan in the chair.]
First, we knew — here, it's my colleague from Cowichan Valley, as well as my colleague from Surrey-Newton — before we started the Timber Supply Committee process that Hampton wanted a TFL. We knew that because it was there in the leaked cabinet document that we received.
Then we provided to government an offer to work with government. We did the right thing there, coming to government and offering to be part of a solution. But we knew going into it that there were risks for us. One of the risks was that the government would have an agenda that they would try to co-opt us into being part of. So we went into it with our eyes completely wide open and were aware of where the government agenda was headed.
We also knew that there were some very politically connected companies, such as West Fraser, who wanted to convert some of their volume to TFLs as well. The NDP members were going into the committee work concerned about that and other parts of the government agenda.
Now, the Chair of the committee, the B.C. Liberal Chair, who's now the minister responsible for aboriginal affairs, soon made it clear that the main focus for him, and presumably for government, was the TFL rollovers. He asked at pretty well every one of the — how many meetings did we have, 30, 40? — meetings. He always asked it. He was not at all subtle about pushing that agenda.
If you look on Hansard, we consistently raised questions about what he was asserting. He was asserting that TFLs would provide a benefit that there was no evidence for. If you go back on Hansard, you can actually see where we were asking questions. We wanted evidence — evidence that TFLs actually produced the benefits that the government members were asserting.
What we were told was that there was no evidence that the TFLs provided benefits. In fact, we were told — and this is the ministry staff providing us with this information — that all they could find and produce in fact showed evidence of poorer results from TFLs. Now, we know TFLs. We know that there are some that are managed well and some that are managed poorly, so this is not to disparage all of them. It's just that the assertion that you necessarily get a better result with TFLs simply has no evidence behind it.
It was in this very room that the Timber Supply Committee, with four Liberals and three NDP, put the recommendations together that appear in the final report. Our two consultants, both former chief foresters chosen by government to help us — and they did a wonderful job — drafted the document based on conversations that they had with us over the course of the committee meetings and listening to presentations. So they had a sense of our concerns, even with the initial language that they put forward.
My colleague from Cowichan Valley, myself as well as the member from Surrey rewrote the recommendations. This is our language in the recommendations that Liberal members agreed to. So I know what we recommended. I know what we were trying to avoid the government being able to do, which is to cherry-pick a recommendation and mischaracterize it as being something different than what it is.
I think that's evident if you just look at the recommendations and read it. Even if you didn't know anything about what I've said here, you could look at it and if you read it, you would realize that it is very clear that it is talking about a very slow process that is broad. It very specifically involves First Nations, very specifically involves communities, talks about science that has to be done and talks about the full breadth of area-based tenures — community forests and a whole host of tenure types.
It's certainly nothing at all that resembles the TFL legislation that was put in front of the Legislature last year and what, presumably from the Premier's letter of instruction, the Premier still intends to push forward with.
I guess what I would say is that going forward, if the minister is to characterize the committee's recommendations as being in support of that legislation, it can only mean three things. It can mean either he thinks that my colleague and I so misunderstand this file that we have inadvertently put in language that supports that government program. I don't think the minister thinks that. I don't think you would suggest that we're stupid on this file. So it's not that.
Secondly, it would have to be that I'm standing here lying about what went on, on that committee, and I don't think the minister is suggesting that.
So if the minister goes forward from this point and makes that assertion…. I think it's something that, if you think about it properly, you won't do. It is not an argument that stands up. We did not recommend what the government is talking about, and going forward, the minister should provide instruction to the staff, should provide instruction to communications people, and I'm sure he'll take this upon himself. He should not be making that assertion. It's simply not accurate. That's where I want to leave off from, from that.
I want to go on to pick up where we left off, which was the question that, based on the fact that, in the minister's own words…. Here we go back to what the minister himself has said — that with TFL rollovers, "the ministry has no direct means of recording or comparing silviculture investments on area-based tenures to those on volume-based tenures." That's the minister saying that any assertion about more investment on the land is something that is asserted without any proof.
Secondly, the ministry has no evidence to support the assertion that forest management is better in TFLs than it is in volume-based TSAs. Those are things that are inconsistent with what is often said in pushing for the TFL legislation. That's the first point and the point that we made on Thursday, and the minister answered that.
But let's move on to the next point. The amount a tenure type is billed for waste each year is — I think the minister would agree — a good indicator of the quality of forest management. The minister may be surprised to learn that of all the different types of tenure licences, TFLs were billed $804,766 for waste in 2012-2013. So that tops the list of all 15 different types of tenure. That's significant. If waste is an indicator of poor management, TFLs are at the top of the list.
Secondly, in 2012-13 TFLs accounted for $3,347,235 in log export fees, again topping the list of all tenure types.
The minister has talked at some point about having a public consultation. During the public consultation, will the minister be informing the public how wasteful this form of area-based management is with TFLs and how it accounts for the lion's share of log export fees?
The Chair: Forests Minister.
Hon. S. Thomson: Thank you, Chair, and welcome to the chair.
I just want to start off my comments by saying, first of all, that if there was any impression that I was indicating that the members opposite don't understand the file or that I'm construing that they are being less than truthful or anything like that in the process, that's not the case.
The situation here is…. What we have committed to do is to undertake a public consultation process that addresses the recommendations and direction coming from the mid-term timber supply committee that says that area-based tenures are an opportunity to help contribute towards mid-term timber supply.
We understand and accept the concerns that the tabling of the initial legislation created. We know we need to go out and engage in that process around area-based management. We know that what we need to do is ensure that the approach that would ultimately come forward in legislation is one that meets the public interest, provides the benefit, contributes to mid-term timber supply mitigation — because that's one of the rationales for the report and the recommendations in the report — and moves forward carefully and slowly in the process.
That's why we've taken the time to make sure that, as we go into the public consultation process, we can provide all the information that's necessary for an informed consultation process. Clearly, some of the statistics and information that the member opposite just provided will need to be part of that discussion. That information is publicly available, and it will be part of the discussion process.
As I indicated on Thursday, we intend to move into that consultation process in the near future so that we can start the discussion. Just again to remind them, TFLs are just one form of area-based tenure. We do, as the member pointed out, have other forms of area-based tenure. That all needs to be part of the discussion.
We and I believe that area-based management is one of the tools in the toolbox that could help address the mid-term timber supply mitigation through that reason. I think it's one that is worthwhile for a continued or a renewed public consultation process around the recommendations in the report, and that's what we've committed to do.
N. Macdonald: Of course I know the minister didn't mean offence to us. The relationship is very strong. But there are layers of decision-making going on here. It's a concern of what's coming out of the Premier's office. Like I say, this is politics, right? That, at the core, is what the TFL is. The minister again mixed up what we talked about in the recommendations. It was very broad and could be good public policy, but it's not what we saw in the legislation. It's not what the Premier was talking about when she gave instruction to the minister.
The facts are these: we spoke with Bob Clark, we had the chance to listen to what he said, and we understood the deal-making that was going on with Pat Bell and with Hampton and everything else that was going on there. It gives you insight into what's likely happening in other places.
You look at West Fraser, and you look at when the Premier became leader, how connected…. There are people, executives, there with her at the time that she was elected. That whole thing is going on. When that's happening, of course we are going to be suspicious about where the government is going to go on this big a file.
There are going to be concerns about the fact that, to the detriment of the broader public, we are going to see a privatization of lands. We've seen it elsewhere. We've seen government policy around B.C. Rail where a public asset was shifted into private hands. We saw Mr. McLean, the chair of CN, working very hard to get an outcome that he wanted. We see it with the IPPs, which represent those private power diversion projects. We saw the lobbying effort. We saw, in the end, a policy that's going to cost us $55 billion over 30 years.
So there is broad skepticism moving forward, and an awful lot of people deeply concerned about the direction that the government is choosing to go. What I'll do is I'll lay out a series of questions.
Let's move on, then, to the process. I'll just have the minister indicate if I'm incorrect in any of the facts that I lay out here, which are taken from briefing documents that we received as an FOI as well as other FOIs that the opposition has received. Would the minister please confirm the following. You can confirm it by identifying what is not true. That might be the easiest way to do it.
First, the main people involved with TFL rollover legislation seem to be Dave Peterson, former acting deputy minister; Duncan Williams, executive director of the tenures competitiveness and innovation division; and several people at the forest tenures branch — mainly, it looks like, Doug Stewart, Kelly Finck and Ron Greschner. That's the first thing. If I'm mistaken in that, the minister can let me know.
The second thing is the ministry staff struck up a working group in late July that seemed to be a subcommittee of what they called the Provincial Forestry Forum. From what we can gather, three of the members are the district managers for the regions Skeena-Stikine, north Island–central coast and Cariboo.
The third point is in mid- to late August the subcommittee members were working on consultations — not with all First Nations groups but targeted First Nations groups — around proposed legislation.
Fourth, Deputy Minister Peterson was talking to industry people as early as August 28, 2013 — for instance, Jim Hackett of the ILMA — and September 6 to Rick Jeffrey. Minister Thomson was scheduled to meet with Terry Kuzma, manager of Carrier Lumber, at a COFI event on September 26 to discuss locations for TFL rollovers.
Fifth, by late September 2013 the ministry had drafted a paper for industry association heads on the area-based conversion strategy.
The Chair: Member, can I just remind you that this has to do with estimates. It does sound like you're delving into issues beyond estimates. This may not be the appropriate venue for that.
N. Macdonald: Well, with all due respect, in the nine years that I've been here, there's an understanding with ministers and amongst MLAs that there's a breadth to the questions to the minister. To be really specific here, the letter of direction to the minister for this year from the Premier deals with this specific issue.
Presumably, there's a breadth of cost associated with that. So it's certainly relevant to these estimates and fits within the traditions of the Legislature in terms of holding the minister to account.
The Chair: All of your questions should relate to estimates.
N. Macdonald: Okay, thank you.
So the fifth…. By late September 2013 the ministry had drafted a paper for industry association heads on the area-based conversion strategy.
Sixth, on September 27, 2013, the deputy minister was on a conference call with four representatives from COFI, ILMA and CFPA, presumably to discuss the strategy paper.
Besides confirming the ministry's sort of backdoor consultations with industry heads, associations and targeted First Nations, would the minister please provide us with the following.
First is a list of all members of the working group. So if the minister could just go back, and if I was incorrect in any of those statements, would you make a correction. Next, would the minister provide a list of all members of the working group.
Second is a copy of the strategy paper on area-based conversions that he has already used in discussions behind closed doors.
Third is a listing of all meetings since July 2013 on TFL rollovers, or area-based tenures, between the minister, the deputy minister and/or ministry staff with industry executives, with industry associations and with First Nations groups.
Hon. S. Thomson: Just to review some of the confirmations that the members opposite were looking for, I think, in terms of the key staff involved in helping develop the discussion paper and consultation process that we are going to be, as I indicated, launching shortly. I think you've got the names basically correct there. It's probably not limited to that, because this takes input from many other staff, but in terms of the lead on the process, those are correct.
The working group, the Provincial Forestry Forum, has been utilized to help provide input into the discussion paper and consultation process. The Provincial Forestry Forum is a larger group. It's one that we work with regularly on all aspects of forest policy.
We did have some initial discussions with the First Nations, recognizing that they are going to be a very, very important part of the public consultation process. We needed to make sure that we had some of the elements and concerns in as part of that process.
Throughout the process we have had an engagement with industry associations and people in the industry, because we want to make sure, when we go out with the discussion paper, with the consultation process, that we've got all the elements in there, that we've got an approach that will make sure we get that informed public opinion.
We've indicated that the consultation will be around area-based management, that there is a broad interest in this. We know that. So it will be an open consultation process: a discussion paper posted and opportunity for all stakeholders — First Nations, communities, environmental organizations, community groups, all those — to input into the process.
We have very carefully made sure that as we work to do this…. And this is why it has taken some time. To make sure we get a discussion process that will be fully informed, that will ensure that we get the input — in order to do that, we have consulted with industry to make sure that when we go out with that, we've identified all the elements of the approach to area-based management, all the concerns that we may need to address as part of that consultation process.
I think the fact that we have talked through those groups and everything like that is an important step in the process. Now we will be moving to that full public consultation process. We recognize the challenges that came forward with the initial legislation. We want to make sure, as we go through this process, that we focus on area-based management, that we respect the direction of the mid-term timber supply committee and that we look at the opportunity for area-based management to contribute to mid-term timber supply mitigation.
That was the focus of the work. That was the focus that came through the committee report. That needs to be the focus, particularly the initial focus, of the consultation process. In my view, if it doesn't contribute to that, and it can't be a tool in the tool box in that process, we need to make sure that it's understood that it can be a tool and that it's something that can contribute to that mitigation of mid-term timber supply.
N. Macdonald: Again the talk around openness. I thank you for confirming the information that we had there.
Number 5 was that the ministry had drafted a paper for industry associations. I asked three questions at the end. Just to go back to them, all members of the working group…. Now, obviously not all the people are necessarily contributing information, but you have a core working group that we have partially listed there. If there are others, if you could give us a complete list of the core working group….
Secondly, if we're talking about openness and establishing trust, what we have so far is a process that may be benign, or it may be characterized as secret and backroom, right? One of the ways that one would dispel that is: having produced a strategy paper on area-based conversion, could the minister share that with us? It would be good if we had that today sometime so that we can generate questions from it, if necessary.
I think that more than just saying there is going to be openness, there have to be actions that go along with that. That's the second question I'll have the minister answer.
Then finally, a list of all meetings since July 2013. As the minister knows, through FOI we were able to get some of the information, but it can be a lengthy and onerous process. We don't have lists of these meetings from July 2013 complete. If the minister could answer those three questions, please.
Hon. S. Thomson: Two quick answers. To the request for the list of the core working group: we can provide that; and for the list of meetings, we can certainly provide that, I think, based on FOI information. You probably have quite a bit of it already. We'll undertake to make sure that you have a complete list.
On the issue of the discussion paper, it's important to recognize that we have had a process in receiving some input into a discussion paper that would form the basis of the consultation process. Staff have been drafting that work. It is important to recognize that this is a staff initiative, and staff hold the pen on this. That discussion paper will be posted and available as part of the public consultation process. As I indicated, we hope to move forward with that in the near future.
The member opposite started out, in his initial comments, talking about this as Crown land privatization. It's important for me to say into the record, and I want to make clear on the record, that area-based management is not Crown land privatization.
The discussion process we're going out to do is to talk about area-based management in reference to the recommendations of the committee. That's the process we'll be doing. That'll be the basis of the discussion paper, and that paper will be part of the consultation materials.
N. Macdonald: The minister does know that this is an expansion of property rights. While the term "privatization" may be a broad term, there's no question that TFL rollovers are an expansion of property rights for the companies. That's why they want it. It's why First Nations are worried about it, why communities are worried about it. That's the reality here.
Now, the minister talked about openness. The minister controls all that goes on in the ministry. You have a strategy paper. There is concern — and rightly so, because all we've seen, really, in this discussion is propaganda — that if you enter into a community discussion on a topic that's complex, all that we're going to see, with all the resources of government, is something that's essentially propaganda. A vast majority of the population will have a difficult time discerning what the truth is.
We want, and I think the public interest is served by, an honest discussion.
In looking for an honest discussion, the minister has agreed that the ministry has a draft paper for industry associations, and that's been shared. The first step has to be sharing that with the opposition so that we are able to provide feedback into what the minister intends to put in front of communities in what could or could not be a legitimate public consultation process.
I wouldn't have to look too far to see examples of public consultation processes that have been anything but legitimate. Maybe that's true of every government, but in the time I've been here, I can point to any number of them, so it's a legitimate question. If we're going to go forward and have the general public confident that this is genuine consultation, the first thing that should happen is we should be seeing the documents that have been put forward already to select groups in behind-closed-door meetings. Share them with us.
Again, I would ask for the minister to reconsider and table the strategy paper and other documents that have been put together and are already shared with select, favoured groups on something that is of importance to everyone, not simply industry or handpicked First Nations groups or other people. It's public land. Would you table the strategy paper and other documents that have been put together and have already been shared behind closed doors?
Hon. S. Thomson: To reiterate or reaffirm, this is a discussion paper being drafted by staff. It's not a strategy paper. It's a paper that is intended to ensure that it provides enough technical information — all of the aspects of area-based management — for an informed discussion on area-based management as part of the public consultation process.
I recognize the importance of the public consultation process on this. This discussion paper will help form the basis of that discussion. As I said earlier, we will be releasing and initiating the consultation process in the near future.
I think this paper will help provide the opportunity for a fully informed consultation process with the public and all the groups that I mentioned before. We will be posting it. It is not complete yet, but as soon as we're ready to launch the public consultation process, we will be doing that. The discussion paper will be posted and made available.
N. Macdonald: With all respect, I think that's a huge mistake. What you are essentially saying, and what you're doing, is you have a paper that you trust and, basically, a group to look at it in secret, a very privileged group who has an interest in the outcome. They get to see it. They get to have input into the paper. But the broader public, the critic and the legislative MLAs don't get to see it.
Somehow, that's the basis that you're starting with, going forward to the public, and you expect trust to be built with that. Have you talked to environmental groups? Have you talked to a broad spectrum of First Nations? No.
What you're doing is you're going to a group that has a huge interest in it, and you're consulting them. Like I say, it is a huge misstep, in my view.
I'll repeat a question similar to one posed in July 2013. Does the minister intend to table TFL-enabling legislation in the House during future sessions of the Legislature before the next election? If so, when? What's the timeline on that? Also, has the minister drafted enabling legislation? And has the minister or his staff shared draft legislation with industry executives, association heads and select First Nation leaders?
Hon. S. Thomson: Very quickly, first of all, to confirm. No, legislation has not been drafted. No, legislation has not been shared. Timing of potential legislation — to be determined. That's the purpose of the public consultation process — to inform that process.
I do need to go back again just to reaffirm that the discussion paper working group…. When we talk about the working group that has drafted the discussion paper, that is staff, an internal staff working group. The discussion paper has not been drafted by the impression that you're creating in terms of an outside working group or a secret group that's drafted the discussion paper or anything. This is an internal ministry working group that is drafting the discussion paper for purposes of public consultation to ensure that it has the technical information, the issues identified in it.
I think we know the issues that have been raised that need to be part of that public consultation process. That's what we intend to do. This will be an open process. I understand the need to undertake that, the need to do that.
As I said, we're going to be moving forward with that consultation process as soon as possible. Once we do that, the discussion paper will be fully shared, along with the plan around how the consultation process would be undertaken.
N. Macdonald: Does this mean that the relevant sections from Bill 8 that were removed are essentially off the table? Or are they still in play as the focus for where the minister sees this going forward?
Hon. S. Thomson: As I said, the legislation has not been drafted, not been shared. This is a process to move forward with a consultation process around area-based management. That is the undertaking, and we're going to let that process determine what may or may not come forward with the legislation.
N. Macdonald: Just to come back to the legislation piece, on page 13 of the ministry's 2014-15 to 2016-17 service plan, we find that the minister's top specific priority for the ministry is to "begin public discussion on legislation that would allow the conversion of volume-based licences to area-based licences." This priority is talking about public consultation on legislation, which is quite different than what the minister said in the House last summer.
The minister unequivocally said that there would be a public engagement process that "would inform policy direction," which is quite different than a public discussion about legislation already scoped out and written.
I know the minister has said that that's not in place now, but as we go forward to the public discussions, the difference, I think, is important.
I'll quote from the minister, from Hansard. This is from the summer, I believe.
"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. The results of that public engagement will inform the future policy direction."
Would the minister please reassure the House, then, that he will honour his original commitment, which was to engage and consult widely with the public with respect to this issue so as to have the public inform policy direction for input to any legislation that might follow — rather than having the legislation in front of them or already completed? I would look for a commitment from the minister to have the public consultation process drive what any changes would look like rather than a fait accompli surrounded with rationales why it should go ahead.
Hon. S. Thomson: First of all, yes. And I stand by my commitment, as the member indicated. That will be the basis of the public consultation. I think, as that consultation proceeds, by necessity it will result in discussions around tenure options and things as part of that, but it is not consultation around a specific piece of legislation. We will let the consultation process inform legislative initiative.
B. Routley: In order for stumpage revenues to increase, one of three things has to happen. Either markets have to improve and, therefore, stumpage rates increase, or logging rates must increase, or the overall quality of the trees selected for logging must go up.
Last July during estimates debate the minister told the House that projected Interior stumpage revenues for fiscal years 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 were $385 million, $404 million and $424 million respectively. For the projected coastal stumpage revenues for the same fiscal years, the minister provided these respective estimates: $72.1 million, $79 million and $89 million.
If those coastal and Interior estimates for the three fiscal years have changed, would the minister kindly provide updated stumpage revenue estimates?
Hon. S. Thomson: For the estimates for total stumpage revenue for the coast: '13-14, $82 million; '14-15, $107 million; for '15-16, $118 million; and for '16-17, $126 million. For the Interior, total stumpage: '13-14, $492 million. I'm just giving you the round figures. Did you want exact figures?
[J. Thornthwaite in the chair.]
For '14-15, $593.4 million; for '15-16 in the Interior, $622.108 million; for '16-17, $645.254. Totals for the province: $574 million for '13-14; $700.6 million for '14-15; $740.3 million for '15-16 and $772 million for '16-17.
B. Routley: Last July during the estimates debate the minister told us that a whopping 70 percent of the coastal stumpage volume and 34.4 percent of the Interior stumpage volume in fiscal year 2012-13 were collected at a minimum stumpage rate, at just 25 cents a cubic metre. The minister also told this House that the minimum stumpage rate of 25 cents a cubic metre has been in place since 1987 — a fact that, in light of the increases to B.C. Hydro rates, must irk most residents in the province of British Columbia.
Would the minister please provide comparable volume percents reported in forecasts for the coast and Interior billed at the minimum stumpage rate for fiscal years 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16?
Hon. S. Thomson: Just to confirm, for the coast for '13-14 it's 57.9 percent, and for the Interior, 18.8 percent. Provincial total, '12-13, was 41.7 percent when weight by volume, and for '13-14, 29.5 percent.
For '14-15 and '15-16 we'll have to undertake to provide those numbers for you. I don't have those directly handy, but the staff, in developing the estimated stumpage revenue for those out-years, would have factored that in, so we will be able to provide it. I just don't have it directly. We do have the '13-14 numbers, as I just provided.
As you know, as markets improve, less timber will be billed at the minimum rates. Many stands are appraised lower than the minimum, based on their value, but the stumpage is increased to the minimum.
B. Routley: Okay, thank you, Minister.
I just would like to start by commenting that when I first looked at a tree farm licence, I remember it was a rotation age of some 84 years. Since that time, I've witnessed the downgrading of the rotation age from 84 years down to 40, 45 years. I think they're even experimenting with 35 years — that kind of thing. Maybe that's more so on private land. My question is…. One of the aspects of silviculture that affects revenue is the rotation length.
Overcutting in B.C.'s forests — and the current trend of cutting the second-best-growth trees before they are fully mature — dangerously undermines the future forest economy by incremental degradation of both quality and quantity of the timber while also diminishing biodiversity, habitat and other important sectors of the B.C. economy.
The maximum capture of carbon from the atmosphere and the storage in big trees with large green crowns requires longer rotations beyond 100 years. Climate scientists and mathematics clearly support longer rotations. Many domestically value-added enterprises need higher-quality, mature heartwood — window and door manufacturing as one example. Longer rotations would also increase downstream revenue to the Crown.
Would the minister kindly inform the House as to why his ministry persists with short-term silviculture as a primary model for forest management when the reduction of atmospheric carbon is a government priority?
Hon. S. Thomson: Sorry, Chair. I'm just wondering if I could ask for a two-minute recess. I'm not taking the question on notice, but if I could have a quick recess, that would be appreciated.
The Chair: Sure. We'll take a two-minute recess.
The committee recessed from 4:41 p.m. to 4:44 p.m.
[J. Thornthwaite in the chair.]
Hon. S. Thomson: Rather than using rotation age, the general approach is to use minimum volume per hectare. This isn't a target but the approach that is taken to try to balance economics with carbon sequestration. In the Interior, as you know, we may need to harvest stands sooner to provide volume in the mid-term in order to keep fibre flow. So the general approach is to take it from an approach around minimum volume per hectare, ensuring that we try to balance off economics with carbon sequestration.
N. Macdonald: The next set of questions is a set of questions that are complex. I think at some point it may be that the minister will have to pull in the assistant deputy minister of stewardship, the chief forester and maybe even the director of forest analysis and inventory branch, but it doesn't have to be done right now. What I will do, with the minister's indulgence, is try to put forward in as clear a way as possible the focus of the questions.
It is, of course, very technical. We worked for a long time on these questions to try to get them so that the technical aspects were clear and understandable and the questions were in plain enough English that they would be clear. But the minister is going to, again, have to be patient as I lay this out as clearly as possible.
I guess the connection….
Hon. S. Thomson: Patience is a virtue.
N. Macdonald: It's always a virtue. Of course, yes. And we're here to test it, Minister.
The connection is that stumpage revenue is of course related to timber volume, which the ministry estimates using forest growth models — TASS, TIPSY and VDYP 7.
The ministry, in its response to recommendation No. 4 in the Auditor General's 2012 audit of the ministry's management of timber, stressed the "importance of accurate yield projections" as far as B.C.'s timber base is concerned, which is essentially an acknowledgment of the central importance of knowing what our growth depletion rates are.
Site index, which, as the minister will know, is defined as the height of the largest diameter tree on a 0.01 hectare plot at breast height, age 50, providing that it meets the suitability criteria defined on the FLNRO SIBEC website.
The site index, then, is used as a measure of productivity for forest stands and is the main driver for the ministry's forest growth models used in the determination of the annual allowable cut, the AAC.
You'll appreciate that the accuracy in the way in which the ministry estimates site index will determine whether AACs are over- or underestimated. Here overestimation, of course, would be the concern because of its far-reaching implications for the forest sector, for the provincial economy, for forest-dependent communities and for the environment.
The questions, as I say, that I will put to the minister will be in plain, simple English, but in order to provide context and background, the preamble will necessarily be somewhat technical. I'll try to be as close as possible.
We have, of course, had assistance, and we want to be as clear and as correct in describing the technical nature of the questions that follow as possible. And of course, I've done my utmost to make sure that this preamble is as understandable and as simple as possible.
In British Columbia height growth equations, sometimes incorrectly referred to as site index equations, are used to estimate site index for forest stands that are not 50 years old. Since small measurement errors can significantly affect the accuracy of these equations when applied to young trees, the growth intercept method is used to estimate site index for trees 50 years old and younger.
Height growth equations are known to underestimate site index in over-mature stands. As such, a site index adjustment is required for use in growth modelling of the managed stands that replace harvested over-mature stands.
In 1998 the ministry developed the old growth site index, OGSI, adjustment equations based on the comparison of site indices obtained from height growth equations for over-mature stands with site indices obtained using the growth intercept method from neighbouring stands having the same biogeoclimatic ecological classification, or BEC.
In 2011 the ministry initiated the development of the provincial site productivity layer, a GIS-based system to assign site index to the land base. This system is now operational, and according to the ministry's 2013 site index standard operating procedures, it will be used to replace site indices for all future harvested stands.
The GIS system used for the assignment of site index, known as the provincial site productivity layer, has two modes of operation. The first, the primary mode, uses site index values from the SIBEC database. The SIBEC database contains average site indices by species and BEC down to the site series level. The appropriate site index value is linked to the land base, the harvested area, by either terrestrial or predictive ecosystem mapping — TEM or PEM.
The second. For the secondary mode, if the lam base does not have terrestrial or predictive ecosystem mapping, the process defaults to a biophysical model that predicts a five-site index from the map-based biogeoclimatic ecological classification zone, climatic variables, slope, elevation and aspect. Site index data used to derive this model are from the SIBEC database, augmented by site index data collected from previous site index adjustment studies.
The growth intercept method was used to estimate site index for the majority of sample trees used for site index adjustment studies. Four major problems associated with the system of assigning site indices known as the provincial site productivity layer include: (1) many of the sample trees used to derive the SIBEC values are from stands less than 50 years old, with site index estimated using the growth intercept method.
A study conducted for the ministry demonstrated that for a given BEC species cell in the SIBEC database, site index estimates using the growth intercept method were consistently higher than site indices estimated with the height-growth equations. Given that the growth intercept method has never been properly validated, these higher site indices are therefore suspect and of significant concern.
Second, when the SIBEC database was initially conceived, it was envisioned that each BEC species cell would have a narrow range of site indices, thereby allowing BEC to be used to estimate site index. In practice, the ranges are much larger than expected. The inclusion of growth intercept estimates is a major factor in expanding the ranges.
Third, the average site index for a BEC species cell in the SIBEC database can be based on as few as seven trees, which is a very small sample, as I'm sure the minister would realize, on which to be basing large changes in the productivity of the land base.
Four, the majority of B.C.'s land base which has ecosystem mapping was done with predictive ecosystem mapping. The minimum accuracy that must be obtained for approval is only 65 percent, leaving this method prone to misclassification.
I would stress that the comparisons of site index estimated with the provincial site productivity layer to site index estimated using ground plot measurements show that the provincial site productivity layer consistently estimates a higher site index. Increasing the site index of managed stands will lead to an increase in the long-term AAC and possibly to the mid-term AAC.
Now, the latest timber supply review — the minister knows the term TSR — for timber supply area 41, which is Dawson Creek, can be used to illustrate this. Since the TSR was conducted prior to the new 2013 site index standard operating procedures, the application of the provincial site productivity layer was only applied as a sensitivity test. The ministry's sensitivity analysis indicates that replacing inventory site indices with site indices estimated with the provincial site productivity layer increases the long-term AAC by a staggering 35 percent.
TSA 41 does not have terrestrial or predictive ecosystem mapping, so the provincial site productivity layer defaults to the second mode, the biophysical mode. A comparison of the site indices estimated with the provincial site productivity layer to site index, estimated with measured data from vegetation resource inventory plots in the age ranges of 51 to 120 years, indicates that the provincial site productivity layer estimates increase the site indices.
So for lodgepole pine, from 12.68 to 17.62 metres, which is a difference of 4.9 metres, or 39 percent; for interior spruce, from 9.61 to 18.79 metres, a difference of 9.18 metres, or 96 percent; for aspen, from 17.4 to 18.12 metres, a difference of 0.98 metres, or 6 percent; and for subalpine fir, from 7.66 to 15.92 metres, a difference of 8.26 metres, or 108 percent.
The same comparison for TFL 48, which is within TSA 41 but has the PEM or TEM mapping, indicates that the provincial site productivity layer estimates increase the site indices like this. For lodgepole pine, it increases it from 14.04 to 17.65 metres, a difference of 3.61 metres, or 26 percent; for interior spruce, from 13.67 to 18.76 metres, a difference of 5.09 metres, or 37 percent; for aspen, from 18.28 to 18.8 metres, a difference of 0.52 metres, or 3 percent; and for subalpine fir, from 10.2 to 14.71 metres, a difference of 4.51 metres, or 44 percent.
These differences indicate, first, application of the provincial side productivity layer may be overestimating site productivity and, hence, AAC determinations. Second, the inclusion of growth intercept estimates in the SIBEC database seems to be driving the site index increases as indicated by the larger increases from the biophysical model that include additional growth intercept data.
It's important to note that while the TSR process conducts sensitivity analysis around input values, these analyses usually do not even cover the uncertainty associated with the input value itself. Proper risk assessments are not part of the AAC calculation for the provincial site productivity layer. A proper risk assessment would determine the AAC using the site index estimates from the provincial site productivity layer and then rerun the analysis with the same AAC, but no adjustment of site indexes to see the effects on the land base if the assumptions behind the provincial site productivity layer are wrong.
I'm sure the minister would agree that the very last thing this ministry needs to do is to be raising false hopes with inflated AACs for forest companies, for forest-dependent communities already battered by the mountain pine beetle epidemic and mill closures as a result of unsustainable AACs.
Therefore, with the apparent likelihood that the ministry might be overestimating mid- and long-term harvest levels, would the minister kindly inform the House if his ministry has conducted a proper provincial risk analysis that fully outlines the economic, social and environmental implications and consequences of overinflated AACs.
Hon. S. Thomson: First of all, thanks for the very detailed and technical question that the member has outlined. I think, quite clearly, several challenges with estimating tree growth in inventory in AAC determination when we're doing that work. I'm advised that the intercept method does estimate higher volumes, but I'm also advised that the staff feel that it's accurate. We use information from our young stand monitoring program to assess that. The chief forester considers many technical elements when determining AACs.
I agree, as the member opposite has pointed out, that we don't want to be raising false hopes, but also we don't want to underestimate timber supplies, so we assess and validate with field samples in a rigorous process. For any area, we pick the best source of information — risk analysis, as the member stated. We do sensitivity analysis to assist in making the growth estimates and the AAC determinations — very, very technical process.
I think what would be best here, if I can offer, is a technical briefing to go through all the elements that the member opposite raised, or we can undertake and will commit to provide a detailed written technical response to the questions and the points raised, with my overview comments — whatever way would be most efficient in terms of addressing many of the specific points that were raised, either a briefing or a technical written response which we can undertake to provide.
N. Macdonald: I think there's no question that the way to proceed with something like this would be to get a written response. I think the minister would be under no illusions that a briefing to me is something that wouldn't quickly lose me in any of the jargon. We had to work a long time. This is obviously the work of people who know and are experts, as the people that surround you. A written response would be the best.
In terms of the other issue, which is easy to understand: the impact, if it is the case that we are overestimating AAC. Some of the implications for an overestimation of site index and resulting timber volumes would be — and I'm sure the minister is aware of this — for example, holders of tree farm licences. They can monetize the right to harvest public lands on their books as if the timber were privately owned. They can trade and sell TFLs.
The ministry recently assumed responsibility for inventories on TFLs. Therefore, if the ministry overestimates site indices in a TFL, then standing timber volumes and harvest levels might be overstated on a company's books, thereby misleading investors. The same would apply to companies wishing to roll over replaceable forest licences into TFLs, because the government would shortchange the area traded for replaceable forest licences — which is, of course, not going to be a pretty outcome for the companies.
Second, the overestimation of site index would likely increase the potential amount of NSR, not satisfactorily restocked, forest land that the ministry determines to be feasible and economic to replant.
Third, overestimation of site index for managed stands could increase the amount of stemwood biomass in forest carbon offsets purchased by the B.C. provincial government with taxpayers' money to achieve carbon neutrality. This would mean that taxpayers' money really is buying hot air in addition to the carbon. Probably that's something we could look at more later on.
Fourth and perhaps most important, overestimation of site index for managed stands would increase harvest levels in the long and possible mid-terms and ratchet upward the rate of cut. AACs, annual allowable cuts, would be inflated and potentially fictional.
My questions for the minister are threefold. I'll just do them one at a time, and thank the minister first for undertaking a written response to what he so patiently listened to. I appreciate that.
The first of the three questions is this. It relates to Forests for Tomorrow. Does the Forests for Tomorrow program use old inventory site indices when it selects sites that have been disturbed by wildfire or mountain pine beetle or tree planting? Or does it use SIBEC site indices? If the Forests for Tomorrow program uses the inventory site index, then would the minister agree that on grounds of consistency, the Forests for Tomorrow program is underestimating the area that it is feasible and economic to plant?
Hon. S. Thomson: Going back to the previous question, we will certainly provide the written response to the technical questions. We don't fully agree with the assertion that the AACs are overinflated. That's the reason we do the TSRs every five to ten years — so that we can continually monitor the AAC levels and reset with new information.
We'll provide that full written technical response to that, as opposed to a briefing. That was the member opposite's request, and we'll undertake to do that.
In terms of the Forests for Tomorrow, we use the SIBEC information or height intercept or the best available information. We're constantly improving the coverage. What's most important here is that we ensure that we invest in the resources in the highest-productivity sites. That's because we want to create the fastest-growing areas and ensure that we get the greatest volume from the program. But the program does use SIBEC or height intercept or the best available information.
N. Macdonald: In its special report on the extent of the area of NSR within the timber-harvesting land base that is feasible and economic to plant, did the Forest Practices Board use old inventory site indices for areas disturbed by wildfire and mountain pine beetle, or did it use SIBEC site indices in its assessment?
If the board used the old inventory site indices, then would the minister, on grounds of consistency, agree that the board's estimated area of NSR might be greater than the two million hectares, had it replaced the old inventory site indices?
Hon. S. Thomson: I'm advised that the Forest Practices Board would have used the same information that we use for site indexes. The estimates of the NSR are not overstated or understated. They would be consistent with our estimates because they've used the same information that we have utilized.
N. Macdonald: On the next question, it's possible that this is information the minister will just have to provide later. But as always, it would be useful if the minister is very specific in terms of having the staff answer the question.
As a result of replacing inventory site indices with SIBEC site indices for all future harvested stands, would the minister kindly tell us: what are his ministry estimates of the percent increase in long- and mid-term harvest levels for, first, the coast and, secondly, for the Interior and then for the province as a whole? If that's something that will take a while, that's what I would expect. So simply a commitment to provide that information when the minister has it available to him.
Hon. S. Thomson: We're having just a little bit of a discussion here, but I think, as the member opposite requested, we'll provide this in terms of a technical response along with the additional technical information that we've already committed to provide in answers to previous questions.
[M. Bernier in the chair.]
N. Macdonald: Thank you very much to the minister and staff. We'll just go to growth models. It's a world, of course, as of the many items that we've talked about here…. When you're talking about models and equations, it's formidable, and it's intimidating territory to the layperson.
Again, I need to thank those that have taken the time to test these questions and to put them together in a way that gets to some of the issues we want to address. Yet AAC determinations and how well the provincial growth and yield model reflects reality directly affects the fortunes, of course, of all British Columbians — companies, investors and communities — that depend upon forestry for their livelihood.
Even within the ministry, the forest analysis section in Victoria that works with regional support on timber supply reviews and AACs is almost distinct from others. It's almost like a priesthood. The high priest, of course, is the chief forester, and the holy grail, I'm led to understand, is the provincial growth and yield model known as TASS.
The process by which the chief forester determines annual allowable cuts is rarely challenged within the ministry or from outside, as far as I know. MacMillan Bloedel was the last successful litigant to win a judicial review of a process by which the ministry arrived at an AAC determination, but, to my knowledge, no one has challenged the TASS, the provincial growth and yield model.
Before the mountain pine beetle epidemic, how well managed plantations were performing was not an issue for forest companies and the ministry because the forest sector was still living off the old-growth timber in the Interior. That, of course, has changed radically since the beetle epidemic.
Now mid- and long-term harvest levels and AACs are wholly dependent upon how well the managed stands are actually performing and on the assumptions about how they are performing, on which the TASS model is premised. The operational adjustment factors that the ministry does employ to adjust model predictions of stand growth for biotic mortality, it's been asserted, are wholly inadequate and based on guessing more than facts.
The ministry has been grossly delinquent in its oversight and monitoring of managed stands after they've been declared free-growing. Therefore, our knowledge of what is happening to these stands under conditions of rapid climate change is more wishful thinking than empirical fact. Nevertheless, in recent years, to its credit, the ministry has developed a stand development monitoring protocol and has undertaken some stand development monitoring of post-free-growing managed stands and a few TSAs.
The ministry is finding that tree mortality is confounding its expectations, assumptions and predictions about how well these post-free-growing stands are doing. Nothing challenges or upsets growth model predictions of the growth and timber yield of managed stands more than does unexpected mortality of crop trees. This is precisely what the ministry is facing as a potential challenge to the reliability of its timber supply reviews and AAC determinations.
The challenge to how well the provincial growth and yield model is performing comes not from litigants in the court but from the ministry's own scientists in peer-reviewed articles entitled "Are Biotic Disturbance Agents Challenging Basic Tenets of Growth and Yield and Sustainable Forest Management?" That was published in February 2013 in the Journal of Forestry, which is, of course, as the minister knows, an international journal of forest research.
The last two sentences of the abstract to this scientific paper read:
"The assumptions driving the traditional forest growth models were developed largely in the absence of biotic" — which means insects and disease — "and abiotic" — which means drought, wind and flooding, etc. — "damage agents and certainly prior to the knowledge of climate change. The combined influence of these two drivers must be better accounted for in growth models through more intensive stand and forest level monitoring."
My questions for the minister are: first, what steps is the minister taking to heed the conclusion of the ministry's own scientists and to improve and increase funding of pest management monitoring and stand development monitoring of managed stands? Or is this going to be another case of the ministry ignoring best science that doesn't accord with the government agenda for ministry downsizing and privatization?
Hon. S. Thomson: Just to advise the member opposite, the forest analysis and inventory branch has implemented a young stand monitoring program to check the accuracy of growth and yield projections. To date 400 plots have been established. The status is very valuable in terms of the development and the review of stocking standards.
Our FREP program has been monitoring the performance of young stands, using the stand development monitoring protocol. We've established 718 plots. This information is being used to assess the appropriateness of the existing stocking standards at the time of plan submission.
We've recently posted 32 reports. We will be following that up with a provincial report, summarizing for each area — for the north, the south and the coast. The FREP program now looks at multiple values in that process. This has been a very successful program. We will be carrying on with it. We have every intention of continuing this successful program.
N. Macdonald: The assertion that's often made is that the minister is ignoring repeated recommendations from entomologists, forest pathologists and scientists. They're calling on government, of course, to increase expenditures on forest health monitoring under the resource stewardship model so that the ministry's growth models and AAC processes can rely upon fact, rather than what they often characterize as a professional guess.
What do you say to those sorts of assertions — that the years of cutbacks have put us in a place where increased expenditures in these areas are absolutely needed?
Hon. S. Thomson: Just to confirm, we are supporting and funding the young stand monitoring program through the inventory program. That's the program where we've committed a ten-year inventory program — $8 million per year. Also, in 2014-15 the province is spending $6 million on priority forest health activities, an aerial overview survey and bark, beetle and budworm management. This is $2.5 million more than in '13-14. We spend about $1 million in provincial surveys to monitor forest health issues to identify current areas that may be of concern.
This past summer we surveyed 90 percent of the province's forests, which is a new record. This year we're planning to spend almost $5 million to treat the highest priority areas for pests. I think another key point is that while we can never rest on our heels in this area, all major damaging insect populations are currently in decline, partly due to effective treatments.
N. Macdonald: In early January 2008 the chief forester signed a terms of reference for entomologists and forest pathologists to investigate and report on the implications of climate change to forest health, with recommendations for forest management policy. The final policy report entitled The Implications of Climate Change to Forest Health in British Columbia came out in March 2009. It was not widely circulated and appears to have remained internal to the ministry. The report was, however, morphed into a scientific paper entitled Forest Health and Climate Change: A British Columbia Perspective. It was published in the Forestry Chronicle in 2010.
The ministry has initiated and supported some good science related to climate change, but when it comes to transforming the science into policy legislation and action, many would characterize the ministry's record as abysmal. Nothing illustrates this point better than the sanitizing of the policy report, The Implications of Climate Change to Forest Health British Columbia from, as I referenced earlier, March of 2009, and any associated implementation plan and the subsequent morphing of both into a science publication devoid of policy recommendations and a plan for implementation.
I've got a couple of questions for the minister related to that. First, why wasn't the report shared widely within the forest sector, especially with industry? Secondly, why did the ministry apparently choose to ignore the report's findings and recommendations as exampled by repeated budget cuts to pest management monitoring?
Third and finally, would the minister agree that, if he had relied upon the advice of forest professionals on the need for additional funding for inventory and forest health monitoring of managed stands, the reliability of the ministry's provincial growth model, site index assignment to harvested areas and of the AAC process, the AAC process might not now be in question?
Just on top of that, would the minister please provide me with a copy of the internal policy report and any associated implementation or action plans?
Hon. S. Thomson: First of all, the member opposite made some assertions again around the validity of our AAC determinations. Certainly, as I've stated earlier, I don't agree that they are, as I think he asserted, way out of whack or whatever approach he wanted to assert there.
Just to point out a few things, first of all, climate change is integrated into all our forest policy decisions. That's why we have work underway with type 4 silviculture strategies, with species monitoring reports, with climate-based seed transfer, with tree species selection tool, new stocking standard guidelines, climate change adaptation training. It is an integral part of all of the policy work.
In terms of the forest health risk, as I pointed out earlier, all of the major trends or all of the forest health agents are declining. Douglas fir beetle, spruce beetle, western spruce budworm, Douglas fir tussock moth — all declining significantly. The Douglas fir tussock moth population has collapsed.
We continue to work with all of these — the forest health program and the investments we've made in that area. Also, in terms of the silviculture strategies, they all take into account the climate change information in all of those initiatives.
In terms of the report that the member opposite referenced, we'd be pleased to and will undertake to provide the member with a copy of that report.
B. Routley: I'm going to turn now to concerns of overcutting of the annual allowable cuts. Overestimation of harvest levels and inflated AACs are one thing, but persistent overcutting of the AAC is quite another. The whole point of the chief forester setting an AAC for a management unit is to ensure that the rate of cut is regulated, that partitions are not overcut and licensees do not exceed their apportionment of the cut.
Would the minister please tell the House who in his ministry is responsible for monitoring and ensuring that the cut in partitions is not exceeded and that total harvest in each of the province's timber supply areas, or TSAs, does not exceed the AAC?
Hon. S. Thomson: The responsibility for monitoring the harvest is the district manager's, and the district manager would report up through the regional executive director and, ultimately, from there to the deputy minister and then through to the minister.
B. Routley: In February of 2008 the chief forester wrote: "The most significant forest management objective in the beetle-impacted TSAs is to manage both pine and non-pine stands in such a way as to protect the mid-term timber supply. If there is no stand, type or species partition that restricts the amount of non-pine harvest in the short term, mid-term harvest levels can be impacted if the licensees choose to harvest significant non-pine volumes."
On page 39 of that 2008 rationale for the AAC determination in the Morice TSA, the chief forester indicates that only 25 percent of the volume can come from non-pine species in order to protect both the mid-term timber supply and non-pine timber profile of the TSA. The ministry estimates that this percentage volume equates to 550,000 cubic metres a year.
Again, would the minister confirm that since February 2008, the AAC for the non-pine partition in the Morice TSA has been overcut for five years in succession by an outrageous amount that his ministry estimates to be at least 928,000 cubic metres? Would the minister also confirm that the total harvest for the TSA was above the AAC for the years 2010, 2011 and 2012? And would the minister also please tell the House by what percent the AAC for the Morice TSA is overcut since 2008?
Hon. S. Thomson: The ministry is monitoring licensee harvests very, very closely in this area to ensure that licensees continue to focus their harvest on pine to help preserve the mid-term supply. We did identify an increased harvest of non-pine around 2011. The ministry took a series of steps to ensure the licensees focused their harvest on pine.
This included directing the licensees to produce a harvest plan that demonstrated that they're working to preserve as much non-pine as possible. That plan has been in place for six months. As a result of the plan, licensee performance is being monitored closely.
If there's a deviation from the plan, the minister may consider an order that would implement substantial fines for non-compliance. I'm advised that the licensees are compliant with the plan at this time.
A new timber supply review for the Morice is currently in process. In terms of the specific numbers requested, we can undertake to provide that response. But just to be clear, the licensees in the Morice are being very, very closely monitored based on harvest plans, and those harvest plans have to demonstrate that they're working to preserve as much non-pine as possible.
B. Routley: The two major forest tenure holders in the Morice TSA are West Fraser Mills and Canfor. About 27 percent of the AAC is currently apportioned to West Fraser Mills and about 43 percent to Canfor. Since 2008 some 28 percent of the total non-pine harvest is attributed to West Fraser Mills, and 57 percent went to Canfor.
The ministry considered the overharvesting of the AAC non-pine partition to be so flagrant, as I think you've just said, that on March 4, 2013, it issued a ministerial order under section 75.02 of the Forest Act. The order carries a monetary penalty of triple stumpage for volume harvested in excess of the volume limit for the non-pine partition.
My question to the minister is: would the minister confirm that the penalty of triple stumpage levied against West Fraser Mills and Canfor applies to the overcut of the non-pine partition since February 2008?
Hon. S. Thomson: With respect to this particular situation, the company's…. We considered the order. The order was not implemented. The company came back with a harvest plan to ensure that they were compliant with the non-pine apportionment and harvesting.
It's monitored strictly and regularly. On ensuring compliance, as I said earlier, they are in compliance. In our view, this was the most appropriate way to ensure that we had the overall compliance. As I indicated also, we're moving ahead with the timing of a timber supply review, a TSR for the Morice. That'll be in place before the end of the year.
B. Routley: I have to compose myself, Mr. Chair. One might want to burst out laughing. Anyway, sorry. Just give me a moment.
Would the minister please tell the House how he justifies to the public and the local community, already concerned about mid-term timber supply from the Morice, his letter of April 8, 2013, one month before the May election, to the tenure holders, in which he indicated his willingness to consider relief from the partition order?
Why should those companies that blatantly abuse their social licence to harvest Crown timber be extended any relief whatsoever? How is the minister's letter in the public interest?
Hon. S. Thomson: As I indicated, relief from the order was provided on the basis of submission of a harvest plan that brought them fully into compliance. That plan is being monitored strictly and regularly to ensure the focus on the non-pine harvest, and they are currently in compliance. If they don't maintain compliance with the harvest plan, then they are aware that — and I've made it clear to them — an order is a step that would be taken.
Mr. Chair, noting the hour, I move that the committee rise and report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:18 p.m.
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