The Referral Group

The Upper Clearwater Referral Group is a citizen committee established by the B.C. Ministry of Forests (MoF) 17 years ago. Its mandate is to act as liaison between industry, government and local residents with regard to upcoming forestry initiatives in the Upper Clearwater Valley, two hours north of Kamloops and six hours northeast of Vancouver.

At present the Referral Group has five members, three of whom have served since its inception, and all of whom were closely involved in the creation of the Guiding Principles for the Management of Land and Resources in the Upper Clearwater Valley (Guiding Principles) – a formal land-use agreement signed into effect by MoF in 1999, and now seen as many as this valley’s “Magna Carta” for forestry practice.

At present the spokesperson for the Referral Group is Trevor Goward.

HISTORY – BEING A TALE OF MUCH DUPLICITY AND SOME BETRAYAL

Having signed the Guiding Principles document into effect on 19 May 1999, MoF called for the establishment of a citizen committee to ensure that the terms set out within it would be adhered to by all parties, i.e., local citizens, industry, and the B.C. government.

The Upper Clearwater Referral Group received its mandate from MoF on 22 November 2000, when it was tasked by the MoF District Manager with gathering and dispersing information pertinent to future applications for logging permits in Upper Clearwater.

From that day until this, the Referral Group has faithfully discharged its duty to the Guiding Principles, ever-cognizant of its responsibility to a hard-won Local Use agreement intended to establish a lasting balance of community, industry and government interests.

Unfortunately, MoF’s observance of the Guiding Principles has been considerably less rigorous. Since about 2002, the terms of this formal land use agreement have been violated on seven separate occasions by MoF District Managers who neglected to notify the Referral Group of pending forestry activity in Upper Clearwater, as documented here.

Of these, by far the most egregious violation – perhaps more a betrayal than a violation – occurred during the period 2002 to 2004 when the B.C. government was transitioning from the Forest Practices Code (FPC) to the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA)[1]. During this process, government was obliged to specially accommodate certain existing government agreements within FRPA. Among these was the Kamloops Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP), i.e., the umbrella agreement under which the Guiding Principles constituted a Local Use Plan.

It seems clear that the Guiding Principles document should have been accommodated during the transition within FRPA – a responsibility that fell to the MoF District Manager. Unfortunately this did not happen. Instead the Guiding Principles document at some point became decoupled from the Kamloops LRMP, with the result that, while the latter now has legal standing under FRPA, the Guiding Principles document does not. Unfortunately this situation remains in place to the present time – a persistent source of ambiguity with regard to the implementation of the Guiding Principles.

Notwithstanding that the Guiding Principles document has lacked legal standing under FRPA for more than a decade, a succession of MoF District Managers and, more recently, Canadian Forest Products (CANFOR) foresters have professed respect for it and a willingness to abide by the terms sets out within it. Recent events, however, have shown these ‘commitments’ to be essentially empty, as the following two interactions clearly show.


1 Note: Under FPC the District Manager had final authority over cutting permits, whereas under FRPA this authority is now in effect transferred to the logging companies themselves under the cloak professional reliance. Accordingly the MoF District Manager now has limited ability to withhold permits based on input from third party groups like the Referral Group – a situation in effect fatal to the Guiding Principles agreement, which relied upon the discretion of the MoF District Manager for its implementation.

The Referral Group several times asked CANFOR why it needs to log in Upper Clearwater. The answer: “because we can, because those trees are ours, because we have the legal right.” Well maybe. But CANFOR also has the moral responsibility to abide by a land-use agreement in place long before CANFOR ever heard of the Upper Clearwater Valley, no?

(1) CANFOR’S COMMITMENT TO THE GUIDING PRINCIPLES

On 28 January 2012, CANFOR met with the Referral Group to announce its intention to conduct industrial-scale logging on the western slopes of the Trophy Mountains between Spahats Creek and Grouse Creek, that is, within the area designated as Plan Area G under the Guiding Principles. CANFOR provided the Referral Group with a map of its plans.

On 17 June 2012, the Referral Group held a public meeting with 40 Upper Clearwater residents to share CANFOR’s logging plans. Participants reaffirmed support for the Guiding Principles and unanimously concluded that CANFOR’s plans ran contrary to the intent of this agreement. Many letters were subsequently sent to CANFOR expressing concern over possible downstream impacts from the proposed cutblocks. So far as we know, these letters remain unanswered and unacknowledged.

On 26 March 2014, the Referral Group met with CANFOR and MoF to discuss CANFOR’s updated cutting plans. Again, CANFOR supplied a map for public viewing.

On 27 April 2014, the Referral Group held a meeting with 50 valley residents to unveil CANFOR’s updated logging plans. Once again participants overwhelmingly felt that CANFOR’s plans ran contrary to the intent of the Guiding Principles. The meeting resulted in a community letter to CANFOR calling for a moratorium on industrial-scale logging in Upper Clearwater “until such time as the effects on community values, wildlife and tourism have been fully addressed by a wide range of stakeholders.” A second meeting held on 16 May 2014 drew 30 valley residents and yielded the same result.

On 27 November 2015, the Referral Group entered into a formal Information Exchange Process with two CANFOR representatives as well as with a representative from MoF – all of whom professed respect for the Guiding Principles. The main purpose of this process was to review concerns of valley residents vis-à-vis CANFOR’s logging plans, in hope of finding resolution consistent with the terms of the Guiding Principles. Discussions ensued over four meetings. On 6 April 2016, CANFOR agreed to supply an updated map for public viewing.

On 27 May 2016, the Referral Group held a meeting with 35 valley residents to share CANFOR’s latest iteration of its logging plans. At the end of the meeting, valley residents voted by ballot on the following proposition: CANFOR’s logging plans respect the intent of the Upper Clearwater Guiding Principles. Fourteen additional votes were later received by e-mail from valley residents unable to attend the meeting. In total, 44 votes were received representing 29 households. The outcome was unanimous: all who voted felt that CANFOR’s latest logging plans did not respect the intent of the Upper Clearwater Guiding Principles.

On 16 June 2016, the Referral Group met with CANFOR and MoF to share the outcome of the May public meeting. Contrary to the perception of valley residents, CANFOR insisted that its logging plans were indeed consistent with the intent of the Guiding Principles, noting that CANFOR had:

  • 1. Considered the interests of valley residents.
  • 2. Deleted cutblocks that would have visual impacts.
  • 3. Reconfigured other blocks using a different harvesting system.
  • 4. Hired a biologist who recommended maintaining travel corridors.

At the end of this meeting, CANFOR gave notice of its intent to apply to MoF for cutting permits for an unspecified number of cutblocks in Plan Area G.

In response to the above assertions by CANFOR, the Referral Group noted thatof the fifteen points of concern raised during the Information Exchange Process, CANFOR had addressed only – i.e., items 3, 4 and 9 in the following list. It was also pointed out that CANFOR’s refusal to seriously address items 1, 8 and 11 places it in clear violation of the Guiding Principles, while its failure to address items 12 and 13 places it in direct contravention of its own much publicized commitment to its social license.

Hydrological Concerns

  • 1. The stipulation under the Guiding Principles that water quality, quantity and timing of flow of six streams that cross private property should be maintained “within their natural range of variability.”

Economic Concerns

  • 2. The importance of recognizing that Clearwater’s $20 million tourism industry is grounded in wilderness values, which place a premium on unaltered landscapes readily disrupted by industrial logging.
  • 3. The requirement under the Guiding Principles to avoid creating visually disruptive clearcuts in sensitive areas visible from Spahats Picnic Areas and the Green Mountain Lookout tower.
  • 4. The importance of placing logging activities out of sight of trail access to prominent existing and proposed tourist features.
  • 5. The importance of ensuring that logging does not detract from key features of government-supported initiatives, i.e., (1) the Buck Hill Regional Park Proposal (proposed by the Thompson-Nicola Regional District); (2) the UNESCO GeoPark (supported by BC government, now spearheaded by the TNRD); and (3) and World Heritage Proposals (now spearheaded by the Wells Gray Wilderness Society).

Environmental Concerns

  • 6. The importance of recognizing the negative impact that on-going industrial-scale logging near Wells Gray Park has had – and continues to have – on the park’s declining, formally endangered Mountain Caribou.
  • 7. The importance of maintaining forest structure conducive to heavy hair lichen production – again for Mountain Caribou.
  • 8. The requirement under the Guiding Principles to maintain wildlife travel corridors, including the creation of leave strips sufficiently broad to protect against windthrow clearcut margins.
  • 9. The importance of properly regenerating sites prone of Alder while at the same time avoiding herbicide use.
  • 10. The need to ensure stability of soil and, in the case of volcanic hyaloclastite deposits, to avoid creating conditions conducive to landslides.
  • 11. The requirement under the Guiding Principles to refrain from logging oldgrowth forests.

CANFOR’s Social License

  • 12. CANFOR’s obligation under its social license to “refrain from overturning landscape objectives set through public planning processes without full public consultation and support.”
  • 13. CANFOR’s obligation under its social license to refrain from impacting parks or other areas that provide critical habitat for species at risk.

Professional Reliance

  • 14. CANFOR’s questionable use of professional reliance, e.g., hiring an owl expert to advise on caribou management, engaging a hydrologist who refuses to acknowledge the implications of climate change on his prescriptions, and refusing to allow peer review of its terrain report by specialists in volcanic geomorphology.

Legal Redress

  • 15. Concerns over the feasibility of legal recourse in the event of downstream damage to private property traceable to logging by CANFOR.

(2) GOVERNMENT COMMITMENT TO THE GUIDING PRINCIPLES

From the perspective of the Upper Clearwater Referral Group, the situation came to a head on 12 December 2016, when MoF District Manager Rachael Pollard announced that she had recently: (1) awarded CANFOR a permit to log cutblock T121 (a permit application the Referral Group was aware of); and (2) approved a request by CANFOR to enlarge a cutblock already in place (a request the Referral Group knew nothing of).

“CANFOR,” explained Ms. Pollard, “has met the conditions for issuing or amending these permits and none of the limited circumstances in which permits can be refused apply. Accordingly, I am required by law to issue the cutting and road authorities, which I have now done.”

This news came as a shock to the Referral Group: first because Ms. Pollard had thereby failed to engage with the Referral Group prior to taking a decision (contrary to the Guiding Principles); second because she had also thereby defaulted on a personal commitment to engage with the Referral Group – a commitment made four months earlier and subsequently confirmed on three occasions; and third because she had also failed to inform the Referral Group of CANFOR’S request for a permit amendment (again contrary to the Guiding Principles)

In the opinion of the Referral Group, this clear violation of Ms. Pollard’s responsibility to the Guiding Principles and to the Referral Group personally answers a question first put to MoF in April 2012 and on several occasions since: Does MoF stand by its commitment to the Guiding Principles? It is now clear that answer is No: MoF does not stand by its commitment.

In hindsight it now seems clear that MoF disabused itself of the Guiding Principles more than a decade earlier, certainly prior to 31 January 2004; but on the other hand see March 2010 and January 2012.

AT A CROSSROADS: THE REFERRAL GROUP DIGS IN

In light of these developments, the Referral Group now finds itself in a paradoxical situation. On the one hand it was mandated by MoF to ensure adherence to the Guiding Principles. Yet on the other hand, MoF itself has now walked away from the Guiding Principles – its own formal land-use agreement with the residents of Upper Clearwater.

Because these two facts of the case are clearly incommensurate, they oblige Referral Group to enquire concerning its primary allegiance, that is, whether to MoF or to the spirit and intent of the Guiding Principles document itself.

Actually this question is not hard to answer, given: first, the tremendous effort and good faith expended by Upper Clearwater residents in negotiating the Guiding Principles document in the first place; and second, the obvious affront to democratic principles inherent in the decision by MoF to walk away from a formal consensus-based agreement with B.C. citizens.

The Referral Group therefore takes the position that its primary allegiance lies with the spirit and intent of the Guiding Principles – and that it must now shift from a watchdog function to an advocacy role, taking whatever steps may be necessary to persuade MoF – and the B.C. Liberals at large – to recommit to its own formal land-use agreement.

Next up: Wells Gray Chronicles

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