Wells Gray Chronicles

Economic Tunnel Vision: Community Alert

BC Government Actions & Infractions in
Upper Clearwater, North of Spahats Creek:
December 1977 through December 2016

Community Alert | Democracy Alert | Caribou Alert

SYNOPSIS: The story unfolded here is one of on-going resource depletion liberally sprinkled with mill closures – and likely more to come.

Reading along, you may find yourself asking whether 16 years of B.C. Liberal environmental deregulation has really, as it could seem, brought an entire community to the brink of economic collapse – a feeling no doubt strengthened by this recent satellite image showing how little wood remains to bring to mill. If there’s more wood out there somewhere, it would be a comfort to know about it.

Reading between the lines, you may also find yourself wondering why the B.C. Liberals have been so reluctant to give meaningful support to sustained local efforts to broaden this community’s economic base through wilderness tourism. Tourism sure; but the idea of wilderness tourism seems to lie somewhere beyond the neoliberal worldview.

Though not recorded here, this tale is actually part of a much larger story now playing out in rural communities across the province – communities being hollowed out by attrition as their young people are forced to leave in search of work.

  • Note: MoF = Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
  • Note: D.M. = District Manager.

In 1981, the British Columbia Social Credit government passed its Environment Management Act, which allowed the Minister of Environment to require “any person who proposes to do anything that would have a detrimental environmental impact” to prepare an environmental impact assessment.”

In 1987, Clearwater Timber Products was sold to Slocan Forests Products, resulting in closure of the two existing mills in Clearwater and the opening of a fully modern mill in Vavenby.

In 1994, the British Columbia NDP government passed its Environmental Assessment Act, in effect B.C.’s first-ever comprehensive Environmental Law. At the same time it also established the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) in the Ministry of Environment to oversee administration of the new law, thereby providing “an open, accountable and neutrally administered process for the assessment” of a broader range of “reviewable projects.”

On 31 March 1996, the British Columbia NDP government established a Caribou Management Area on the western slopes of the Trophy Mountains under the Kamloops Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP).

On 5 June 2001, the B.C. liberal party came to power under Gordon Campbell.

Between 2001 and 2005, the British Columbia Liberal government repealed, amended or replaced a wide range of environmental statutes, as well as cutting funding to environment-related ministries.

On 30 May 2002, the British Columbia Liberal government repealed the 1994 Environmental Assessment Act, replacing it with its own Environmental Assessment Act as part of a broad deregulation of many environmental laws, and reducing 93 sections of the 1994 Act to 51.

Analysis by Environmental Law Centre (2010): “One of the more controversial provisions in the new Act was a requirement take into account and reflect government policy identified … by a government agency or organization responsible for the identified policy area” – in effect politicizing the environmental assessment process.

In November 2002, the British Columbia Liberal government passed its Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA), intended to help meet its target set in 2001 to eliminate one-third of all regulations.

In March 2003, Weyerhaeuser Canada shut down its Vavenby mill. Of the 180 workers employed in Vavenby, 100 were relocated to Kamloops, Princeton and Okanagan Falls.

On 31 January 2004, the BC government completed its transition from the Forest Practices Code of British Columbia Act (FPC) to the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA). Under FPC, the MoF D.M. had final authority to withhold cutting and road permits, whereas under FRPA (a professional reliance model), that authority was transferred to the logging companies themselves – and, through them, to the professional foresters, hydrologists, terrain specialists and others hired to advise them. From this point on, all logging proposals that meet an approved forest stewardship plan and respect First Nations rights and title MUST be approved. Hence the MoF D.M. can no longer withhold a cutting permit or road permit based on input from a third party such as the Referral Group. This of course effectively countermands the Guiding Principles, which relied on the MoF D.M. to adjudicate cutting proposals.

Analysis by West Coast Environmental Law (2004): “the Forest and Range Practices Act and regulations bring in a new era of forestry deregulation which places an unprecedented degree of control over public resources in the hands of forest companies. There are inadequate checks and balances in the regulations. The potential to hold forest companies accountable is reduced by narrow definitions of terms like damage to the environment, and an increase in the defences available for non-compliance. Government itself will not have critical information necessary to diligently approve logging on public land. It has tied its own hands by imposing extraordinary restrictions on statutory decision makers, and introducing excessive red tape and bureaucracy to measures now necessary to protect the environment. The government has made a major ideological shift, stating that it intends to rely on professional foresters employed by forest companies to deliver the public interest, more than civil servants. All of this could render public and community input into forestry decisions less meaningful. Protecting the environment and maintaining community relations will be more due to the pleasure of a given forest company than a result of these regulations. Over the last decade, in many parts of the province the agencies have been stalled in implementing important conservation initiatives such as landscape level planning, wildlife habitat areas and ungulate winter range in many places in the province. The government has not ensured that these conservation measures were in place before handing over this level of responsibility and control to logging companies. The fact that regulations are now much more lax does not inevitably mean that the environment will be irreparably harmed, as that depends on how forest companies choose to act. But it does significantly increase the risk. Given the time lag that sometimes exists between forestry operations and impact, for some values it may take several years before the impacts are evident on the landscape. Overall, British Columbia has much to lose as a result of this deregulation.”

On 1 April 2004, Slocan Forest Products merged with Canadian Forests Products, a.k.a. CANFOR.

On 17 May 2005, the B.C. liberal party won its second consecutive victory under Premier Gordon Campbell.

On 12 May 2009, the British Columbia Liberal party won its third consecutive election under Premier Gordon Campbell who, however, was replaced by Christy Clark on 14 March 2011.

On 29 May 2009, CANFOR announces plans to close its Vavenby Mill as well as its Radium Hotsprings Mill and its Rustad mill in Prince George, putting more than 570 employees out of work. “CANFOR must continue to restructure its production capabilities to match the demands of the market and ensure the needs of key customers continue to be met,” said CANFOR president and CEO Jim Shepard in a prepared statement.

On 7 March 2011, the Clearwater Times reported that Tourism Wells Gray was in the process of hiring a consultant to develop a UNESCO World Heritage Development Plan. “World Heritage Status from UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) would mean international recognition of Wells Gray Park and its many natural wonders – not the least of which is its fascinating volcanic history.” “…the development plan will also look at the possibility of initially seeking UNESCO GeoPark status, which could help in the larger heritage designation. GeoPark status is an initiative launched by UNESCO to recognize sites that are significant for earth sciences.”

In September 2011, CANFOR reopened its Vavenby mill after $24 million in capital upgrades.

In January 2012, CANFOR Vavenby added a second shift for a total of 145 jobs, thereby processing wood faster than can be sustained.

On 9 July 2012, CANFOR president and CEO Don Kayne made a presentation to the B.C. government’s Special Committee on Timber Supply in which he asserted that: “while we certainly welcome opportunities that might improve the mid-term timber supply, we first must be convinced these actions are well thought out, fair, and inclusive – and fit with our vision of sustainability. Let me give you a few examples:

  • • “CANFOR does not support actions that would overturn landscape objectives set through public planning processes unless there is full public consultation and support.
  • • “We will not support actions that impact parks, riparian areas or areas that provide critical habitat for species at risk, or other important environmental values such as biodiversity and old growth.
  • • “We will not support actions that put us at odds with obligations of our registered professional foresters to uphold the public trust by managing forests sustainably.
  • • “And we will not support actions that jeopardize our third-party forest certification, and risk access to domestic and international markets.”

On 8 August 2012, an article in the Clearwater Times announced “Wells Gray World Heritage Year,” an initiative sponsored by Thompson Rivers University to call attention to a government-supported initiative to put British Columbia’s fourth largest park forward as a candidate for a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “World Heritage designation not only strengthens the tourism sector, it also catalyzes economic development and regeneration, creates new funding opportunities, and stimulates private investment.” Wells Gray Heritage Year ran from September 2012 through October 2013, hosting about 25 separate events attended by more than 1000 participants.

On 14 May 2013, the British Columbia Liberal Party won its fourth consecutive election, this time under Christy Clark.

On 24 October 2013, CANFOR announced it will close its Quesnel Mill in March 2014. “Closing a saw mill is very difficult,” wrote CANFOR president Don Kayne, “but there is simply not enough fibre remaining in the Quesnel area to support all of the mills in the community. While we considered every option – including harvesting areas currently constrained for environmental reasons or bringing in wood from longer distances – these would only have delayed the inevitable.”

On 6 November 2014, the Clearwater Times carried a letter by Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Dr. Terry Lake, in which he states: “Although the west side of the valley was not included in [the Guiding Principles], any activity undertaken by BC Timber Sales should involve adequate public consultation and I have made Minister Thomson aware of concerns in this area. … I will continue to follow the issue closely.” [But see 7 December 2015, 6 April 2016, 12 December 2016.

On 9 November 2015, CANFOR closed its Canal Flats sawmill, laying off 65 workers and nine staff members. “While we understand how difficult this will be for our employees and the community of Canal Flats, recent downturns in the oil and gas and lumber markets that the mill served, combined with a lack of economically available fibre for the mill, have brought operating losses we can no longer sustain,” said CANFOR spokesperson Corinne Stavness in an e-mail. All employees are to be offered the chance to transfer to other divisions in the company said CANFOR president Don Kayne.

On 8 August 2016, Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna called upon Canadians to nominate “national gems” as candidates for UNESCO World Heritage Sites, i.e., places of cultural or natural significance that members of the global community have committed to preserve for future generations, sometimes through financial assistance or expert advice.

On 29 August 2016, the Upper Clearwater Referral Group met with Kamloops-Thompson MoF D.M. Rachael Pollard and MoF Resource Manager Rob Schweitzer. The following notes concern CANFOR’s use of Professional Reliance: (a) CANFOR’s “caribou biologist” is in fact an owl expert for with no documented online expertise with Mountain Caribou: (b) CANFOR’s hydrologist refuses to modify his prescriptions in light of deepening climate change, preferring to predict the future based on the past: and (c) CANFOR refuses to allow its terrain report to be vetted by highly regarded terrain specialists closely informed on the implications of working in volcanic settings.

Analysis by West Coast Environment Law of FRPA with Emphasis on Professional Reliance (2004): “The requirements of FRPA are vague and involve judgments on issues that are both controversial and inherently political. They involve judgments for which government must be accountable. For instance, professionals could certify that a logging plan will “without unduly reducing the supply of timber … conserve sufficient habitat for survival of a species at risk.” If regulations allow professional certification in this context, the private sector, not government, will be deciding what is needed to protect species and what constitutes an undue impact on timber supply. These requirements are simply not straightforward, non-controversial technical issues such as compliance with a building code. Government is forced to approve certified logging plans even if government officials believe the plans do not comply with the law and do not protect the environment. There is no liability regime in place to ensure professionals are accountable. While a professional association could theoretically decide to discipline a professional for outright incompetence, these powers are reserved for the most flagrant cases. In other areas where professional certification is used, fear of legal liability, in addition to the oversight of a professional body, helps to ensure that professionals are cautious and ensure compliance. For instance, engineers who wrongly approve a faulty building plan can be sued if the building collapses. However, in the context of FRPA it is far less likely that a professional forester could be held liable if a bad logging plan contributes to the extinction of a species.”

On 26 September 2016, Tolko Industries Ltd announces that it will close its Merritt sawmill by the end of the year, throwing 200 workers out of work. Forests Minister Steve Thomson called it “an unfortunate development,” but said the province is sending a community transition team to provide support services for workers losing their jobs just before Christmas.

On 27 December 2016, the Clearwater Times reported that “a small committee continues to work to obtain UNESCO World Heritage status for the volcanoes of Wells Gray Park.” Deadline for submission is 27 January 2017.

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