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Skeena Wild is right to sound the alarm on conservation lands

A former government biologist speaks out about conservation land cancellations

Skeena Wild is right to sound the alarm. (“Environmentalists raise alarm over NW conservation lands cancellations” Interior News, June 8 by Thom Barker). The Ministry of Water, Lands and Resource Stewardship (WLRS) has repeatedly stated that I, as the Conservation Lands staff at the time, had been consulted prior to the cancellations. I was not, and I did not support them.

The Land Procedure: Management of Crown Lands for Conservation Purposes: Those reserves/withdrawals identified by Conservation staff as no longer required (emphasis added) will be cancelled or allowed to expire.”

This refers to needing my agreement, not just my review. Sending me the list of proposed cancellations, then rejecting all my recommendations for retention and denying me the opportunity for discussion, does not constitute consultation. It is the opposite of the stated policy of responsible, transparent decision-making and it conflicts with the intent of the procedures.

The cancelled areas include Wildlife Habitat Management Areas from the Bulkley Land and Resource Management Plan (1998), Wildlife Reserves from earlier public plans (1982) and publicly-owned areas along the Bulkley River. I ask the Ministry to halt the development planned since the cancellations and to start an open and transparent public consultation for establishing secure conservation lands as part of a spatial biodiversity plan.

In the June 8 article, the Ministry claimed “extensive consultation was conducted.” There was no consultation with me, despite my repeated requests. If my 2016 recommendations to “keep” or “agree to cancel” had been followed, it would have been consultation. The WLRS rationales are deeply flawed.

The ministry claimed: “… through consultation, … other lands are made available for small-scale harvesting and forest management consistent with the publicly developed plans.” Once the map locations disappeared from all government databases the areas were “open for business.”

The ministry claimed the proposed harvest in the Tyee cross-country ski area is “small-scale”, which sounds reasonable if in a regular harvest area. It fails to mention it is in: 1) a cancelled Wildlife Habitat Management Area, 2) an old-growth deferral area, and 3) a critical breeding zone of a goshawk predicted territory.

The interior goshawk, an indicator of ecosystem health, has been assessed at the highest risk level for being extirpated (lost) from most of Skeena (BC expert panel Species Threat Calculator 2016).

The ministry fails to mention that plans in Wildlife Habitat Management Areas must be driven by conservation purposes, not commercial ones.

The ministry claimed: “The specific areas referenced in the video are part of small-scale harvest, including removing single trees to address beetle kill and promote ecological resilience.”

I saw no evidence of any significant pest problem. To get to single trees requires a lot of roads and other harvested openings.

The Ministry claimed: “The harvesting plans were reviewed by the BV Community Resources Board and fall well within the harvest area limits recommended.”

This is inaccurate. The BC Timber Sales presentation to the board did not include the Tyee block and minutes are publicly posted on the board’s website.

I encourage asking them and Kalum Public Implementation Committee about their consultation.

We recently had an Auditor General report critical of Skeena Region’s handling of conservation lands. When we have so many unresolved issues how can we be harvesting in this place, at this time? After 33 years working for the Province in Habitat Protection/Ecosystems, and its many changes, I respectfully disagree with the Honourable Bruce Ralston that this is part of the plan for better forest management.