Indigenous leaders concerned about process of postponing former growth in British Columbia

Retired Judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond told a press conference hosted by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs that the government’s actions are not consistent with free, prior and informed consent, a key principle of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

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Indigenous leaders and experts in British Columbia raised concerns Wednesday over the provincial government’s process to postpone logging in old-growth forests, while stressing the urgency of preserving at-risk ecosystems.

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The province announced on Nov. 2 that an independent panel of scientific experts had mapped 26,000 square kilometers of ancient forests at risk of permanent loss of biodiversity. He asked First Nations to decide within 30 days whether they support the postponement of logging in these areas or whether the plan requires further discussion.

Retired Judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond told a press conference hosted by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs that the government’s actions are not consistent with free, prior and informed consent, a key principle of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

British Columbia adopted the declaration through legislation passed in 2019.

The 30-day deadline is too short for many First Nations to make informed decisions, and the process lacks clarity on the economic impacts and potential compensations for those nations that choose to put old-growth forests out of the way. logging, said Turpel-Lafond.

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In the Fraser Canyon, the elected council of the Spuzzum First Nation is part-time and there was “no way” they could decide to postpone within 30 days, although they wanted logging ancient stops on its territory, said Chef James Hobart. .

British Columbia’s plan includes about $ 12.7 million over three years to support nations throughout the process, but Hobart said he had heard nothing about receiving funds. In the meantime, he said Spuzzum does not have access to full mapping showing where forests have been felled and what is still standing.

Asked about access to finance, the Ministry of Forests said in a statement that he would “soon have more to say on this subject”.

“It’s like pulling your teeth out trying to get an overlap map of what is no longer in your territory,” Hobart said at the press conference. “How can we even start the conversation in a month’s time if we don’t even understand what happened?” “

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Khelsilem, president-elect of the Squamish Nation, told the press conference that 97 percent of old growth forests have been cut down in Squamish territory and the nation has fought for years to protect the remaining three percent.

“Asking for consent to defer, but not asking for consent for logging, is a complete about-face and misalignment with (the province’s) values ​​when they say they want to associate with First Nations. and that they want to respect indigenous rights, ”Khelsilem mentioned.

The province recognizes that there is a diversity of views on old-growth forests and is committed to working directly with indigenous rights and title holders to “get that right,” the Forestry Ministry said in its statement. press release sent by email.

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First Nations have been asked to advise the province of next steps they wish to take, whether it is an immediate postponement or discussing postponements under existing agreements, or whether they require more time and commitment, he said.

At the end of the 30-day period, the ministry said it would provide an update on the initial responses received, “while respecting the fact that many communities have been affected by the recent flooding and the ongoing pandemic. “.

British Columbia has followed the recommendations of an independent review released last fall, which found that inaction could result in permanent loss of the most at risk ancient ecosystems, Forests Minister Katrine said last month. Conroy.

The initial postponements would last for two years, Conroy said, allowing for consultation with First Nations on the management of old-growth forests in their territories. After that, old-growth forests identified as at risk would either remain off limits for logging or included in new, more sustainable management plans, the minister said.

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Under the BC plan, forest licensees can volunteer to stop harvesting in postponement areas, or postponements would be implemented under the Forest Act, which allows for a break of up to up to 10 years, with compensation required after four years.

In fall 2020, the province announced the temporary postponement of harvesting on 196,000 hectares of old growth forest in nine different areas. In June, it approved a request by three Vancouver Island First Nations to defer logging on more than 2,000 hectares of old growth forest in the Fairy Creek and Walbran areas.

One of those countries, Huu-ay-aht, released a statement on Wednesday, saying it had decided to carry over 96 percent of old growth forest identified as at risk by the panel, while maintaining its right to harvest in the other four. percent.

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Chief advisor Robert Dennis Sr. said much of the carry-over area is protected by existing conservation measures or is not planned for logging in the next two years.

The British Columbia government also introduced legislation last month that would amend the Forest Act. If passed, it would allow the province to reduce the timber harvesting rights of existing logging companies, compensate them and redistribute harvesting rights to First Nations, local communities and BC Timber Sales, he said. -he declares.

The province also appointed a new commission to provide advice on strengthening the long-term stability of the forest industry, with recommendations on how to protect workers affected by expected harvest changes in February.

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