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OPINION: B.C. quietly paves way for logging, industrial development

Untouched lands removed from protection
Aerial view of a formerly protected area of the Bulkley Valley environmentalists say was cancelled by the province without consultation. (Screenshot from SkeenaWild video)

By Greg Knox and Len Vanderstar

Recent information obtained by SkeenaWild Conservation Trust shows that between 2019 and 2020, the B.C. government quietly cancelled 1.35 million acres of public recreation and conservation and land areas in northwestern B.C.

The cancelled lands are almost double the size of Metro Vancouver, with many being popular recreational areas such as Klinger Lake, Tyee Mountain, Atlin and the Stewart estuaries.

The cancellations open up these areas to industrial development and logging.

After decades of land use planning between government, diverse community interests and dedicated government habitat biologists, the provincial government had designated these lands in the Skeena region for fish, wildlife, conservation, recreational use and potential protected areas under the Land Act.

But then, without due process, these land protections were cancelled quietly and without due process.

Due to the lack of government cooperation, transparency and public accountability, SkeenaWild Conservation Trust had to acquire information on what land parcels were cancelled through a series of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

Withdrawing these conservation lands has communities worried that they will be logged or developed, given how few of these threatened forest stands are left and the loss of access to public lands.

At the time of this publishing, B.C. Timber Sales has already logged one of the cancelled conservation lands areas in the Bulkley Valley and have multiple cut blocks laid out in another that overlaps an old-growth deferral area.

Not only are communities concerned with the removal of these Land Act designations, but it was shocking to learn that the provincial government greenlit these orders despite warnings against cancelling from government Conservation Lands personnel and no consultation with land and resource planning committees, including the Bulkley Valley Community Resources Board, Kalum Plan Implementation Committee in the Terrace and Kitimat area, Indigenous nations, municipalities, regional districts and the public at large.

How the provincial government carried out these cancellations is in direct contradiction to its own procedure document which states, “Prior to expiry or cancellation of Land Act conservation reserves/withdrawals by land authorizations staff, conservation staff will be provided with an opportunity to provide a rationale or recommendation to either continue the reserve/withdrawal or allow the expiry of the reserve/withdrawal. Those reserves/withdrawals identified by conservation staff as no longer required will be cancelled or allowed to expire.”

Even if these cancelled lands are re-established, there is no assurance that the B.C. government won’t withdraw them again.

Therefore SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, concerned public groups and former government Conservation Lands personnel urge these Land Act cancellations be immediately rescinded and given interim protection to ensure no further land development occurs in these beloved recreation and environmentally sensitive areas until more secure legal designations that both Indigenous nations and conservation partners accept.

Greg Knox is SkeenaWild Conservation Trust executive director and Len Vanderstar is a former conservation lands biologist with the provincial government.