The Province is making changes to enable safer, more effective stewardship of the landscape, including forests, and the revitalization of cultural and prescribed fire and new compliance and enforcement measures.
“Forests are essential to a healthy environment and provide good jobs to tens of thousands of British Columbians,” said Bruce Ralston, Minister of Forests. “That’s why we’re taking action to strengthen how we steward our natural resources, to better protect the province’s forests and ecosystems, conserve fibre supply and expand our use of prescribed fire to reduce the risk of future wildfires.”
If passed, amendments to the Forest and Range Practices Act, the Forest Act, and the Wildfire Act will help address public and First Nations’ interests in how forests are managed, giving government new tools to manage Crown land timber harvesting. These changes support actions underway to better care for forests in the face of climate change and extreme weather events.
The Forest and Range Practices Act governs how forest and range practices and activities are conducted on B.C.’s public lands. Changes to the act will provide new tools to the Ministry of Forests’ compliance and enforcement team to better enforce natural resource laws in the province. The changes will strengthen the protection of First Nations values and interests and allow for a greater range of contravention penalties, ensuring there are appropriate consequences for non-compliance.
“Protecting the natural resources of this land is vitally important, and those who damage these natural resources should face consequences,” said Lennard Joe, CEO of the B.C. First Nations Forestry Council. “Strengthening the enforcement of these laws will increase the public’s trust by ensuring there are real penalties for those who break the rules. When we all properly act as responsible stewards of our environment, everyone benefits.”
Amendments to the Wildfire Act will give prescribed fire legal standing in B.C.’s forest management tool kit, enabling government to expand work with First Nations and other partners on cultural and prescribed burns, when requested. They will allow for a more concerted effort in the advancement in prescribed burns as a wildfire-mitigation practice.
“Prescribed burning is the planned and controlled application of fire to a specific land area to reduce wildfire risk, and restore ecosystems that need fire to function,” Ralston said. “This change will make it easier for the Province to work with First Nations as partners to return beneficial fire to the landscape as a way to keep communities safe and care for critical ecosystems. It’s one part of a series of actions we’re taking with First Nations to create more resilient future.”
In many B.C. ecosystems, fire is a natural process and First Nations have a long history of using fire as a stewardship tool. Using prescribed fire in cooler weather can reduce the risk of more severe wildfires in hotter seasons.
“First Nations communities in British Columbia have long depended on fire to steward the land,” said Wayne Schnitzler, executive director, First Nations’ Emergency Services Society. “Revitalizing the use of fire magnifies the relationship each First Nation community has with it from a cultural, ceremonial, food and healing perspective. We are very excited to work with the stewards of the land and use fire appropriately.”
Through amendments to the Forest Act, government will have the ability to consider stewardship, cultural heritage resources, and public health and safety when issuing road and cutting permits, ensuring these values are protected as part of development. This includes the ability to obtain additional information or add conditions when issuing permits.
These changes are government’s next step in acting on commitments outlined in the 2021 Modernizing Forest Policy in British Columbia intentions paper, aimed at creating a sustainable, resilient forest ecosystem and supporting a strong and diversified forestry sector.
For more information about B.C. legislation, visit: https://workingforyou.gov.bc.ca/legislation
A summary presentation of government’s intentions paper is available here: https://news.gov.bc.ca/files/Modernize_Forest_Policy_Presentation.pdf
To view the modern forest policy, visit: https://www.gov.bc.ca//modernforestpolicy
To learn more about cultural and prescribed fire in B.C., visit: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/wildfire-status/prevention/prescribed-burning
A backgrounder follows.