Eby prioritizes biodiversity, forest protections, capacity funding for First Nations

Written By Rob Shaw

Premier David Eby is preparing to spend more money to help First Nations communities plan their forest strategies, in a bid to “accelerate” the amount of old growth the province can protect.

Eby said he’ll make available additional funding for Indigenous leaders, because his government won’t be able to properly identify which trees to protect, and where, until nations have the capacity to plan out their land use and forestry intentions.

“It means more forest protected, but it means doing it thoughtfully,” the premier said in a year-end interview.

“It means more forest protected, but it means doing it thoughtfully.”

David Eby

“So, in partnership with First Nations, and incorporating the views of communities and industry into where we should be operating, where we should be protecting, that requires resources. 

“Boots on the ground”

“It needs the boots on the ground, it needs the ecologist to go through and identify what we’ve actually got and what needs to be protected. Nations need capacity funding to be able to do that work. And so that’s the kind of thing where we can make a difference and move this work faster, to give them the resources they need to do this planning work.”

B.C. promised to defer logging in 2.6 million hectares of old growth in 2021, after an independent technical advisory panel flagged those areas as at-risk forests that should be prioritized for protection.

B.C. has joined the federal government with a commitment to protect 30 per cent of its land base by 2030. [Photo Karen Price]

But the plan quickly ran into roadblocks among First Nations — some of whom wanted to continue sustainable logging in the areas the panel identified as old growth, and others that said the arbitrary deadlines the province put on responses exceeded their capacity to complete land-use plans that could have ramifications for generations. 

Land-use planning is complicated and expensive, involving mapping, experts, site visits, consultations with community groups and a forecasting of future jobs, revenue, growth and economic impact. First Nations were offered a paltry $12 million in provincial assistance, or less than $60,000 per nation in B.C., to get the work done.

Easing the logjam

Eby’s promise of more money, and more provincial help, could ease the logjam that currently exists between the Crown and Indigenous governments on forestry’s future. Certainty is key, said the premier “to make sure that we don’t have any unintended consequences, but also that we’re protecting the areas we all want protected.”

“We’re gonna be accelerating that work, making sure that the resources are in place to do the land use planning — this is the area where we do forestry, this is the area that’s conserved, this is the area for industry,” added Eby.

“Land use planning is really important to make sure that… forestry, mining, are able to function.”

David Eby

“That land use planning is really important to make sure that key industries in our province, forestry, mining, are able to function and provide those good family supporting jobs for generations. But also that conservation piece is going to be critical, both around climate change responses, but also preserving those wild spaces for future generations.”

Environmental groups have reacted generally positively to Eby’s mandate letters for his new cabinet, which highlight old growth but also the impact of a promise to conserve 30 per cent of B.C.’s land base, and the creation of new conservation funding measures.

“It’s an ambitious and important goal,” said Nathan Cullen, the new minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship. 

“The nature of the process has to be, and will be, in strong partnership with the rights and title holders.”

Nathan Cullen

“There’s more to do on this up to 30 (per cent) by 30 (2030). The nature, though, of the process has to be, and will be, in strong partnership with the rights and title holders.

The old days are gone

“The old days and ways of thinking about conservation as only parks, and you put a fence around and then no one touches, is not the legal, political or cultural reality of our partners within First Nations communities and rights and title holders.”

Cullen also said the renewed emphasis on land-use planning will come with a renewed commitment to a recommendation in the old growth panel’s report that saving biodiversity be an overarching priority and that legislation be crafted to establish that priority. 

“We’ve got to look at the forest and the ecosystem writ large.”

Nathan Cullen

“When looking at a question like old growth there’s a natural tendency to look at the tree, we’ve got to look at the forest and the ecosystem writ large,” said Cullen.

“And I think you could accomplish both things. By focusing on ecosystem health, you inevitably are going to do some old growth protections in that.”

For Eby, the enhanced old growth plan also represents a shift in government’s direction, away from previous premier John Horgan’s attempts to balance out the jobs in forest dependent communities. Eby makes some mention of industry consultation, but his intention seems clear: A big boost to the environment, alongside First Nations, will mean big change to the forestry sector.

“For British Columbians, protecting those iconic trees, or old growth forests and ecosystems is really a priority, and it is for me,” he said. “Our family loves being out in that kind of environment, and knowing that it’ll be there for my kids and my kids’ kids, it’s critical.”