It is no surprise that the forest industry is lauding the new forestry regulations, they conceived them. The corporate campaign to didn’t begin in 2001 with the election of the Liberals, it began in 1995 soon after the much maligned Forest Practices Code was passed into law. The new forestry regulations are the culmination of an eight year corporate campaign to deregulate the BC forest industry.
Their media campaign was relentless, albeit based on a falsehood. You know the story well; it was repeated ad nauseum by the Vancouver Sun and BCTV over the years. The spin of the day usually began by with a claim that “BC has the best forest practices in the world”, citing to the “million dollar fines” that never even came close to being imposed, and “tough enforcement” that never existed, before segueing into the main point, with something like, “though well-intentioned BC forestry laws have needlessly imposed burdensome rules” or “prescriptive red tape” citing to the “metre-high stack of regulation”.
The reality was otherwise:
- Numerous jurisdictions including both the U.S. federal government and many western states have laws that provide tougher protections for streams, biodiversity, soils and wildlife
- The much-touted million dollar fines were never imposed, never even close. According to Global Forest Watch Canada, in the first three plus years under the Code only $2.3 million in tickets and penalties were collected. In comparison, during this same time period, the Vancouver Public Library collected $3.5 million in library fines. The largest penalties hardly ever approached $100,000. This means that either Vancouverites are habitual book thieves, or forestry fines were too small to be a deterrent.
As a public interest lawyer changed with protecting BC’s forests, I was (and remain) especially annoyed by the “metre-high Code” deception, because it is part of a bald faced propaganda exercise that would make even Saddam’s Minister of Information Baghdad Bob blush.
Merriam-Webster’s defines propaganda as:
2 : the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person
3 : ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause; also : a public action having such an effect:
The reality is that at its most voluminous the Code (and accompanying regulations) never was more than 1 to 1 inches thick. I know because I carried them around in a binder in my briefcase everyday for almost 6 years. And remember it was never fully brought into force and suffered serially hatchetings time after time since it was introduced in 1995.
In my years as the forestry lawyer at Sierra Legal Defence Fund I pointed out this blatant distortion repeatedly to all major media in BC. I often showed reporters my 1 inch binder of laws and regs. But inevitably the metre high description would feature prominently in every story often accompanied by a photo. Clearly there was a deliberate campaign to weaken environmental standards by the Sun and other major media, who coincidently also laid off almost all their reporter that covered the environmental beat.
Therefore, I was not surprised (though no less irritated) with the Vancouver Sun’s recent article, New rules replace NDP-era Forest Practices Code, Jan 23, 2004, which begins with the indispensable photo. The caption reads like the my bad dream, “The various regulatory elements of the old Forest Practices Code formed a pile more than a metre high“.
If you look closely at the recent Sun photo you can see that the binders comprising the so-called Code is actually Guidebooks that never were enforceable. Go back and look at archive footage of virtually every industry new event, or Liberal Minister of Forests news conferences and you will see the same pile of Guidebooks used as propps. Yet any knowledgeable forest, lawyer or company official knew the guidebooks were unenforceable and had no influence over logging in BC. It was and remains pure photo op propaganda. A fact that I personally explained to the Sun’s forestry reporter on numerous occasions. Yet the metre high description continues to appear.
The irony is that during my years as a forestry lawyer, the best use of the Guidebooks was as doorstops and bookends. In fact. the only time I ever remember referring to a Guidebook was when my staff and I went out in the field with Ministry of Forest Compliance and Enforcement staff on the Midcoast and had to show them how to classify streams. It was no surprise that our audits showed the streams, particularly small fish-bearing streams, were routinely misclassified and logged to the banks (83%) given the fact that Ministry officials mandated to protect them didn’t know how to determine their classification and the resulting buffers. When Midcoast C & E staff didn’t believe that a stream was measured bank to bank (not just the whetted width) we pulled out the riparian guidebook and showed them.
While the old Code never lived up to its inflated billing, the new laisse-faire self-regulating regime raises serious concerns about the future of BC’s precious forests, streams and wildlife. Only time will tell whether companies operate sustainably. I have my doubts, as do the majority of British Columbians that polls show does not trust logging companies.