Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Another big gift, from you to a forest company

It didn’t take Western Forest Products long to cash in on the big gift the government handed the company earlier this year.
It wasn’t really from the government. Taxpayers and Vancouver Island communities actually paid for the present. Forests Minister Rich Coleman just wrapped it up and handed it over on your behalf.
Western Forest Products has announced it plans to put 4,450 acres of great real estate on the market. The land includes waterfront property along the coast west of Victoria – the kind of real estate that will have people lining up, waving their chequebooks.
That’s just the first step. All in, Western Forest Products has 70,000 acres available for sale, much of it with good development potential. Waterfront lots adjacent to some of the land are selling at $400,000 an acre.
This time last year, the company couldn’t likely have sold a single acre. The land was part of the its Vancouver Island tree farm licence, That meant it was managed as if it was Crown land, with higher environmental and forest sustainability standards. Raw log exports were limited.
And the tree farm licence required that the land stay in forestry, so there would be trees and jobs a hundred years from now.
But in February, Coleman ordered the land removed from the tree-farm licence. The company needed help, he said. The government was willing to sacrifice the public interests protected by the tree farm licence to give a break to the shareholders.
Western Forest Products was quick to take advantage of the chance. It has just put out “for sale” signs on 4,450 acres, including big stretches of the Pacific coast between Victoria and Jordan River, a popular surfing and camping spot.
There’s a good argument that the highest-value use for the land is housing for rich retirees. Certainly that’s what’s WFP has decided.
But there are a couple of problems here. First, the people of B.C. paid a big price to have those lands included in the tree farm licences. Back in the 1950s the provincial government was keen to get companies to roll their private land holdings into their licences. The government thought that way the land would be managed for the long-term benefit of British Columbians and the future of the forest industry would be protected.
And it was willing to pay to make sure that happened. The government figured out what the companies would lose by including the land in their tree farm licences, and awarded them the equivalent value in Crown timber.
But when the current government agreed to release the land from the tree-farm licences, it didn’t ask Western Forest Products for any compensation. Coleman didn’t even ask the company to donate a portion of the land for parks.
There was no consultation with the affected communities, who were not only suddenly facing big development pressures but also a serious loss of jobs. As the forestland based is reduced, the industry has to shrink.
This is the second time the Liberal government has enriched a forest company at public expense. In 2004, Weyerhaeuser asked the government to let it take 220,000 acres out of its tree farm licences, much of it around Port Alberni. The benefits to the company would be huge – an extra $18 million to $24 million a year in extra profits, plus the ability to sell of the land for real estate. Figure a $200-million gain for the corporation.
But what about the public? The ministry prepared briefing notes on the request. The officials assumed Weyerhaeuser would pay taxpayers compensation if the land was removed.
Even with that assumption, the senior ministry staff recommended that the government say no. Communities and workers considered the tree farm agreement a “social contract” that ensured local areas benefited from the forests and that sustainable management would mean jobs for their children, they told the minister. (That concern was prescient; the change allowed more log exports, cost local jobs and has resulted in logging practices that residents say have damaged the environment.)
But the politicians ignored the advice of the ministry professionals and gave the company what it wanted.
Now Coleman has done it again.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

So one may ask" What are friends for. Gordo gets big bucks from forest companies and he makes small changes that bring them very large returns

There was a nice little park almost acros the road from a really neat hamberger joint. a lot os us used to drive over, through the clear cuts to watch the folks doing their surfing.
That is one more small pleasure we are about to lose as we the citizns of BC help fund the new managemnt of the area, dl

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

As John Lydon once succinctly put it, "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" How's that for an analogy? Western Forest Products are the Johnny Rottens of the forest industry.

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Ross Cameron said...

I really don't understand the Minister of Forests' rationale for making this decision. Why does he alienate his local constituents in favor of corporate interests? I only hope those of us most affected by these horrendous decisions will not forget this travesty when we go to vote at the next election. When a minister loses touch with his constituents, I look to the Premier to show leadership and reign him in.

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