Forest planning lost amid the trees

The supreme significance of living trees to our daily lives makes the act of harvesting trees a serious business.

The supreme significance of living trees to our daily lives makes the act of harvesting trees a serious business.

When trees are to be cut down, it must be for good reason and done right. This is why the draft forest act is so heavily focused on planning. 

The draft act proposes a framework to guide new forest management plans and the revision of existing forest management plans. There are a few gaps.

There are two approved forest resource management plans in place in the Yukon, which were developed jointly by the Yukon and affected First Nation governments.

There are two forest resource management plans that are being developed right now that are joint efforts between the Yukon and First Nation governments. Joint planning is the precedent. It has been successful.

Why would the draft act provide for planning that is anything but joint?

To properly protect the values of all those who already use or want to use the forest in the future, the act must protect the value — habitat — of those who can’t represent themselves at meetings: caribou, marten, moose, goshawks, squirrels, mycorrhizal fungi, and many, many other organisms living above and below the ground.

Only healthy forests can sustain resource extraction, be it trees, marten, moose, mushrooms.

It is the thoughtful consideration of wildlife habitat that allows a forest management plan to be based on the ecosystem. An ecosystem-based plan stays within the limits of what the ecosystem can offer. The draft act does not reference ecosystem-based planning.

Most importantly, an ecosystem-based plan shows where logging can occur. And it describes how to protect other forest values while logging.

Together, these allow the governments to determine how much wood can be sustainably harvested on a yearly basis.

The draft act needs to provide guidance on how the annual cut will be calculated,  particularly for areas where there is no forest management plan.

Instead, the draft act gives full discretion to the minister to decide on a sustainable level of cut. Since there is no timeline by which forest management plans must be completed, the minister’s sustainable estimate may become the de-facto plan in a given area for a presently unknown number of years. There may never be a plan developed in these areas.

The planning section of the draft act is like an empty shell. We are told that the details about planning will be addressed in the regulations.

But, there will be no public consultation on regulations.

The regulations are where the rubber hits the road.

For example, decisions about where, when and how much wood to cut will be based on regulations.

The legislation is lacking the detail to assure the public or people who have a stake in the forest that Yukon forests will be planned sustainably.

Those details will presumably be laid out in the regulations — but we won’t know that until they’re approved.

Seems like we need one or the other of: a Forest Act that includes details on how public and stakeholder values will be respected during planning.

Or an act that allows the public and stakeholders to participate in and review the regulations related to planning to make sure their values have been respected.

The Forest Values Focus Group formed to contribute our experience and knowledge to the new Yukon Forest Act. We represent diverse forest values, rather than organizational mandates. We would like to share the knowledge and information we have collected over the past two and a half years as we have reviewed discussion documents related to the development of the Forest Act. If you or an organization you are affiliated with would like to meet with representatives of the Forest Values Focus Group, please contact Sue at 668-5678. For more information about the Forest Values Focus Group please visit our website at    http://yukonforestvalues.yk.net/.

This is the fourth article in a series that will discuss important issues for you to consider as you assess the draft Yukon Forest Act.

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