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Posted February 20, 2018

Media Release: Conservationists Disappointed the BC NDP's Budget Fails to Allocate Land Acquisition Funding for Endangered Ecosystems and Old-Growth Forests

February 20, 2018

Media Release: Conservationists Disappointed the BC NDP's Budget Fails to Allocate Land Acquisition Funding for Endangered Ecosystems and Old-Growth Forests
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Port Alberni Watershed Forest-Alliance activist Jane Morden surveys old-growth logging by Island Timberlands on McLaughlin Ridge in the China Creek drinking watershed of Port Alberni.
TJ Watt

For immediate release
February 20, 2018

Victoria, BC - The Ancient Forest Alliance is disappointed the NDP government’s provincial budget, released today, fails to include even modest funding for a provincial land acquisition fund vital for protecting endangered old-growth forests and ecosystems on private lands, despite repeated requests from conservation groups and thousands of concerned citizens. A land acquisition fund could be used to protect the endangered old-growth forests on Mount Horne above the world-famous Cathedral Grove, for example, and hundreds of other forests, grasslands, and wetlands across the province in danger of development.

Such a fund currently exists among various regional districts, including a $3.7 million/year annual fund at the Capital Regional District of Greater Victoria, and previously existed under the NDP government of the 1990s and on a diminished scale under the BC Liberal government until 2008, when the province cancelled dedicated, annual provincial funding for the initiative.

Since July of last year, the Ancient Forest Alliance has repeatedly sent briefing documents to Environment Minister George Heyman and Forest Minister Doug Donaldson, outlining the urgent need for a dedicated provincial fund to purchase private lands of high conservation and recreational value to add them to the province’s protected area system. Reports by the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre and by environmental lawyer, Erin Grey, were also sent, detailing various funding mechanisms readily available to the province for a land acquisition fund.

As a start, the group asked the BC government to commit even modest funds in the February 2018 budget for a land acquisition fund for new protected areas and to begin exploring dedicated funding mechanisms that can be implemented during a subsequent legislative session, such as redirecting the province's unredeemed bottle deposit funds (worth an estimated $5 to $15 million/year) toward private land acquisition.

After repeated requests to meet with Environment Minister George Heyman and Ministry of Environment staff since August, the Ancient Forest Alliance received only one reply in October, saying the Minister would be open to meeting requests after the New Year. Two more meeting requests have since been made and subsequently ignored by the Minister’s office. The groups did secure a meeting with Forest Minister Doug Donaldson last October to discuss Crown lands; however, the land acquisition fund for private lands is primarily within the mandate of Environment Minister Heyman. Green Party MLAs also met with the Ancient Forest Alliance last summer, shortly after the provincial election, and expressed support for the organization’s various proposals.

“The NDP’s failure thus far to commit even a few dollars in their $55 billion budget to a provincial land acquisition fund and the silence we’re being met with by the Environment Minister are not good signs,” said Ken Wu, Ancient Forest Alliance executive director. “Let’s hope this government doesn’t think they can take the conservation movement for granted and can ignore our calls for long overdue, major policy changes to protect old-growth forests and threatened ecosystems.”

“It’s increasingly clear we now need to significantly mobilize public opinion - even under an NDP government. Otherwise, they may attempt to keep us in the margins,” said Andrea Inness, Ancient Forest Alliance campaigner. “Over 3,000 messages have already been sent to the BC government from our supporters, asking them to create a provincial land acquisition fund, enact policies to protect old-growth forests on Crown land, and ensure a sustainable, second-growth forest industry…yet the NDP government seems unmoved at this point. We need to redouble our efforts, meaning more British Columbians will be speaking up for a land acquisition fund and old-growth forest protection by emailing, phoning, and meeting with their MLA and demanding this issue be made a priority.”

As part of their proposal for forestry reforms, the Ancient Forest Alliance and several other major conservation groups are requesting the BC government implement a series of policy and legislative changes to protect endangered old-growth forests and forestry jobs. Besides a land acquisition fund for private lands, these policies also include a science-based plan to protect old-growth forests on Crown lands, financial support for First Nation sustainable economic development and diversification in lieu of old-growth logging, and incentives and regulations to ensure a value-added, sustainable, second-growth forest industry. While these long-term solutions are developed, more immediate steps can be taken, including converting “non-legal” Old-Growth Management Areas – those that exist only on paper – into legally-binding protections, implementing the Big Tree Legal Order currently under development by Ministry of Forests staff for the past six years to potentially protect the biggest trees on the coast with buffer zones, and discontinuing issuance of old-growth cut-blocks by BC Timber Sales, the province’s logging agency.

Background Information

The Ancient Forest Alliance is calling on the BC government to establish an annual $40 million provincial land acquisition fund to purchase and protect private lands in BC. The proposed fund would rise to an annual $100 million by 2024 through $10 million increases each year and would enable the timely purchase of significant tracts of endangered private lands of high conservation, scenic, and recreation value to add to BC’s parks and protected areas system.

Such lands could include contentious old-growth forests located on Cortes Island, Horne Mt near the iconic Cathedral Grove, Cameron Valley Firebreak and McLaughlin Ridge near Port Alberni, and eastern Vancouver Island, as well as endangered grasslands, wetlands, and ecosystems throughout BC on private lands.

Many regional districts in BC have land or “park” acquisition funds, including the Capital Regional District of Greater Victoria (CRD). The CRD’s fund generates about $3.7 million each year and, with its partners, has spent over $35 million to purchase over 4,500 hectares of land since its establishment in the year 2000, ensuring the protection of such iconic natural areas as the Sooke Hills and Potholes, Jordan River surf lands, Mount Maxwell on Saltspring Island, and lands between Thetis Lake and Mount Work. Like the CRD’s land acquisition fund, the proposed $40 million provincial fund could be used as leverage to raise additional funds from private land trusts, environmental groups and private donors.

In 2015, the Ancient Forest Alliance commissioned a report by the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre, entitled Finding the Money to Buy and Protect Natural Lands, which detailed over a dozen mechanisms used in jurisdictions across North America to raise funds for protecting land (found online here).

Of these potential revenue streams, the Pop for Parks program is the most readily available funding source in BC. Under this program, the annual $5 to $15 million in unredeemed container deposits that currently go to beverage companies in BC could be readily redirected to protect green spaces for British Columbians to enjoy. According to a report released last year by environmental lawyer Erin Grey, supported by West Coast Environmental Law's Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund, Pop for Parks: How to Fund B.C.’s Urgent Need for Land Conservation and Encourage the Beverage Industry to Improve its Recycling Rates, there are no legal or financial barriers to implementing the Pop for Parks program in BC - only a lack of political will. (See the report online here).

So far, the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC), numerous municipal councils and the Islands Trust, and 19 environmental and recreation organizations, including the Ancient Forest Alliance, Sierra Club of BC, Wilderness Committee, BC Spaces for Nature, CPAWS BC, and BC Federation of Mountain Clubs, have pledged their support for a provincial land acquisition fund to be funded by the Pop for Parks mechanism.  


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