In 2018, the West Kootenay EcoSociety (WKES), a small environmental group in the Kootenay Mountains of southeastern BC, filed a formal complaint with the province’s Forest Practices Board, the government entity charged with investigating wrongdoing in BC’s forestry sector. Based on the EcoSociety’s analysis of publicly available data, which Utzig helped prepare, it appeared that the province had permitted more old growth logging in numerous areas in the Kootenay Lake and Arrow Lake portions of the Kootenay mountains than it was allowed by its own already limited conservation strategy for this region. The analysis found that the province’s primary method of tracking and conserving old growth forests was riddled with problems, making the system essentially worthless. WKES called for a moratorium on all old growth logging there while the issue was reviewed.
Following the complaint, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development did its own analysis and discovered that the problem was even worse than WKES’s initial investigation suggested. It also discovered that there was apparently no legal mechanism in place to compel companies to stop logging old growth. So, it politely asked the timber companies to stop cutting old growth while the matter was being investigated further, or at least report on their plans to cut it. When asked about the success of this request in June of 2019, Tara DeCourcy, the forest ministry’s district manager for the Kootenay Boundary region, said that, to the best of her knowledge, it was being honored by companies. But she admitted that the province still did not have a systematic way to monitor logging activity.
IT’S NOT HARD TO DOCUMENT OLD GROWTH LOGGING in British Columbia, where 94 percent of the land is “owned” by the province, and over half of this is forested. About 40 percent of all the forests in the province are included in the “timber harvest land base” made available for logging by timber companies. In a number of places, nearly all of the logging going on today is of primary, previously uncut, forests.
Harder to understand, or evaluate, is whether all this continued logging is legal. A maze of overlapping jurisdictions, complicated management plans, legal documents, and closed-lipped government bureaucracies obfuscate the details.
The province’s authority to decide how its natural resources are used is tenuous to begin with. By international law, and affirmed by Canadian federal courts, about 95 percent of this sprawling province remains the unceded territory of the First Nations of this place. Because of this, legislation and regulations direct government and corporations to consult with the First Nations on whose territory resource extraction is occurring. In practice, however, the colonial provincial government has historically awarded land tenures to logging and mining corporations with little to no regard to the stated interests of First Nations.
The area at issue in the WKES complaint, for instance, is in the traditional territory of the Ktunaxa, Okanagan, and Sinixt First Nations, which have all been largely excluded from forestry and other resource-extraction land-use plans in the past. The Ktunaxa Nation Council has been negotiating with the province for co-management of their territory but declined to comment for this story.