VICTORIA - The B.C. government has backed off on a plan that critics said would have sold out public control over Crown forest land.
Forests Minister Steve Thomson says he's withdrawn proposed changes to the Forest Act that would have allowed volume-based forest licences to be converted to area-based forest licences, essentially giving private companies more power over government-owned land.
Thomson says it's become clear more public input is needed on the idea, so the government will conduct broad consultations this summer on the recommendations of a special committee that first proposed the change.
That means nothing will be done until after the May election.
NDP forests critic Norm Macdonald welcomed Thomson's move.
"The proposed changes were deeply problematic and went in exactly the wrong direction," MacDonald said in a news release.
"They threatened public control over B.C.’s land base and risked hard-won environmental standards.
"I’m glad to see that the minister listened, not only to what I had to say, but to the concerns of thousands of British Columbians who let the Liberal government know that this was simply unacceptable.”
Independent MLA Bob Simpson also praised the government's decision to shelve the amendments, saying the Liberals responded to mounting public concerns over plans to make sweeping changes to B.C. forest policy.
He also called for a public inquiry into future forest policy.
"The last inquiry into B.C.’s forests and forest policy was in the 1990s, and given all that’s happened with the mountain pine beetle epidemic, our shrinking timber supply, corporate concentration and control of log supply, and climate change’s threat to our public forests, we need a full public inquiry before considering any forest policy changes," Simpson said in a statement.
Ken Wu of the environmental group Ancient Forest Alliance is also applauding the Liberals for backing down.
"The BC Liberals wanted to give a ‘parting gift’ to the major logging companies before they leave office, but in this politically sensitive pre-election period that’s not going to happen now — thanks to thousands of people who spoke up and the great work of Bob Simpson," Wu said in a statement.
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