Forest Act: Timber Tenure

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Ninety-four percent of the land base in British Columbia is Crown land, owned by the public and managed by the provincial government. Much of the Forest Act is concerned with allocating who can have access to which trees. The Ministry of Forests and Range is responsible for making these allocations through the timber tenure system.

The Timber Tenure System The Forest Act sets up a system of legislation, regulations, contractual agreements, policies and permits that allocate rights to forest resources to different private interests. This system is known as the “timber tenure system.”

The Forest Act allows the Minister to grant logging rights through any one of 11 different types of agreements. The most common are:

  • Tree Farm Licences (TFLs) – Covering a large area, TFLs are “area-based” tenures, meaning that the licensee has exclusive logging rights to the entire area, as well as the responsibility for managing that area (including protection of non-timber resources, planning operations, resource inventories, road building, cutting, replanting, etc.). A TFL may include some private land as well as public lands. A TFL has a term of 25 years, but is replaceable every 5 – 10 years, so that in effect most TFLs continue indefinitely.
  • Forest Licences (FLs) – Forest Licences guarantee the licensee the “volume-based” right to timber somewhere in a “Timber Supply Area”. Licensees are responsible for planning forest operations in the area, following through on those plans, building roads and reforesting cut areas. Most FLs have a term of 20 years, but must be replaced every 5 – 10 years, giving the holder long-term rights to a volume of timber in a TSA. However, some forest licences are non-replaceable, and will expire at the end of a specified term. This is common for licences associated with AAC uplift for salvage of mountain pine beetle, for example.

Forest licences are normally awarded by a competitive bidding and application process, but in certain situations they may be awarded directly to an applicant, such as a First Nation or a company that has been awarded a bioenergy supply contract by B.C. Hydro. “Bioenergy licences” are a recent addition to the Forest Act, and enable their holders to harvest timber (expected to come from mountain pine beetle salvage areas) that will be burned to generate electricity.

  • Timber Sale Licences (TSLs) – TSLs are smaller, area-based licences that are awarded by a division of the Ministry of Forests and Range known as BC Timber Sales (BCTS) that has responsibility to sell Crown timber on the open market by way of public auctions. TSLs have up to a four-year term, and are less onerous than other tenures in that BC Timber Sales does the planning to identify a specific area to be cut, and then auctions the right to cut that specific area. The successful bidder is not responsible for planning, road access or replanting the area, but merely for following the plans. Although individual TSLs tend to be much smaller than other licences, collectively they amount to about 20% of the provincial AAC.
  • Timber Licences – Timber licences are older tenures that convey the exclusive right to log a particular area of forest. They are no longer being issued, and there is no right to have a Timber Licence replaced. The licensee is responsible for planning, road building and reforestation.
  • Woodlot Licences – Woodlot Licences grant the right to log over a small area, sometimes including private land. Usually held by small-scale operators, the Woodlot Licences require the licensee to plan, build roads and reforest the area. However, planning requirements are less stringent than for the larger tenures.
  • Community Forest Agreements – Community forest agreements grant the exclusive right to manage and log an area to a First Nation, municipality, regional district or other qualifying community organization. These agreements are unique in that may also grant rights to non-timber, botanical forest products. Community forest agreements have an initial probationary term of five years, following which a long-term agreement may be entered into for a period from 25 to 99 years.

Policy Considerations A major issue in many jurisdictions is who gets access to public resources. The timber tenure system has had a controversial history in British Columbia, particularly during the period in which large tenures were awarded to large forest companies in the 1940s and ‘50s. Those licences displaced many small businesses engaged in the logging business, and are still in effect through clauses requiring the government to offer replacement licences every 10 years or so. In other words, they keep rolling over and are therefore referred to as “evergreen” tenures. This leaves little room for new entrants into the forestry industry, unless they purchase the rights under a pre-existing licence. This does not apply to timber sale licences or other non-replaceable licences, but they represent a small portion of the total available cut.

There is an important link between the allowable annual cut and the forest tenure system, in that the Minister of Forests and Range apportions the AAC that is set by the chief forester among various tenures. Given that most of the available AAC has been fully allocated for a long time, some forest policy critics question where the wood for new licences will come from, and more significantly, what the environmental impact of these licences will be. For example, is there really enough surplus wood out there to support new bioenergy licences? The same question may be asked for the increasing number of non-replaceable forest licences in recent years. Environmental protection policy has long been driven by AAC impact. This has resulted in wildlife managers having to rely on what is considered “non-contributing” (i.e. to the AAC) or “inoperable” forest to meet wildlife habitat objectives. Yet as those areas shrink due to increased demand for wood fibre, there is an important issue outstanding concerning the adequacy of the amount of forest available to wildlife and other non-timber values.

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For more information about the Forest Act and Timber Tenure: