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:

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.

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.

Related Guide Pages:

For more information about the Forest Act and Timber Tenure:

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