Protesters seeking to disrupt private land timber harvesting on Cortes Island continue to draw attention from local media. In early December, PFLA responded to a CTV News Vancouver Island story in hopes of correcting misinformation about regulation on private managed forest land.

Two recent editorial articles suggest confusion about the protection of key public environmental values on managed forest land persists.

“…which means that there is no real government oversight and private land foresters ultimately get to decide what constitutes compliance.” — Provincial Oversight Missing in Cortes Logging Dispute, published in the Campbell River Mirror, December 11, 2012.

“… companies like Timberlands are allowed to apply a model of “professional reliance” which means that there is little meaningful regulatory oversight.” —Province Forsaken Its Role on Cortes, published in Monday Magazine, December 13, 2012.

Both editorials reflect a perception, in some quarters, of insufficient government oversight regarding forest management practices on private forest lands. As representatives of private forest owners, dedicated to the responsible stewardship of BC’s private forest lands, we’ll take another stab at clearing things up.

Simply put, lack of oversight allegations are untrue.

Provincial and federal governments maintain oversight and control by investigating and penalizing any regulatory non-compliance brought to their attention through inspections, reports, and regular forest practices audits.

Active owners of managed forest land are audited every single year. In contrast, Crown land licencees are audited, on average, once every five to ten years.

Any member of the public with grounds for complaint can bring an allegation of non-compliance to the appropriate regulatory agency and an investigation will follow.

Enforcement of federal, provincial and local government regulations on private managed forest land is conducted by a long list of regulatory agencies, including: Environment Canada; Fisheries & Oceans Canada; Parks Canada; Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Forests, Lands & Natural Resource Operations; and the Private Managed Forest Land Council.

The Private Managed Forest Land Council is the regulatory agency responsible for the Managed Forest Program. They have a responsive regulatory process that swings into action to complete investigations, and take enforcement actions, significantly sooner than the public land model.

Penalties for failing to meet environmental laws on private land are financially significant, comparable to public land penalties and government can take immediate measures to prevent further regulatory non-compliances by imposing stop-work and remediation orders.

Forest owners have additional incentives to meet or exceed legal requirements. For example, a single non-compliance event can jeopardise valuable third-party forest management certification. This is detrimental to forest owners who rely on third-party certification to maintain the confidence of neighbouring communities and satisfy their customers’ demand for sustainably managed forest products.

This is a results-oriented regulatory approach that leverages a dynamic unique to private land: owners are held fully responsible for their actions. In contrast, multiple and overlapping licencees, authorizing agencies and users, found on public land, make it difficult to determine who’s responsible for what. This dynamic is often referred to as “the tragedy of the commons”.

In our view, it’s not a question of determining whether there’s sufficient government oversight on private land, but rather a matter of understanding a completely different model of ownership and responsibility.

PFLA is committed to raising awareness about private forest management and we welcome your questions and comments.

Addendum: The Association of BC Forest Professionals also wrote a response to the Campbell River Mirror editorial, published December 20, 2012, to correct what in their view was a misleading and inaccurate assessment of professional reliance.