Tuesday, February 24, 2009

FOREST LANDS LIQUIDATED INTO REAL ESTATE

On a crisp clear winter’s day I found myself standing just above the hydro-lines on Rowbotham Ridge, which is clearly visible from almost anywhere in Oceanside with its unsightly cut-blocks. I admired a panoramic view of the Strait of Georgia. I could see clearly from Comox to Nanaimo and gazed upon many islands including Denman, Hornby, Lasqueti, Texada, Ballenas, and the Winchelse Group.

My view was partially obstructed by piles of logs that had been felled recently. I soon realized that they had been yarded out of several patches that had been left behind from earlier logging. These bunches of trees had been left as part of a selective logging practice known as Variable Retention, which is referred to by many as patch-cut logging.

The previous owners of this forestland, Weyerhaeuser, had obtained special certification for their logging practices in order to get past tight restrictions set by buyers of lumber such as Home Depot, and European markets. The standards needed to meet these regulations forced the logging multinational to leave small clumps of trees throughout their clear-cuts, including small buffers along watershed tributaries.

Certification was approved, trees were cashed in for dollars, and investors were paid. At the same time international and domestic consumers were duped into believing that logging in BC is regulated by the highest environmental standards in the world. Then Weyerhaeuser sold all of its forestland on Vancouver Island to Brookfield Assets Management Inc

Through the BC Investment Corporation 25% of Island Timberlands is owned by BC Government employees via their pension funds. Since 2005, profits from this logging company have been stored offshore in Bermuda by Brookfield Asset Management in order to minimize taxes paid in Canada.

Island Timberlands is now cutting down the buffer trees which completely defeats the purpose of Variable Retention logging practices. Multinational logging companies are now selling forestland all over Vancouver Island as real estate.

What the public doesn’t realize is that forestlands were established in BC during the 1950's and were put in place to promote sustainable logging that would provide economic stability for future generations. Stipulations were included that local towns would be supported, in perpetuity, by logging companies that benefited from forestland status. These regulations were put in place for the good of local economies. It was illegal for logging companies to sell forestland as real estate.

All private forestlands were included in the Tree Farm Licenses and were regulated by the Ministry of Forests through the BC Forest Service. Since 2001 Premier Gordon Campbell’s Liberal government has stripped away these regulations, cut back the Forest Service staff, and given hundreds of thousand of hectares to multinational forest companies, which they are selling as real estate.

Timberwest is selling 54,000 hectare of forestland as real estate between Courtney and Campbell River with a few plots in Oceanside. Western Forest Products is selling 1,800 hectares of real estate between the community of Shirley and Jordan River. Brookfield Asset Management Inc. has been strategically placing forestland on the real estate market along the east coast of Vancouver Island. A highly visible example is the land around Hamilton Marsh, just outside of Qualicum Beach, which has been logged in preparation for sale.

When you add up all the forestland converted to real estate recently, it represents a larger landmass than is encompassed by all the cities on Vancouver Island combined. Besides flooding the market with property at a time that the world is diving headlong into a massive depression, these properties will be governed by very few regulations yet they will place heavy demands on local water, sewage, and nature.

The fact remains: BC Liberal’s election campaigns have been largely funded, by the same logging companies that now stand to gain billions of dollars in real estate profits. This massive land sell-off is happening at the same time that thousands of forest industry workers are being laid off by these same multi-national companies. The next election is May 12, 2009 and will include a referendum on Electoral Reform, which is so desperately needed in BC.

1 comment:

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