It’s a start, but it’s not enough.
Columbia Shuswap Regional District directors welcomed representatives from Tolko Industries Ltd. and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Resource Operations to the Sept. 21 board meeting in Salmon Arm, but asked for increased and more detailed consultation on proposed cutblocks.
Michael Bragg, Tolko woodlands manager, and Tom Hoffman, manager of external and stakeholder relations attended the board meeting in order to explain who they are and how their forest planning process works.
Hoffman also assured directors that Tolko has heard complaints that forest companies do not communicate with the public.
“We’re trying to rectify this,” he said. “This is just a start, we’re willing to come back.”
Several members of the Swansea Point Community Association sat in the gallery, listening to Bragg say proposed blocks for their area and Silver Creek are long-term plans for the next 20 years.
“They may or may not get off the ground,” he said, pointing out professionals are currently collecting data, part of a long process that is likely to run into spring or summer. “We hope to have a professional opinion by end of summer 2018 and come back here in late 2018 or early 2019.”
“We are still in the planning process in these areas,” added Hoffman. “Further to that, this is not an overnight delivery model; it’s always done in full communication with the public and then approved by FLNRO.”
He said the province has not issued timer harvest cutting permits in Silver Creek or Swansea Point and Tolko is fully aware of needing professionals to help build the plans to harvest responsibly.
CSRD Area E rural Sicamous director and board chair Rhona Martin explained that many people in Swansea Point are suffering from PTSD due to major debris flow and flooding events in the recent past.
Area D director Rene Talbot complained forest companies no longer hold public meetings where residents could learn of plans firsthand and ask questions regarding their concerns.
But Ministry of FLNRO regional executive director Ray Crampton pointed out open houses were almost always unsuccessful.
“We’d get the six same people every time and the box of stale doughnuts,” he said. “If we know communities have an interest in a conversation, we’ll come out, but it’s a two-way street. If we’re willing to come out, we need people to come out too.”
But Martin countered by saying people are using the land more in terms of increased tourism, including snowmobiling, and are more engaged in what is happening on the land.
“I do encourage you to please connect with local communities,” she said.
The three members of the delegation acknowledged that the maps that are sent to residents outlining cutblock areas are inadequate.
“It’s a green blob with numbers but nothing I can identify about where they’re gonna log so I have to get hold of CSRD planning and ask ‘can you find out where this is?” said Talbot.
CSRD planner Jan Thingsted told the company reps why he believes there has been much anxiety and anger among Swansea Point residents, based on referral letter they received.
“It made no mention of the forest planning process, so people thought it was a done deal,” he said, pointing out much of the concern could have been avoided if there had been an indication it was preliminary and that there would be hydrological studies and more. “Staff here were inundated with emails that took a lot of our time. I’m glad to hear you want to work with local government.”
Salmon Arm director Chad Eliason told Tolko reps that smaller communities are often left out of the information loop.
”People feel once certifications happen, it’s the end of the consultation,” Eliason said, noting Salmon Arm council deals with the same issue. “We feel that we need more input. How are you going to make sure people will feel they’re getting consultation?”
Hoffman and Bragg acknowledged directors’ concern and Bragg suggested future meetings with staff and the board to improve communication.
“We want to participate; you’ve given us good information and now we have direction,” Bragg said. “We do recognize there is some other work required before we send letters. We send technical letters but we need to create one for land owners who aren’t in the business.”
Crampton added his reassurances by saying FLNRO works closely with forest companies to make sure submitted cutblock plans meet with legislated requirements, including those around First Nations, water and wildlife.