The B.C. government will not be changing laws or considering hiring more staff as recommended in a report by one of its own MLAs on how to protect wildlife and biodiversity from the affects of resource industries.
Hunting and fishing organizations including the 42,000-member B.C. Wildlife Federation made a call in the fall of 2014 – following the catastrophic Mount Polley Mine tailings dam failure – for the Liberal government to retake control of resource extraction practices, planning and oversight.
The groups said the government's move in the past decade to rely on professionals hired by industry to make decisions on the land base, with little government oversight, had failed.
An internal report from Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Mike Morris – commissioned by the B.C. Liberal government to respond to the concerns of wildlife groups -- recommended several key legislative changes, and called on the province to consider adding more natural resource compliance and enforcement officers, in addition to expanding their powers.
The Morris report – completed in August but only released this month – also recommends reviewing all resource laws with a view to consolidating them, and removing "nebulous" and "ambiguous" language from the Forest and Range Practices Act.
Morris, a former RCMP superintendent who was recently named the province's solicitor general, also recommended removing wording in forestry laws on planning, practices and protection objectives that states "without unduly reducing the supply of timber from British Columbia's forest." His report said this wording "significantly lowers the threshold protecting our biodiversity."
B.C. Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson said while he will implement the "essence" of the Morris report (entitled Getting the Balance Right: Improving Wildlife Habitat Management in B.C.), changes in law and the addition of staff are not on the list of the recommendations he will be acting on.
The forests minister said he will be looking at Morris' advice on ensuring wildlife values are accounted for in planning, completing wildlife inventories, addressing cumulative effects of development on the land base, and finding ways to tap the expertise of forest companies and hunters.
"I have asked staff to implement as many recommendations as we can and to look at continuous improvement," Thomson said in an interview.
The forests minister said he did not have a timeline for when the recommendations would be implemented, nor did he know how his ministry would report to the public on progress.
The B.C. Wildlife Federation (which represents hunters and sports fishers) said the report's recommendations themselves did not go far enough, as they focused almost solely on forestry and the affects of the mountain pine beetle epidemic. They said the report also didn't take into consideration activities of other major industries such as mining and oil and gas.
"I guess the question in B.C. is: Are we serious about biodiversity or not?" said federation director Jesse Zeman. "If we are, then legislative change and funding capacity are the big-picture issues we need to start tackling."
Zeman said his group is also disappointed that the province ignored calls to expand the powers of B.C.'s Forests Practices Board, a watchdog agency at arms-length from government, into the mining and oil and gas sectors.
While the wildlife federation was not happy with the report or Thomson's response to it, B.C. Guide Outfitters executive director Scott Ellis said his group could live with the recommendations.
The forests ministry's approach to the Morris' recommendations is starkly different than the response to other recent government or government-commissioned reports.
The province has already brought in new laws to backstop recommendations from a 2014 report on improving safety in the workplace following two deadly sawmill explosions in 2012.
And just last week, B.C. Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said he would implement all 19 recommendations made by chief mines inspector Al Hoffman following a ministry investigation into the Mount Polley Mine dam failure.
University of Victoria environmental law instructor Mark Haddock said he thought the Morris report got to "the heart" of how to protect wildlife habitat.
But Haddock said the case made in the Morris report is already well-documented, including in reports from the auditor general and the B.C. ombudsman.
"It's really just political direction at this point," he said about whether meaningful change will be made or not.