The B.C. Forest Practices Board will begin an examination of Pacheedaht Anderson Timber Holdings near Port Renfrew, but Chris Mosher, the director of audits for the board, cautioned there should be no expectation any violations will result in legal action.
The audit on tree farm license 61 takes place next week, but does not come as a reaction to any specific concerns.
“The audits are picked randomly and are not based on past practices or on complaints. There is a separate section (of the Ministry of Forests) that can investigate complaints. That’s not our role,” Mosher said.
On the completion of the audit, the board issues a report that will be available to the public, but will have little authority to do anything beyond filing the report to address any violations that may be found.
“We can’t stop work or impose any penalties. If there is significant noncompliance, we report it,” Mosher said.
“In a way, we’re a watchdog with no teeth.”
Mosher said after the “war in the woods,” a series of protests related to clearcutting in Clayoquot Sound in 1993, the board was formed as a “relief valve” to quell public concerns.
“We’ve never had the authority to take any direct action,” he said.
Mosher said the lack of any demonstrable authority does not mean that the board’s audits are not worthwhile.
“We conduct about 12 audits a year across the province and we’ve found that, through those audits, we get a significant level of cooperation from the forestry companies. They are very concerned about their public image, and they also know that we will be issuing the public report,” Mosher said.
“Often they may get our report and take action voluntarily to change any practices that show up as a violation.”
“I think that the way we’re structured, without any true authority to levy penalties, it gives them a reason to give us a greater level of access. We also spend more time on each audit area so we get a better picture of what’s happening.”
A spokesperson for the Forests Ministry said the board does not have any punitive powers over the companies they audit, but stressed that the board’s reports can also include recommendations to the ministry for actions in reaction to any significant, unresolved violations.
While that potential exists, Mosher said that he couldn’t think of a single instance where the Compliance and Enforcement Branch (the part of the ministry with the powers to issue fines or stop work) had taken action in response to one of the board’s audits.
The Ministry of Forests does have a mechanism for the general public to play a role if they become aware of a violation.
The ministry’s website at www.for.gov.bc.ca/hen/nrv/ outlines the mechanism for filing a report and states the report will be forwarded to the Compliance and Enforcement Branch for action.