Regional district quits forestry group over new rules

The Strathcona Regional District says it will no longer participate in a forestry advisory group that ejected one of its directors

The Strathcona Regional District says it will no longer participate in a forestry advisory group that ejected one of its directors from a meeting.

The board, at last week’s Thursday meeting, decided to terminate its membership in the Mid Island Forest and Lands Advisory Group (MIFLAG) so long as new rules governing the group stand.

New Terms of Reference, written by Western Forest Products which hosts the MIFLAG meetings as part of its certification process, have not been changed despite claims from the regional district that they are arbitrary and unfair.

“It’s their process, if we don’t want to play by their rules fine, but we should say why,” said Campbell River Director Charlie Cornfield.

The board approved sending a letter to Western saying it will no longer participate in MIFLAG under the Terms of Reference that were drafted after an internal review of Western Forest Products determined that MIFLAG was not functional, was getting stuck on issues and wasn’t a productive use of time for all members.

Area A Director Gerald Whalley, who has been the regional district’s representative on MIFLAG for the last seven years, said the new Terms of Reference give Western the “authority to arbitrarily change the Terms of Reference and it also gives them the authority to remove any member of MIFLAG that they wish.”

It also allows Western to approve or reject an agency’s representative to MIFLAG.

“They’ll just appoint members that are sympathetic to them,” he said. “They have no intention of meeting the requirements we need to have a democratic group.”

Whalley has not seen eye-to-eye with Western and MIFLAG since he was evicted from a Sept. 22 MIFLAG meeting last year. At that meeting, Whalley appealed Western’s clean audit which he said found the company to be abiding by its advisory group’s recommendations and that there wasn’t much more the company could do in terms of improvement.

Whalley said he questioned that after a motion to allow Western to increase its allowable use of herbicides in the Sayward Valley by three times was declared carried at a previous MIFLAG meeting following a vote of six in favour and four opposed. Whalley contests that it should have failed according to MIFLAG’s original terms of reference which called for a consensus.

After being told to leave that September meeting, and a letter was sent by Western to the regional district stating that Whalley was no longer welcome, MIFLAG meetings were suspended until an investigation –  triggered by Whalley’s appeal of the audit – as well as Western’s internal review, were complete.

On June 14, MIFLAG met for the first time since the incident.

Absent from the meeting was the regional district which did not agree with the new guidelines and as a consequence, was not invited. Prior to that meeting, the regional district had sent correspondence to Western laying out its concerns with the new Terms of Reference.

In an email sent in response to board Chair John MacDonald, regional district CAO Dave Leitch said the tone read like the regional district was no longer considered a member of MIFLAG.

“They don’t come out and directly say they’re moving on without us, but it’s my understanding we’re not part of MIFLAG,” said Leitch.

Western’s Operations Manager Jeff Ternan wrote in an email dated June 7 that Western wants to move on.

“Given we will be restarting MIFLAG under the new Terms of Reference, we have little choice but to interpret the motions the regional district has passed as its desire to disengage from the process,” Ternan wrote. “I am also saddened by what has occurred but, out of respect for our other members, we need to start looking forward.”

Amy Spencer, spokesperson for Western Forest Products, told the Mirror in June that Western is still open to communication with the regional district.

“We are always available to discuss concerns the regional district might have, and we will certainly make an effort to continue correspondence with SRD (Strathcona Regional District) in the future,” Spencer said. “We respect their decision to not participate.”

Campbell River Director Ron Kerr suggested that the regional district may, in the future, want to reconsider its participation in MIFLAG and was satisfied that the motion approved by the board provides that latitude.

“It leaves the door open for us to come back if certain conditions are met, rather than just washing our hands of it,” Kerr said.

Cornfield, though, said the regional district may be left holding its breath.

“I think those conditions were made by this board already and they said ‘no’ and that’s fine,” Cornfield said, adding there is still local representation on the board as both Sayward and Campbell River councils have representatives on MIFLAG.