Update on Draft Order to Establish Forestry Visual Quality Objectives

In January 2021, the BC Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRO) advertised a draft Order to establish revised Visual Quality Objectives (VQO) for logging in the Sunshine Coast Natural Resource District (SCNRD). The draft Order was open for public comment for 60 days.

Visual Quality Objectives determine to what extent clear-cut logging will be allowed to impact the visual appearance of the landscapes in “Supernatural” British Columbia. The visual quality of the environment is an important part of our economy. In the past, there have been extensive public consultations and analyses before making these determinations.

The SCCA didn’t learn about the draft Order to establish new VQOs or the comment period on the Order until mid-March. With a deadline looming to comment on a highly complex Order, we contacted FLNRO to ask for more time and more information to inform our submission. FLNRO gave us an extra 30 days and a few digital maps.

Over the course of a couple of weeks, the SCCA reached out to stakeholders throughout the region and learned that there had also been no real process to inform the public and many stakeholders. And, that local governments had not even been notified of the order at all. Once again, we asked FLNRO to engage and consult the public in a meaningful way and to extend the comment period until the end of June, to give us all enough time to get informed and make submissions on the proposal.

FLNRO staff acknowledged that their public and stakeholder engagement process was insufficient and that omitting to consult local governments was a big missing piece. Still, the District Manager (DM) would not extend the existing public comment period beyond April 30th, 2021.

However, the DM did agree to engage with the SCCA and other regional Stakeholder groups for a second round of engagement, and to consult with us on next steps for additional engagement. As well, FLNR staff have agreed that Stakeholder groups like the SCCA and Local Governments will be able to engage our proponents and include their feedback with our submissions.

We feel this second round of consultation is a much needed first step to ensure stakeholders and the public are engaged on important land use issues in the Sunshine Coast Natural Resource District.

Next Steps

The SCCA has many concerns around the outdated policy, information and data that has been used to inform these VQO recommendations and the proposed designations for much of our region.

Going forward, we will be working with a variety of stakeholder groups to analyze the draft order and prepare submissions to FLNRO. We will prepare submissions addressing policy and process issues and comments on specific areas and polygons in the North and South SCNRD regions. If you would like to contribute to or support this work, please contact us asap.

If you belong to a group, own or operate a business whose interests are affected by the Scenic Quality of the landscape on the Sunshine Coast Natural Resource District, we want to hear from you. Please let us know if you would like your organization added to the Stakeholder list, we provide to FLRNO and/or if you would like us to help facilitate submission of your comments on this process to FLNRO.

Visual Quality Objectives on the Sunshine Coast

The BC government recognizes the social, cultural and economic value of Beautiful British Columbia’s scenic landscape and the public entrusts the province to manage visual impacts on Crown forest land to ensure scenic quality expectations of the public, tourism, recreation and other sectors are met.

VQOs are established under the Government Action Regulation. Before deciding on VQOs, the FLNRO District Manager must consult with First Nations, industry, stakeholders, and the public. Unfortunately, FLNRO neglected to consult conservation, recreation and tourism Stakeholders and Local Governments on this draft Order. However, FLNRO District Manager, Derek Lefler has now committed to undertake further consultation with stakeholder groups in a meaningful way.

Inadequate Consultation

VQOs are established under the Government Action Regulation. The existing VQOs for the SCNRD were established in 1991 and updated through 1999. When the process to establish the VQOs was originally done in 1991, a robust stakeholder engagement process was undertaken. A local consultant was paid $10,000 to tour the region for 3 months, with maps and notepad, to document community interests and communicate back to FLNRO. Twenty years later FLNRO has chosen not to refer this Order to local governments and posted the draft Order for public comment mid-winter amid a global pandemic with nothing more than a small ad in the local newspaper. As a result of this lack of engagement we nearly missed our only chance to respond to this important proposal.

Outdated Information

VQOs are supposed to be based on a “current” analysis of the landscape called a Visual Landscape Inventory (VLI). The SCNRD Visual Landscape Inventory was conducted between 2012-2014 in order to update the visible landscape measures from Howe Sound in the south, to Toba and Bute Inlets in the north, west to Texada Island. The VLI provides a set of Recommended Visual Quality Classes (RVQC’s) which recommend which “alteration category” is likely to result in the “best outcome based on the professional advice” of the person conducting the inventory. The VLI Procedures & Standards Manual dates back to May 1997. This means the proposed VQOs are based on a 24-year-old policy and 8–10-year-old VLIs which don’t account for current conditions, climate change and cumulative effects.

There is currently a government to government planning process ongoing in the shíshálh swiya. This process will generate current data on the current conditions of the landscape. These data should be used to update the VLI and inform the VQO recommendations.

In Howe Sound, regional governments, First Nations and NGOS groups have been calling for comprehensive land and marine planning for eight years. The province undertook a Cumulative Effects Assessment for the Sound and is on the verge of launching a public CEAF data and mapping tool to inform land use planning decisions. Initial data released on the Howe Sound CEAF website indicates VQOs have been hard hit on the Sunshine Coast. These data are critical to understanding the current state of the landscape and should be used to update the VLI and inform VQO recommendations.

Change is Here

Land use needs have changed immeasurably within the SCNRD since the VQOs were established in the 1990s and the VLIs were updated in 2012-2014. Over the last 10 years, Coastal communities have felt the compounding negative impacts of industrial logging on ecological and natural capital values. We continue to face ever growing impacts of climate change (drought and fire), and cumulative effects on biodiversity and natural infrastructure including on our fisheries and drinking water supply.

The local economy has also changed. Knowledge and service sectors, outdoor recreation and tourism, scientific research and education are starting to edge out industrial activity as regional economic drivers. Some of the most spectacular scenery in Supernatural British Columbia can be found in the SCNRD and our forested landscapes are a defining feature of the coastal lifestyle and tourism product. We experience far more tourism and recreational use than we did 8-10 years ago. Since Covid, our amazing scenery, proximity to nature and access to outdoor recreation opportunities have become an even bigger draw for families moving from the city to our small, rural communities. Protecting scenic values for recreation and tourism is critical to supporting the local economy throughout the district.

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