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Forest Renewal BC by any other name … except you’re paying for it

A long, long, time ago, in another era, we had a little Crown corporation in this province called Forest Renewal B.C. (FRBC).

It was created by the NDP government in 1994 with the goal of delivering a variety of programs aimed at supporting the forests and forest industry of the province. When the Liberals took office in 2001, they quickly scrapped FRBC, replacing it with a forest investment account, which has, I suppose, disappeared over the years.

Now we have the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. (FESBC). For most of us, we probably didn’t even know it existed until last week when Premier Christy Clark announced the province was giving it $150 million, which is over and above the $85 million we taxpayers gave the society to get going last year.

The society’s mandate is mandate “to advance environmental and resource stewardship of British Columbia’s forests and advocate for the environmental and resource stewardship of British Columbia’s forests.”

That, in case you were wondering, is pretty darn close to what FRBC was doing. Both entities funnel money into projects designed to enhance our forests.

Nothing wrong with that.

However, there is at least one major differences between FRBC and FESBC.

FRBC, which was a Crown corporation, got its money from a ‘super stumpage’ that was charged to major licensees in the province. If memory serves, the kitty got up to $400 million, almost twice of what FESBC has received … so far.

Despite charges that FRBC grew too large and bureaucratic, it was really the super stumpage that did it in. The major licensees didn’t like the fact that FRBC had the temerity to award some of the projects to groups and organizations other than the major licensees. The province’s forest companies didn’t have a problem with government siphoning off $400 million in stumpage as long as a good portion of that came back in through the back door.

It didn’t. They complained. Government changed. FRBC died.

Charging a super stumpage to fund FRBC was actually a very clever move by the government of the day. The super stumpage became something they could plop down in front of the U.S. Lumber Coalition when softwood lumber talks came up and say: “Look, here’s an extra stumpage that we’re charging our forest companies … so back off, ya protectionist bastards.” OK, maybe not that last part, but you get the point.

It made sense, to everyone other than shareholders in forest companies, to use revenue being generated by the forest industry to fund rehabilitation and reforestation programs.

Now, under the FESBC model, the money to do basically the same things that FRBC was doing, is coming out of the province’s general revenue … i.e. you, the taxpayer.

Given that FESBC has only been in operation for about a year, it hasn’t funded a whole lot of projects yet (about $2.7 million worth) and its website doesn’t stipulate who actually received the funding. It will be interesting over the next little while to see how much of the $230 million it has left goes to the major licensees.

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