An investigation by B.C.'s forestry industry watchdog has shown that the number of government compliance inspections on forestry and cattle range practices fell by a third between 2009 and 2012.
The Forest Practices Board, an independent organization that audits the forestry industry and related government bodies, says in a new report that a main reason for the decreased number of inspections is the consolidation of natural resource ministries in 2010 that created the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations. The boards said in a news release that the new ministry has fewer natural resource officers.
"Whereas in the past, most of the staff were focused on forest and range activities, with the consolidation of the ministry, they're now looking at a much broader number of things," said Al Gorley, the board chair. These include inspections of dams and structures such as cabins and docks.
"The total number of inspections may not have changed much, but the number of inspections on forest and range activities has gone down."
Mr. Gorley said the FPB is not recommending any particular number of inspections to ensure forestry regulations are followed, but raising a concern over what the reduction might mean for the industry's safety record later on.
"If the trend continues, government may not be doing enough to know whether they're getting good compliance or not," Mr. Gorley said. "We may reach a point where we just don't have enough information."
Natural resources minister Steve Thomson said he welcomed the report and will study it closely.
"It's important to note here that we've been through a major restructuring," Mr. Thomson said. "We've had situations where there's previously closely related inspections that were all counted separately, but now show up as one single inspection. We need to ensure that that is reflected in the reporting."
Mr. Thomson said that although some changes in the inspection reporting may need to be considered, it is important to note the 97 per cent compliance rate by forest industry licensees. "We're confident that both the compliance with our regulations and the monitoring is protecting environmental values," he said.