Area farmlands at risk of reforestation

UK corporation seeks carbon credits using B.C. land

A British corporation, which is buying up thousands of hectares of farmlands in British Columbia to convert them into deciduous forests, was a hot topic at the North Central Local Government Association (NCLGA) convention last month.

Cariboo Regional District (CRD) chair Al Richmond was a delegate at the convention, where concerns about this large foreign company that is “very active” in buying agriculture land in the Cariboo and Vanderhoof areas “dominated a lot of conversations.”

Reckitt Benckiser Inc. (RB) is a United Kingdom-based manufacturer of cleaning products and health aids that has bought up more than 7,000 hectares of farmland from Prince George to Quesnel in the past few years, planted it with trees and then freezing it up with covenants to prevent logging for at least 100 years.

It did so to achieve European carbon offsets and improve public opinion, and now it’s looking to buy up more Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) property in the Cariboo, Richmond explains.

“[This] is a company that is actively looking at agricultural land in the Quesnel area … so there is concern … this has certainly become a huge issue for folks where agricultural land is potentially taken out of food production, [for which] there is a limited area.”

Richmond says the concern and talks centred on the reforesting of arable land suitable for producing hay, alfalfa, and other feed crops, when there are other areas available that are not as agriculturally productive.

“But to see that land that was developed for agriculture turned into forest land just for large corporations to purchase carbon credits, I think there are strong feelings about that.

“I think it’s going to become an issue very quickly for [the Union of B.C. Municipalities], and for the local governments in the Cariboo, and certainly for the folks we heard in the Vanderhoof and Peace River areas.”

When it comes to offsetting carbon emissions to reduce global warming, Richmond says some people might prefer to see corporations spend the money that they are on planting trees to to spend that money to reduce emissions for a stronger and more long-term benefit to the environment.

“In some cases, that could take a long time to happen, but I think the general consensus I heard … at NCLGA is that we should not be taking good, food-producing farmland and turning it into growing trees for the large corporations to get carbon credits.”

The province could perhaps work with companies like this to reforest areas devastated by mountain pine beetle or after general harvesting, he adds.

“With the shortage of money for silviculture in the forest sector … maybe there is a means of looking at how they can contribute to [planting trees in] our forests in order to get carbon credits.”

Richmond explains other parts of B.C. have seen this issue sooner, so they have more experience in working on it.

A recent CRD board resolution was to collaborate with the other regional districts and municipal partners to look at what is going on with these ALR lands being purchased in RB’s Trees for Change British carbon credit program, he adds.

“I am trying to set a meeting up for all the chairs in the north to meet, probably in early June.”