Ranch for sale at Horsefly in the Cariboo. Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson says Horsefly and Likely are the latest areas of interest to buy land to plant trees for European carbon offsets.

Sacrificing farmland for climate change

Quesnel mayor disputes claim that farms and ranches bought up for tree planting are only marginal or abandoned properties

VICTORIA – It was 2008 when word first surfaced that B.C. farmland was being bought up to grow trees as a European carbon offset.

Reckitt Benckiser Inc., a British-based global manufacturer of household products such as Lysol spray and Calgon laundry soap, bought 1,500 hectares east of Vanderhoof and planted aspen. For comparison, that’s about the size of downtown Vancouver from 16th and Oak to Stanley Park.

Since tree growing is permitted in the Agricultural Land Reserve, a use intended for fruit, ornamental or nursery trees, no permission was needed. And to meet the carbon offset rules of the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change, a 100-year restrictive covenant against harvesting trees was issued by B.C.’s land titles office.

Goodbye farmland.

After that deal, the B.C. government changed legislation in 2011 to require permission from the Agricultural Land Commission to make these covenants valid. Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick says he is waiting for that process to be tested.

It likely will be soon. Reckitt has bought another 7,000 hectares of cleared farmland from Prince George down through the Cariboo to Quesnel. NDP agriculture critic Lana Popham has been tracking these acquisitions, and she says there are more deals in the works.

Last fall, the Bulkley Nechako Regional District wrote to Victoria Wood, Reckitt Benckiser’s “global head of sustainability,” telling her that “the planting of trees on centrally located and productive agricultural lands is not appropriate” and would weaken local farm economies.

Wood responded that the RB Trees project targets only “marginally productive” land such as pasture, abandoned farms or those that have been up for sale for long periods.

Former Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson raised the issue in the legislature in 2008, noting that Crown land near Vanderhoof had been sold for farming, bought by a numbered company and then “flipped” for around $1 million to RB Trees.

Now mayor of Quesnel, Simpson takes issue with the company’s claims with his usual shyness.

“It’s bull—-,” he told me. “This isn’t marginal land.”

He said it includes prime alfalfa fields and historical ranch and forage crop lands. In one case, neighbours found out about the new use when they saw a helicopter spraying herbicide to prepare the area for tree seedlings.

In the Cariboo as in other rural B.C. areas, aging farmers want to retire and young people keen to work seven days a week are in short supply. So naturally there is pressure to sell.

Perhaps Letnick is right, and the ALC will stop productive farmland from being turned back into forest. While we’re waiting for that, here are a couple of other questions.

What happens when these forests burn? The first big forest fire of 2015 was still growing and mostly out of control near Prince George on Tuesday. And since aspen doesn’t last 100 years, what is its real carbon offset value?

And how’s that European carbon trading market doing? It’s a mess, with the cost of emitting a tonne of carbon dioxide fallen far below what’s needed to be effective, and Interpol investigating various schemes to game the system.

Remember B.C’s own Pacific Carbon Trust? This Gordon Campbell brainchild to sell carbon offsets was quietly greenhouse gassed after the Auditor General revealed its first two big projects were of questionable value to say the least.

Finally, does anyone really think that returning B.C.’s scarce farmland to forest is a good way to change the weather? Would it offset the loss of local production and trucking in farm produce from elsewhere?

And where are B.C.’s tireless food security advocates on this dubious scheme?

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

Just Posted

Houston senior brings home gold medal

Golfer Andy Grobins wins gold at the 55+ BC Games

VIDEO: This is what buying legal pot in B.C. looks like

Take a look inside B.C.’s first and only legal pot shop located in Kamloops

Smithers couple wins $1 million

Smithers resident Brenda Graf went to Safeway to pick up some groceries… Continue reading

Houston aims to improve emergency response

The district only has two emergency support services personnel

Smithers guide attacked by grizzly bear

The incident was deemed a “defensive attack” by conservation officers

Singer k.d. lang receives Alberta’s highest honour

Celebrated singer-songwriter k.d. lang received the Alberta Order of Excellence in Edmonton

Bernardo-like sexual deviancy poorly understood, expert says

What exactly causes such deviance is not known but some evidence exists of physical brain damage to the front part of the brain

B.C. high school teacher faces sexual assault charges

A Mt. Boucherie teacher has been charged with child luring, sexual exploitation and sexual assault.

Fashion Fridays: You can never have enough shoes

Kim XO, lets you know the best online shopping tips during Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Former B.C. cop sentenced to jail ‘in the community’ after caught in Creep Catchers sting

Dario Devic pleaded guilty after getting caught up in Surrey Creep Catcher sting in Whalley in 2016

5 races to watch in B.C.’s municipal elections this Saturday

This year’s election results across more than 160 cities in B.C. will start pouring in after polls close Saturday at 8 p.m.

Annual pace of inflation slows to 2.2 per cent in September: Statistics Canada

Statistics Canada said Friday the consumer price index in September was up 2.2 per cent from a year ago compared with a year-over-year increase of 2.8 per cent in August

Dog deaths in Lower Mainland may be tied to suspected mushroom poisoning: RCMP

Police have received reports in the last month about several dogs becoming ill after visiting a park in North Vancouver

Record-breaking $113 million Lotto Max jackpot up for grabs

This is Canada’s highest top prize offering ever and includes 53 Max Millions

Most Read