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

Province not doing enough for forestry sector, say Liberals

Although Minister of Forests says government working to diversify industry, rural economies

Column: how to bring young blood to ranching

A Young Agarians program seeks to partner new ranchers with old

Stolen truck involved in fatal collision on Highway 16

Wednesday’s two-vehicle crash killed one man, 23, and injured two others

Local company Northern Homecraft wins big at Northern B.C. awards

Vanderhoof company won in two categories for homes built in Fort St. James area

Column: the 4-H way of life

Local 4-H member Jacinta Meir on what being a member means to her

Winter weather hits parts of Canada

As some parts of the country brace for cold, parts of B.C. remain warmer than 10 C

5 B.C. cities break temperature records

Parts of B.C. remain warm, at 10 C, while others feeling chilly

B.C. teacher’s Amazing Race takes students on Canada-wide adventure

Agassiz high school students say they had the experience of a life time

Don’t sign USMCA until LGBTQ language excised, U.S. lawmakers urge Trump

The trade agreement, forged after 13 months of tense negotiations between Canada and the U.S. is scheduled for Nov. 30

US official: US intel says prince ordered Khashoggi killing

Vice-President Mike Pence told reporters that ‘the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was an atrocity.’

Canada’s health system commendable overall but barriers to care remain: UN

The United Nations says Canada’s health care system is “commendable” overall but vulnerable groups still face barriers to quality care.

Unique technology gives children with special needs more independent play

UVic’s CanAssist refined seven prototypes aided by $1.5M government contribution

Kelly Ellard’s boyfriend has statutory release revoked

Darwin Duane Dorozan had several parole infractions that found him ‘unmanageable’

Most Read