B.C. farmland-to-forest project halted

British company says it won't buy or plant any more land while it reviews its project with local officials concerned about land loss

NDP agriculture critic Lana Popham says the province still needs a way to make carbon offset projects subject to Agricultural Land Commission approval. Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick says he is pleased the British program has been voluntarily suspended.

British-based manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser Inc. has suspended its tree-planting program on farmland in the B.C. Interior after continued opposition from local governments.

Communities from the Peace, Prince George and Cariboo regions grew increasingly alarmed as the carbon offset program known as RB Trees for Change accumulated thousands of hectares of cleared farmland and planted seven million trees since it began in 2006. They objected to centrally located and productive farmland being lost, weakening local economies and encouraging new land clearing farther afield.

“Our intent is to review all aspects of the program including land buying criteria,” company spokesperson Lynn Kenney told Black Press Friday. “We will do so through discussions with stakeholders including provincial and local governments, community representatives, our suppliers and others with an interest in the program.”

The B.C. government was informed of the decision June 4, and it was confirmed Friday by Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick.

“I am especially pleased to hear that in conducting their review they will not make any new offers to purchase land, nor will they prepare existing lands, buy seed or plant new trees,” Letnick said.

NDP agriculture critic Lana Popham said this company’s voluntary decision doesn’t prevent others from doing the same thing. Tree growing remains a permitted use under Agricultural Land Commission rules, and RB chose not to apply for long-term covenants against tree cutting that would qualify the project for tradable carbon offsets.

Popham has called for legislative amendments to make any carbon offset program on farmland subject to approval by the Agricultural Land Commission. RB initially said they were only replanting marginal and idle land, but local governments rejected that assessment.

Kenney said the company will continue to maintain the farmland it has planted.

RB Trees also has forestry programs in Thailand and Colombia.