Minister seeks options to keep forests off farmland

Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick says tree planting on fields "flies in the face" of Agricultural Land Reserve protection

Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick says reforesting farmland in B.C.’s Interior is contrary to the intent of B.C.’s agricultural land reserve, and he’s looking for a way to put a stop to it.

British health and household products manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser Inc. has bought up more than 8,000 hectares of farmland from Prince George south to Quesnel, planting the land with trees and vowing to keep the forest on the land for 100 years or more. Local governments are concerned that long-time farming and ranching land is being lost, and farming communities will be weakened as a result.

Letnick said previously that a 2011 requirement for the Agricultural Land Commission to approve covenants for long-term reforestation of farmland would be required before such lands could be used as carbon offsets for the European carbon market. But a Reckitt Benckiser  spokesperson confirmed the company isn’t attempting to claim or trade carbon offsets, so it won’t be seeking a covenant from the ALC.

That leaves Letnick looking for another way to stop the loss of farmland.

“What I’ve been advised is that while they’re not claiming for offsets, they’re using it in their publicity to show that they are doing something that’s environmentally good to offset the negatives that they have back at home,” Letnick said in an interview Monday.

The company’s stated plan to keep the farmland in forest “flies in the face of the [Agricultural Land Commission] Act and the intent of the act, and we will need to look at our options,” Letnick added.

According to Reckitt Benckiser’s website, the company’s B.C. planting project is part of a program to make its global operations carbon neutral for the period 2006-2017. More than seven million trees have been planted and the goal is 10 million trees by next year.

Staff at the Bulkley Valley Regional District contacted Reckitt Benckiser after its first purchase of lands around Vanderhoof in 2010, expressing concern about “centrally located and productive” land being alienated from production. A company representative said only marginal or abandoned land is being used, a claim contradicted last week by Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson.

The company makes popular products including Woolite fabric softener, Calgon detergent, Lysol and Clearasil skin cleanser, which are sold around the world. Its B.C. program is called RB Trees for Change.

“RB does not intend on registering any covenant on title to the lands it has acquired in British Columbia that would restrict the use of such lands,” said Lynn Kenney, communications director for North America. “Instead, Trees for Change is a program we have developed to meet our own internal targets for environmental sustainability.”

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