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Money for land protection easier to find two years ago: minister

It's much harder now for the provincial government to come up with money to protect former forest lands on Vancouver Island than it would have been two years ago, said community and rural development minister Bill Bennett.

“We're trying within pretty difficult context for government,” said Bennett, noting he'd met with Victoria area Liberal cabinet ministers Ida Chong and Murray Coell yesterday and had another meeting scheduled with them today.

“A couple years ago this might not have been, I'm sure it wouldn't have been, such a big issue,” Bennett said. “Now there are so many requests for money to do worthy projects.”

He added, “The fact that we've had trouble finding the money to do it is not an indication that we don't think that this land is important to the public here. We know that it is, I know that it is, and government does too.”

In 2007 then forests minister Rich Coleman approved the release of 28,000 hectares of Western Forest Products' private land from management under the province's tree farm licence system. When sections on southern Vancouver Island were put on sale in 2008 it generated outrage.

“Three years ago before they let the lands out they could have solved all these problems,” said Juan de Fuca MLA John Horgan, saying it would have been easy at the time to get some of the prime properties protected in exchange for letting the rest out. “For three years they claimed there was never a problem.”

It would take $10 million to buy five kilometres of coast line, he said, and maybe a couple hundred million for all the land that was deleted. That land could then be available for protection or for settling treaty claims, he said. “The dollars are peanuts in the grand scheme of things.”

The Dogwood Initiative's Gordon O'Connor told the Tyee earlier this week that he predicts there'll be civil disobedience if a publicly acceptable solution is not found.

“I'm not aware that the Dogwood has come up with any money,” said Bennett when asked about O'Connor's prediction. “I would hope they would spend their energy raising money for the purchase as opposed to planning civil disobedience . . . Get your chequebooks out folks, it's going to take a collective effort to get this done.”

And what about the province's contribution? “If we can help that will be great, if we can't we can't,” he said. “We're doing our best. I know they think the provincial taxpayer should just write a cheque and they seem to think its an easy thing. It isn't an easy thing at all.”

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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