Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sustainable Forest Management Certification

If you live in a forest dependent community you are probably affected by forest sustainability issues. Thousands of forestry related jobs have been lost, the coastal forest industry is a shadow of its former condition, and in the interior of BC, over 13 million hectares of pine forests have been lost to a massive mountain pine beetle attack. 100 Billion dollars worth of timber has been lost.

Government and forest industry public relations efforts divert you from these local alarm bells with information that BC is a world leader in sustainable forest management. They will tell you that over 54 million hectares of BC's forest have been certified under some sustainable forest management certification scheme.

Something just does not seem to add up. In the last few decades of last century the world decided that "Sustainable Forest Management is Good". On the surface the idea seems to be quite simple and obvious. However a comprehensive definition of sustainable forest management is rather complex. Neither is good a simple affair for humans. Deep down we know what is good, but we complicate this with hypocrisy by making a pretense of virtue. We even make up religious, social or legal rules that we can follow so we can show to the world that we have earned or brownie points of virtue.

Are BC's public forests being cared for with a comprehensive understanding and appreciation of sustainable forest management? Is it from the heart or is it just an attempt to dress up the surface with the good clothes of a brownie point scheme? Brownie point schemes do help because they do moderate behavior. Long term sustainability requires true care.

The most comprehensive and scientific definition of sustainable forest management is the Montreal Process. It is an international agreement on sustainable management and conservation in temperate and boreal forests. It enables countries to examine progress toward sustainable forest management. One of its indicators would raise a red flag in the case of an epidemic that is larger than a natural event. The present mountain pine beetle epidemic in BC is an example. Forest management caused huge areas of lodgepole pine to become too old and susceptible to attack. Another indicator would pick up discriminatory export taxes and tariffs for wood products, such as BC's lumber exports to USA. This indicator is part of a comprehensive examination of the laws and institutional framework that supports forest management. BC's vulnerability to export taxes is associated with the allocation of a large portion of our public timber to a few forest corporations under a non-market government administered pricing arrangement. Reduced access to public timber has limited the growth of a diversified secondary wood products manufacturing in BC.

The intent of the standards in the Montreal Process is to encourage progress toward sustainable forest management by identifying problems and making necessary changes or adaptations. Unfortunately, this concept is quite foreign to to present corporate and government public relations. Rather, problems are hidden behind positive words,sounds or images.

The comprehensive international agreement draws its name from Quebec's major city because Canada hosted the initial meetings of scientists that developed the sustainable forest management and conservation standards. The comprehensive standards of the Montreal Process could have served well to assess sustainable forest management in every Province of Canada.

The Canadian Council of Forest Ministers decided to produce their own set of watered down standards. The Montreal Process has an indicator that examines epidemics that are larger than a normal natural event in an attempt to reduce such events. It would pick up the mountain pine beetle outbreak in BC as one of these events. Forest industry profited from the freedom to choose harvest areas in public forests. This was a major factor in the build up of large areas of old lodgepole pine that is susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack. The Canadian Council of Forest Ministers standards only require the reporting of areas affected by insect and disease outbreaks.

The Canadian Council of Forest Minister's dumbing down of the Montreal Process is most pronounced in the group of indicators dealing with the legal, economic and institutional framework that supports sustainable forest management. The Montreal Process did not come along until the end of the Twentieth Century. In BC, at the start of the Twentieth Century, a Royal Commission on forests recommended that BC retain its forests in public ownership. They saw this as the best way BC society could ensure wise independent professional management of forests. These wise intentions have been eroded by granting forest corporations harvesting rights in public forests. Instead of independent professional forest management, BC is placing greater reliance on forest corporations to manage our forests.

Sustainable Forest Management Certification schemes draw their standards from the Montreal Process. By the middle of 2010 in BC, 31.4 million hectares of forest operations were certified under Canada's national standard (CSA). A further 2.6 million hectares were certified under the Forest Stewardship Council(FSC) and 20.6 million hectares under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) standards They apply to individual forest operations and are intended to give customers assurance that the wood products have produced without exploiting the forest, environment or workers. They do not examine structural impediments originating in a jurisdiction's forest management laws and institutions.

What confidence should we have in these stamps of approval? We feel confident if we see a CSA label on an electrical appliance. Forest dependent communities on the coast and the interior have felt shocks from a declining forest economy, and these are very real if you have lost your job or your business has declined. Forest certification offers customers of wood products some assurance that the materials have produced without complete exploitation.

Forest certification stamps of approval are already being misused. They are being misused to justify reduced scrutiny by government over the management of public forests by forest corporations. Forest Laws in BC have already been changed to accommodate this idea. Interests seeking privatization of your public forests are already voicing the opinion that there is no need for public ownership because these market based certification standards will do a better job than some bumbling bureaucracy.

The large area of public forests in BC confer some special freedoms to its citizens. We have a large area of forest that we can enjoy for recreation. We can ensure wise sustainable forest management to protect our water and environment, to sustain our communities and pass this birthright on to future generations. Do you want to give this up for a stamp of approval, such as you might find on the bottom of your toaster.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Forest Roads: an indicator of forest management

Check out the quality of forest management in your local forest. Take a drive and a pair of hiking boots and look at the roads in your local forest. Forest roads can tell you much about the management of your local forest.

Roads are the environmental footprint of humans in the forest. Road building is our greatest environmental impact on the forest. It involves soil disturbance and roads require careful drainage to ensure that water does not erode the road or contribute to landslides. Good location planning and construction of forest roads in a forest can reduce soil and drainage disturbance. The road network should be systematic so that access can be provided with a minimum length of road. Considerable reconnaissance should be done before a road is located so that it can use natural features of the land such as benches that will reduce the amount of soil excavation. Unstable soil and sensitive areas are avoided.

Regular maintenance of the forest road system is needed to ensure access and prevent damage to streams, water quality and fish. Erosion, washouts, and landslides caused by forest roads move soil, nutrients and sediment from the forest into streams. The forest manager needs to maintain the roads in the forest so he can get to the forest to maintain it.

Forest roads are a good indicator of the quality of forest management. A forest with a well maintained system of forest roads will be managed and maintained. A forest filled with decaying roads is an indicator of a "cut and run" type of forest management.

When you drive to check out the roads in your local forest and turn off the paved highway onto the gravel forest road, you will probably be on a main or arterial forest road. The main road will be the main transportation route that may follow a main river valley into the forest.

Your initial impression of driving on the main forest road will probably be quite good. Main forest roads in BC are usually well aligned to enable logging trucks to travel at a good speed. The BC Forest Service set a good standard when it built main forest roads in the interior of BC with Federal funds in the 1950's and 1960's. Forest companies also built good main roads. In an industrial system of forest management,it pays to have a good main road to reduce log trucking costs by millions of dollars over time.

You may wish to drive on the main road to get a general impression of your local forest landscape. Non industrial users of forest roads often stick to the main roads. If you are wanting to check out the forest roads you should leave the main road and take a look at the branch or spur roads. A branch road is like a secondary arterial road that leaves the main road to supply access to the side of the main valley or a tributary valley. The spur roads are the roads that leave the branch roads to supply access to harvest blocks.

If the branch and spur roads are in use for logging and hauling, the roads will be maintained so you can drive on them. If the branch and spur roads have not been used for some time, you will need the hiking boots. Walk up the old road system and take a look. Roads in some areas remain stable although they may become over grown. Other roads will be severely deteriorated by erosion. If the road was abandoned in the last 15 years, it may have been de-activated by placing water bars and removing culverts. The intent of de-activation is to reduce soil loss and erosion and maintain water quality.

There are tens of thousands of kilometers of forest roads, mainly branch and spur roads in BC's public forests that are abandoned and receive little or no maintenance. Victoria bureaucrats call them "non status roads". The introduction of forest road de-activation in the 1990's was intended to reduce the environmental impact of road abandonment. It is a technical solution that attempts to reduce the impact of the problem of forest road abandonment.

The forest sector does not want to recognize that forest road abandonment is a structural problem that is built into the deficient tenure system of private harvesting rights in our public forests. The harvesting rights are usufructs or rights to harvest on someone else's land. The holder of a usufruct is not supposed to damage the land and maintain its condition. In BC's public forests this obligation is taken as fulfilled if the harvest rights holder, usually a large forest corporation, replants or regenerates a forest crop after harvest. This leaves important forest infrastructure such as roads in limbo. Forest roads are left to decay and cause environmental damage. It indicates a cut and run mentality of the managers of your local forest. These managers are a central government agency and forest corporations.

Under a new alternative system of local forest trusts, with local democratic representation and local stable forest managers, forest roads would be part of their responsibility. Funding for forest roads would come from the free market operation of the local forest trust as a profitable business enterprise. Forest roads could be maintained not just for industrial timber operations but for non timber forest products, nature based forest enterprises and recreation.

If you do decide to take a trip to see the roads in your local forest now or later, share your experiences and write to:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Wise Forest Policy

The BC Government's first priority to our Crown or public forests is to ensure wise forest policy. A Royal Commission on BC's forests in 1909 was aware that future government administrations might fail in this duty to the public. We have had a century's worth of performance to evaluate.

Has forest policy in BC moved in a wise direction? You decide.

We have Crown or public forests so that they would be kept out of the hands of timber interests. The Crown owns the forest on behalf of the public so that they can be supplied with independent professional forest management. The intended outcome is a healthy competitive forest industry and forest dependent communities. Contrary to the original intent, the central feature of forest policy in BC is the system of forest tenure that assigns private rights to forest corporations to harvest public timber. We do not have the intended outcomes.

Foresters will bore you with explanations of the different types of harvesting rights in public forests. The harvesting rights can be lumped into one category. They are all usufructs. A usufruct is the right to harvest the crops from some one else's land. It was developed by the Romans and the word has the root of the English words use and fruit. BC's forest tenure system gives rights to use the fruits of the forest. Reflect on the wisdom of giving timber interests or loggers rights to log your forest.

If you give a logger a fruit picking licence he will go after strawberries and cream rather than bread and butter. The coastal forests of BC have been creamed of their best most accessible timber. The coastal forest industry is in a tight spot as it deals with the remaining less accessible timber and smaller second growth. In the interior of BC, the bread and butter species, Lodge Pole Pine was left to grow old and become susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack. A massive mountain pine beetle epidemic has affected over 13 million hectares and has robbed forest dependent communities in the interior of BC of $100 Billion in economic activity.

The system of private timber rights in our public forests has complicated forest management. Without clarity of tenure, no one owns stewardship responsibility. There has been talk of tenure reform for several decades, but BC Governments have never initiated any form of commission or inquiry. An open public discussion on forest tenure would reveal two different directions. We can restore clarity of tenure by increasing private rights and moving toward privatization of our public forests. Or we can reassert public ownership and develop new forest management institutions that provide direct management on behalf of the public.

BC is moving toward the default option of increasing private rights in public forests. Forest management responsibilities have been transferred to forest companies. This route ends in privatization.

The public relations efforts of BC forest corporations create a picture of top notch forest stewardship in BC's public forests. The only time they depart from this rosy picture is the use of the "Tragedy of the Commons" argument. It plays into the privatization argument by suggesting that any land in common or public ownership will be misused or abused.

The "Tragedy of the Commons" theory was developed by Garrett Hardin in the 1960s. His theory is about the "Tragedy of Freedom in a Commons". Users of a commons have a tendency to try to exercise their own interests and overuse a common. They may put too many animals out to graze on the common pasture. The result is an inevitable decline.

BC's public forests were never managed like a common with use of timber open to many users. The freedom to use timber in BC's forests is held by a small number of forest corporations that manufacture commodity forest products. The decline in the coastal forest industry and the huge mountain pine beetle epidemic in the interior is a result of their freedom to choose the timber to harvest. They were also provided freedom from market competition for public timber. This reduced the diversity of BC's wood products manufacturing and made BC forest products vulnerable to discriminatory export tariffs and taxes.

Hardin's "Tragedy of Freedom in a Commons" argument does not make a good case for privatization of BC forest resources. Rather, it points to the need for institutional reforms to curb the freedom of corporations to engage in intemperate use of our public forests.

The study of commons, or common pool resources has advanced since Hardin's "Tragedy of the commons". Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2009 for her work on commons. She found that local people can an do manage commons and sustain their resources. Different societies have developed various informal and formal institutions to ensure temperate use of resources. In the case of large common pool resources, such as BC's public forests, the base building block should be local rather than central institutions.

This blog champions wise forest policy for the 21st Century, featuring democratic local forest trusts supported by a BC Forest Trust Assembly governed by delegates from the local forest trusts.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A positive BC Minister of Forests

Pat Bell the BC Minister of Forests paints a positive picture for the future in a recent You Tube video. He tells the public about value added wood products in the form of sawdust pellets for heating purposes. A sustainable wood supply will be achieved by planting 20 million more trees. More BC wood is going to China. Building higher buildings with wood will also help sales.

Overly positive people often have a cognitive style that pays little attention to the details and are merely engaging in wishful thinking.

BC will need more seedlings to regenerate 13 million hectares of forests lost to the mountain pine beetle epidemic. The Minister's 20 million extra trees is only enough for a few thousand hectares. At that rate it will take several hundred years to complete the job.

BC needs to set its sights on many value added wood products. Converting sawdust to wood burning pellets does bring a few jobs and dollars from a waste product. Value added wood products involves using the best clear wood for high end wood products such as doors, interior finishing products and furniture. Growth of these wood industries has been impeded in BC by the allocation of most of the timber from public forests to commodity producing forest companies. Although BC has some of the highest quality coniferous wood in the world it is streamed into pulp and paper and wood frame construction products.

It is good that BC wood products are starting to penetrate the Chinese market. Selling BC wood products to new markets first involves an effort to sell the new customers on the merits of North American style wood frame construction. This tends to limit the opportunities. If BC had a more diversified wood utilization industry, its potential opportunities in other markets will expand greatly.

The wood frame mindset is also involved in the notion of building higher with wood. This is an attempt to replace some steel and concrete apartment and high rise construction with wood frame. BC can grow large timber that can be used for post and beam or large timber frame construction. There are endless opportunities for using open architectural beams and wood work in buildings of all sizes. Value added industries specializing in this type of work have not developed in BC because public timber was allocated to commodity producers.

Will BC's forest sector achieve a bright future in the 21st century if it sticks with the formula that worked in the 20th Century?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Forest Planning

Plant a tree after you harvest one. This is a basic element in planning forests for the future. It is an idea that is simple and easy to grasp. Tree planting is a common feature in public relations efforts of forest companies and forest agencies. You need to regenerate forests, but forest planning demands more than just replacing trees.

Forests take a long time to grow, so you need to think about how much you can harvest each year and ensure that the forest piggy bank will sustain annual harvests over the long term. You need an inventory of the different forest species types and ages in the forest. This information and knowledge of growth rates enables good estimates of the volume of timber that can be harvested each year. This is called the annual allowable cut.

In BC's Public Forests, the Government Chief Forester determines the annual allowable cut for large geographic Timber Supply Areas. Forest companies are allocated a portion of the cut in the Timber Supply Area and their job is to plan the harvest and see that a new crop of trees is established on the areas harvested. This whole system appears robust,but it has a few serious problems.

About 800 years ago some villages in France found that forest planning is more complex than just ensuring an annual supply of a volume of timber. Harvests followed a sequence of increasing difficulty. The most accessible often largest timber close to the village would be harvested first until the second or third generation of villagers was faced with hauling the poorest timber from the most distant part of the forest. Planning to solve this problem involved identifying the areas to be harvested over a long rotation of about 100 years. Each generation got a share of the ease and difficulty. In the modern language of sustainability this is called "intergenerational equity".

These villagers in France were engaged in what would now be called "adaptive forest planning". Forests are complex and nothing goes quite as planned. Experience often in the form of mistakes is examined and some changes are made to improve. Change can only come if some deficiency is realized and admitted. Deficiencies are not something that are front and center in the public relations efforts of corporate forest enterprises and agencies.

British Columbia has forest sustainability problems that are about handling different areas within the public forests. The forest industry on the BC coast has the same problem as the French villagers of 800 years ago but on a grander scale. Vancouver Island was harvested from the south east to the north west with the heyday of logging the virgin forest moving from Duncan early last century to the west and north to communities such as Port Alberni and Campbell River. The coastal forest industry got hit with "intergenerational inequity" in recent years because it was faced with harvesting the poorest most distant timber.

In the interior of BC, lots of places in the forest were subject to recurring fires and nature supplied a short lived tree for those sites. Lodge Pole Pine grew on these sites in fire dominated landscapes. If fire did not come with its usual frequency to regenerate a new stand, mountain pine beetles did the job after the pine got to be about 80 years old.

The simple centralized industrial forest management system in BC's Public Forests was planning on volume. The Government Forest Service fought forest fires to save volumes of timber. Meanwhile their forest company partners were favoring the harvest of species other than Lodge Pole Pine. The net result that more places in the interior forests supported old Lodge Pole Pine. A larger than natural sized outbreak of mountain pine beetle has just devoured 13 million hectares of lodgepole pine forests. This feast of $100 billion worth of timber has put a hole in the volume based timber sustainability calculations.

The mistakes in the management of coastal and interior BC public forests are water under the bridge. The real problem that there has been no admission of any mistakes. Admitting a mistake is a positive thing because it paves the way to improvement through adaptive management.

In the previous blog there is a picture of a massive cedar stump from the harvest of the virgin forest on an early accessible site on southern Vancouver Island. It is surrounded by small logs from present day harvest of a immature forest. The forest industry is gearing up for a repeat performance of "take the best and leave the rest". In the interior of BC some very innovative planning of areas affected by mountain pine beetle needs to be done to prevent a repeat epidemic towards the end of this century. The forest management mis-adventure that led to the massive mountain pine beetle losses in the interior of BC has been incorrectly blamed on global warming. So there is little impetus to improve our system of forest management.

What changes are needed? Although forest companies are allocated an annual volume of timber that they can harvest, forest companies can choose the areas they wish to harvest. Forest management is not driven by the needs of the forest and its sustainability but by the short term needs of forest companies. Satisfying these short term needs gives the forest and the forest industry problems in the long term.

If BC truly wishes to embrace sustainable forest management, as defined by the Montreal Process, it needs a forest planning an management system that is focused on managing areas
in a detailed way in the local forest over the long term. An independent local forest manager is needed to replace self serve by forest companies or loggers. (See Local Forest Trusts)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Large stumps, Small Logs

The loggers that first harvested this area used their cross cut saw while standing on spring boards jambed into the notches visible on the old large cedar stump.This precarious arrangement elevated them above the spreading base and made the task of hand sawing the massive tree a little easier.

What would they have thought about the present harvest of young trees? One man sitting in the cab of a feller-buncher machine harvested and stacked the small stems that are in the foreground. The trees are approximately 50 years old. The tough crusty old time loggers of the BC Coast would have referred to these diminutive trees as "bean poles".

On this Vancouver Island site, nature was thinking big, but now we seem to be thinking little. Is this good forestry? There has been two different schools of thought since the early days of forest management. One camp viewed forest management on the lines of agriculture. These are the forest farmers that see trees as a crop with man in the controller seat. The other camp thought that forests should be managed more along the lines of nature because man is simply unable to supply the same level of treatments that occur in agriculture.

Science and technological improvements have made some forest treatments easier. Aerial forest firefighting, and specialized machines for mechanical harvesting are examples. The forest farmer camp will point to these improvements as justification for their case.

The nature based forestry camp can point to the development of non-clear cutting shelterwood and selection silviculture systems as their innovations. Greater scientific understanding of forests and biological diversity has given nature based forestry the new more illustrious title of forest ecosystem management.

"Work with nature or you will be defeated" is an old forestry saying. Nature based forestry works on the precautionary principle. There is more that we do not know than we know about forest ecosystems. Trees take many decades to grow and a crop failure is of greater consequence than in agriculture, where only one years growth is involved.

At a time of poor markets for wood products, low cost mechanical harvesting was a factor in the decision to harvest the young trees in the above picture. It is an example of the forest farming direction of future forest management in BC. BC allocated most of its timber from public forests to commodity wood products producers. Composite floor joists can be made from wood from small trees so you do not even need larger trees to make structural components for residential construction. Government and forest industry will push forest farming of young trees as if there is no other economic choice.

We must remember that the true economic bottom line of the BC forest industry is not the short term balance sheet of the forest company but the condition of the forest that supplies the goods. Short rotations of young trees where nature previously worked on rotations of several centuries may not be wise in the long term. The short rotations are more likely to cause root pathogen problems in the future. Some other unforeseen problem may develop.

One of the biggest defeats in the history of forest management from not working with nature has occurred in BC. Lodge Pole pine in the interior of BC becomes susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack when it gets about 80 years old. Fire fighting and failure to harvest sufficient area of this short lived species is the primary factor in the present massive mountain pine beetle epidemic. The price tag for failing to work with nature is a $100 Billion loss of timber. Forest ecosystem management is portrayed as being more expensive but the cost of not doing it is greater.

The forests of Vancouver island and the coast of BC, produced larger trees of better wood quality, than most coniferous forests elsewhere in the world. The better quality wood is laid down in the tree once it gets older and larger. If we had open markets for our public timber, more value added producers able to realize the value of larger trees will become established. The coast of BC has large areas to accessible young stands that could supply the need for small stem material, through thinning rather than clear cutting. The harvesting cost will be greater but it will leave a standing crop of more valuable older trees.

BC should realize that there are many options and choices for the stewardship of our public forests. We need to diversify our forest industry instead of diminishing our forests in an attempt to prop up a failing commodity wood products industry.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Forest and nature recreation

Drag yourself and your family away from the virtual world of screens and electronic gadgets for a day. Try something real. Get a taste of nature in the forest.

Some of us hunt, fish, ski, snowmobile or do some recreational activity that requires equipment in the forest. The natural environment of the forest is interesting, so all we need to enjoy the forest is adequate footwear and clothing and possibly a lunch in a backpack.

In some parts of BC, there are few forest trails for hiking. Most areas have active an inactive forest roads that can take the place of trails. Often, you can drive part way up the hill or mountain.

A recently logged area may not sound too appealing for forest recreation. However, a large clear cut area can be more interesting than you would expect. If the area is on a hill or mountain, you can see the view because it will not be obscured by trees. Nature is resilient. One of the best demonstrations of resiliency is a recently logged area. Nature goes to work in the first growing season and after a few seasons the impact of man's activities gets overshadowed by new growth.

The forest road in the above picture has red alder naturally established on the bare mineral disturbed soil of the roadside. The alder prevents erosion of the soil and has returned the road to the appearance of nature within a decade.

A pocket guide for identifying trees and wild plants can turn a hike into an educational experience for the whole family. The forest is a symbol of hope. It renews itself and it represents a healthy environment. Walking and other exercise in the woods makes us healthy too.

A high percentage of BC residents live in cities and have lost their connection to the forests. There are forests within close reach of our cities. A day in the forest is good for us. It is good for our public forests. If more people visit the forest, they will be a force for better stewardship. Forests are renewable and give the hope of a sustainable environment and forest based industries in BC. That is why it is important to get your children into the forest. If you enjoy going out to the forest or natural environments,the chances are that you caught the liking from a parent or other adult that introduced you to the wonders of nature.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Stealth Privatization of BC's Public Forests

Could you steal France without anyone taking notice? France, one of the largest countries in Europe, is approximately 550,000 square kilometers. BC's public forests are about the same area.

Privatization of BC's public forests would be rejected by BC residents. Stealth privatization is the gradual conveyance of public forests into the private interest. Forest companies gain a foothold with harvesting rights in public forests. Forest management responsibilities are gradually transferred to forest companies. The way is then paved for forest companies to get long term leases or tenure. Requirements for managing other forest values are reduced and companies are able to focus solely on timber growing. By this stage, forests are turned over to serve private timber interests. Nominal ownership of the land may be retained by the public to enable politicians to claim that no privatization has occurred. With the passage of time, public access may be restricted and the land is transferred to private timber interests.

Stealth privatization of our public forests is not something that is about to start. It has been underway for over 60 years. There is no mastermind con-artist, merely our own desire to gain benefits has pushed us in this direction. We and our politicians have bent over backwards to help forest companies with their financial bottom line. We gave forest companies private rights to harvest public timber at non market administered prices. We were lenient in allowing the forest companies to take the best timber. We reduced prices for timber to help forest companies in periods of declining markets.

The forest industry always bounced back when markets improved. The forest industry is not going to bounce back with the same resilience as we move out of the present global economic downturn. There is some problems with the real bottom line. The real bottom line of BC's forest industry is not the short term financial balance sheet of the forest corporation, but the health, state and condition of our forests.

The coastal forest industry is suffering because the best timber on the most accessible terrain has been logged. In the interior, 13 million hectares of Lodge pole pine have been attacked by mountain pine beetle resulting in an economic loss of $100 Billion. Most of us have been satisfied by explanations that point to mild winters resulting from climate change as the factor responsible for the explosion of mountain pine beetle populations. However, the epidemic is larger than a natural outbreak because the interior of BC had become filled with old lodgepole pine. Old Lodge pole pine is simply good habitat for mountain pine beetles. Government fire fighting efforts coupled with failure to direct forest industry to harvest sufficient lodgepole pine, a less desirable species, led to huge areas of old pine. We need to blame our inadequate institutions for managing our public forests.

Bending over backwards to help corporate forest interests has not done our forests much good. It has not done our trade relationships much good either. Export taxes or tariffs on wood products are essentially sanctions because we are seen to be subsidizing forest companies from our public forests.

We have bent over backwards to help the bottom line of the forest corporation for many decades. Do we have healthy strong forest industry, forest dependent communities or forests? We are not reaping the intended outcome of sustainability, so we need to re-examine our values as they relate to the care and stewardship of our public forests.

Why are over 90% of BC's forests in public ownership? 100 years ago we understood the real bottom line. We decided to keep our forests out of the hands of private timber interests so that they could be supplied with independent professional forest management. Healthy well managed forests would result in a healthy forest industry, sustainable forest dependent communities and a good natural environment. These ideas are good for today and the future.

So Mr Premier and Mr Minister of Forests of British Columbia, these are our forests and we are the shareholders and we want some choice. We want our forest to be well managed for us and for our children. We do not want to be dispossessed of our land, and our favorite open places for recreation and freedom.

We do not need to continue down the road of increasing private corporate control of our forests. We will not be fooled by your claims that you are not privatizing our forests as you open the door to longer term forest tenures and lease agreements. Forest corporations that value stripped our public forests and undermined the economy of forest dependent communities should not be handed title to our forests as a bonus for improvidence.

Shareholders in a public forest should have the right to their own professional managers. Public timber should be sold competitively on an open market. Open access to timber will encourage diversification of the forest industry and secondary manufacture.

If you wish to claim that BC is a world leader in sustainable forest management, study the Montreal Process, an international agreement on sustainable forest management. You will find out that your intentions to enable forests to be managed just for timber growing is not sustainable forest management. On the contrary, sustainable forest management, encourages forests to be managed to include non timber forest products and nature based enterprises. These provide additional economic benefits to local economies while encouraging comprehensive management that maintains the integrity of the forest environment. Facilitating some of these non timber forest enterprises could help many struggling forest dependent communities right now.

When BC decided to retain its forests in public ownership, one hundred years ago, the Government was admonished as to its duty to ensure the development of a wise system of independent professional stewardship. Instead, successive administrations have treated the public forest as economic instrument and depleted the forest piggy bank. The Government has failed as a trustee of the public forests, and the same temptations will remain in the future.

Our public forests are a sustainable resource, and should not be abandoned or jettisoned to private timber interests after their virgin values have been stripped. They should be regarded as a cup that is more than half full to be aided toward recovery by a new arrangements for sustainable management. This requires trustees that will ensure a system of sustainable forest management. Given that the BC Government has proved itself to be a failure as a trustee over the last 100 years, some new institutions with some checks and balances are required. These new institutions need to represent the public shareholders of our forests, the forest dependent communities and include a strong base of professional and scientific knowledge of forest ecosystems.

A promising alternative to stealth privatization is a devolved system of local forest trusts involving large geographic local forest management units of sufficient area to support economic forest operations, and a professional forest management staff. The local forest trust would have a board elected on a ward system from local communities and rural areas. The local forest trust would operate under written trust documents based on the Montreal Process, an international agreement on sustainable forest management.

A BC Forest Trust Assembly would provide collective services such as aerial fire fighting and research and extension services to the local forest trusts. The assembly would audit local forest trusts and provide a court of appeal for the public. The Assembly in turn would be governed by an equal number of elected and professional delegates from local trusts.

These two new institutions would put the forests in the hands of the public shareholders in a system of governance that is based on the interest of local folk that wish to sustain the forest life support system for their industry, community and environment. The Provincial interest in the well being of our forests will be safeguarded by the Forest Trust Assembly.

A new system of local forest trusts will revitalize the forest economy of BC. Existing wood manufacturers will be able to purchase public timber, while open markets will encourage new value added wood manufacturers. Local forest economies will benefit from active management of non-timber and nature based forest businesses. It will provide more efficient deployment of existing forest management professionals and give more freedom for needed innovation. Improved forest stewardship will encourage investment.

The public has nothing to fear in the establishment of a democratic free enterprise system of local forest trusts. The public has everything to fear in the creeping privatization of our public forests.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Focus Magazine Victoria

Most BC residents live in big cities,seemingly far removed from our forests. Focus Magazine of Victoria is to be congratulated for its in depth article on BC Forests entitled the "Big Burn" by Briony Penn.

It deals with privatization of our forests. Just click on the title to go to the article.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A good forester will not let this tree grow old

Almost fifty years ago, a group of freshmen forestry students were given one day introduction to a European Forestry School. In the afternoon, they headed to a local park filled with trees from many parts of the world for some tree identification. The professor made a special point of introducing the students to trees from British Columbia. Douglas Fir, Hemlock, Sitka Spruce, Western Red Cedar,and several balsam or true firs from BC had become important forest crops in Europe. The professor noted that most of the trees from BC grew well and had long life spans. He singled out Lodge Pole Pine as a fast growing straight pine tree of considerable application in forest management.

The professor went on to note that Lodge Pole Pine was an example of a tree that tended to experience decline in health and vigor as it grew old. "A good forester will not let this tree grow old".

It's 2010 in BC, and we have experienced a major epidemic of mountain pine beetle that is killing more than 13 million hectares of Lodge Pole Pine. The economic loss is in the $100 Billion range. This means a loss of thousands of jobs in communities in the interior of BC.

Public relations efforts by the BC Government and forest industry has led the public to understand that mild winters associated with climate change has enabled mountain pine beetle populations to survive through the winter. This is a true, easy to understand explanation. However it is not the whole story or the most important part of the story.

The most important part of story of the mountain pine beetle epidemic is that Lodge Pole Pine becomes susceptible to attack when it gets about 80 years old. Huge areas of Lodge Pole Pine in the interior of BC had been allowed to get very old.

Lots of good foresters in BC were aware of the problem and that there was a high likelihood of a major epidemic but they were not able to stop the speeding train. We have public forests in BC so we could have professional forest managers rather than greedy timber barons driving the train. The train did get hijacked by greed. The Government, the trustee of our forests wanted economic development so it enabled forest companies to cash in on our forests.

The harvesting rights awarded to forest companies in the interior of BC were volume based. Forest companies could choose the timber it wished to harvest. Lodge Pole Pine was less desirable in terms of profitability, so it was under-harvested. Fire fighting services provided by Government became increasingly effective in controlling forest fires in the interior. This saved Lodge Pole Pine forests from fire. The result was large areas of aging pine forests that were becoming susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack.

Our centralized system of forest management, with the Government sharing forest management with forest companies, motivated mainly by short term economic considerations acts collectively like a very poor forester that ought to be fired. The public, the affected people in forest dependent communities should realize that they are the shareholders of the public forest. Your managers have just wasted $100 Billion of your assets and tried to cover it up as climate change.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Making forest stewardship accountable to the Public

New institutional arrangements will be required if BC's public forests were managed under a new system of local forest management units complete with a forest management staff.

Under the existing arrangements, the BC Government is the trustee of the public forests. A major deficiency is that there are no trust documents to guide the trustee in the task of ensuring that there is a wise system of sustainable forest management. The forest is not a cash cow for the trustee and partners to milk.

The local forest management unit should be managed as a trust with good trust documents requiring sustainable forest management. The Montreal Process an international agreement on sustainable forest management and conservation provides a comprehensive definition of all the elements of sustainable forest management. It could be used with minor adaptation as the basis for comprehensive trust documents.

The forest management staff will have considerable leeway to adapt the requirements of the trust documents to local circumstances. They will have considerably more freedom to manage than afforded by the present centralized system. The local forest managers will be given wide responsibility and they will be accountable to the public.

The arrangements for accountability to the public needs to include a mechanism for the forest managers to be directly accountable to the local public and some mechanism for accountability to the wider public. Accountability to the local public can be achieved by having a board, preferably elected. The local forest management unit is likely to be in the vicinity of one or more communities and rural areas. A ward system will ensure balanced representation.

The Local Forest Trust will comprise the local forest management unit, professional staff and an elected board. The Local Forest Trust needs to be accountable to the wider public. There is the need for some body to audit local forest trusts to ensure that the management is living up to the sustainability requirements of the trust agreement. Local Trusts will require extension and research services. Forest fire fighting, is heavily reliant on an electronic detection system and firefighting efforts supported by planes, helicopters and specialist firefighters. Firefighting services need to be supplied and co-ordinated. There is a need for an appeal body that the public, forest companies, forest management staff can approach to iron out any problems that develop at the local trust.

The body that audits and provides central services to the Local Forest Trusts could be the BC Government. An arrangement of this nature would put the local trusts in jeopardy of central political manipulation and the new system could be undermined. A Forest Trust Assembly is a better option. It would be governed by an equal number of elected and professional forest management staff delegated from local forest trusts. The authority of the Forest trust Assembly is the collective voice of local forest trusts. New policies developed by the Forest Trust Assembly should require the ratification of two thirds of local forest trusts. The Forest Trust Assembly will be governed from the local level by delegates with a primary interest in good forest stewardship, rather than politicians that may have little understanding of forest management and considerable motivation to misuse the public forest for short term inhterests.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Local forest management unit

BC needs to move from its complex and cumbersome system of attempting to manage private entitlements in Public forests. The forest is entitled to good independent forest management. We should remember that we kept our forests in Public ownership to ensure that they would be provided with a wise system of independent forest management. Sustainable stewardship is a prerequisite to a healthy forest industry. It is the true bottom line and our forest industry is suffering because we did not stay on track with the original objective of establishing a wise system of independent forest management.

It is time to look a direct independent management of our public forests. They are public assets and should be managed in a business like manner.

The Local forest management unit is the fundamental building block of a wise system of forest management. It would be a forest landscape or geographic area of forest, probably greater than 100,000 hectares in area. It should be large enough to be operated as a profitable business unit and support a forest management staff.

A forest comprises land, biological and ecosystem processes that interact with climate. In BC, the land is often complex mountainous terrain. A local forest management staff will be better placed to develop an understanding of the local forest ecosystem and manage to sustain its productivity. Their focus is the local landscape and they will build a system of maps and information that will be used for long term planning and adaptive management. The focus and the effort goes into actual management of the forest.

The local forest management staff would be hands-on managers rather than distant administrators. They would not be allowed to delegate forest management responsibilities to forest companies. Small woodlot operations, non timber forest products and nature based local economic enterprises would be encouraged. These other activities would be included in the sustainable forest plan.

The local forest management staff would operate the forest like a sustainable business. They would have the good sense to ensure that all the best timber on the most accessible parts of the forest is not logged all at once. This is one of the most significant causes of the present problems in the coastal forest industry. They would also be aware of species and stand of trees that are likely to become susceptible to diseases due to age or other factors and harvest them before they are lost to disease. Failure to harvest enough ageing lodgepole pine in the interior of BC was the most significant factor in the present mountain pine beetle epidemic that is wasting $100 Billion in timber in the interior of BC.

The local forest management unit would have a stable staff, trained workers and some equipment to maintain roads and infrastructure and conduct silvicultural activities. Under the present system of entitlements, some of this work falls through the cracks. There are thousands of kilometers of decaying forest roads left with little or no maintenance after harvest. Although forest companies have to replant and see that a harvested area regenerates, this arrangement does not provide for thinning or more complex stand tending needs of shelterwood or selection silvicultural systems.

Open market sale of timber from the local forest management unit will maintain existing wood processing plants while enabling new value wood processors to become established. Non timber and nature based enterprises in the local forest will add to the local economy. Our wood exports will be less vulnerable to export taxes. Our present system of entitlements with administered prices for timber is seen as subsidization by other countries. It is about time we also realized that our system of entitlements for managing our public forests is funny business.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Designing new laws and institutions for BC's forests

The Montreal Process, the international agreement on sustainable forest management, says that forest laws and institutions should promote sustainable forest management. BC was almost 100 years ahead in this respect. We reserved most of our forests in Public ownership so that they could be supplied with a wise system of independent forest management to sustain communities and a forest economy.

The strongest part of our existing arrangements for sustainable forest management is our public forests. We are able to place whole forest landscapes and most of BC under a wise system of sustainable forest management.

Unfortunately, we have got a little off track on the central priority for our forest laws and institutions to deliver sustainable forest management. The primary function of our forest laws and institutions is to manage private entitlements or harvesting rights held by forest corporations. There are forestry requirements and there has been considerable technical forestry improvements. However, the system revolves around private entitlements. The forest in this scheme of things is something to be used, rather than something that requires care. The local forest landscape can be fragmented between several forest corporations. The local forest landscape does not have an identifiable and responsible forest steward. It is just a piece of hinterland that is at the receiving end of a centralized command and control system. The local forest steward is lost somewhere in the hierarchies of several government agencies and several forest corporations.

New forest laws and institutions can be designed. First, we must solve the problem that has prevented us from developing a wise system of sustainable forest management in the past 100 years. The Royal Commission that made the recommendations for retaining our forests in public ownership even warned us of the potential problem 100 years ago. The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia is the Trustee of our public forests. They exercise their role without the guidance or requirements of any trust documents. The Commissioners noted that future government administrations might not put a wise system of forest management as their first responsibility. Instead successive political administrations have viewed and used BC's forests as an instrument of economic and political power. In the process, a few forest corporations gained harvesting rights and increasing management responsibilities in our public forests. The process of enclosure of BC's Public forests into the private interest is well under way.

Economic arguments are being advanced to give forest corporations longer term tenures and commercial forest reserves in the public forest. This is nothing but pure accommodation of timber interests and will represent the point of no return in the enclosure of our forests.

The experiment of turning our forests over to pure economic use is already a proven failure on economic grounds. Value stripping of the coastal forests has left the coastal forest industry in an economic jam. Failure to harvest enough less desirable Lodge Pole pine in the interior, left huge areas to grow old and susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack. The present mega pine beetle epidemic with wood losses in the $100 Billion range is no economic triumph. This forest management catastrophe will be used as a hard luck tune to gain greater entitlements in the public forests. A major bonus for incompetent performance.

If the public and forest dependent communities do not wake up, poor stewardship and enclosure of BC Public Forests is almost inevitable. The public needs to call for new arrangements for managing our forests. Streamlined and simple arrangements for providing independent professional sustainable forest management to local forest landscapes can be designed. New institutional arrangements must also look at the trusteeship of the public forests. There should be written trust documents and some check or auditing of the trustees.

A devolved system is better suited to a high standard of local forest stewardship. Also local trustees are better placed to represent the public interest. Forest laws and institutions set the stage for the relationship between society and the forests. Our forests have suffered a hinterland relationship with central economic and political authority for the past 100 years. We need to set the stage for a different relationship. It should have checks and balances to ensure progress toward sustainable stewardship.

The next blog will look at the specifics of a new system.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

BC's Public Forests at risk of enclosure

BC needs to reform its arrangements for sustainable management of its vast area of public forests. The partnership of the BC Government and a few forest corporations in the management of our public forests should be regarded as a proven failure. The lenient relationship between the partners has resulted in problems in the forest and the forest industry.

Unfortunately the only solutions being proposed will take us further along the path that caused the problems in the first place. Forest companies will seek additional entitlements in the public forests. These are likely to come in the form of long term tenures or leases. The path ends in enclosure or privatization of BC's Public Forests. The long term leases or tenures will enable politicians to pull the wool over our eyes. They will maintain that the forests will remain in public ownership as the forests are gradually transferred to the private interest.

The process of enclosure of BC's public forests into the private interest has been underway since World war II. The interest of the public in their public forests was supposed to be satisfied by the notion that Government and forest companies were sustaining timber supplies and manufacturing wood products to put cash in the pockets of ordinary citizens. The public had limited opportunities to get involved in the management of the forests. A few limited opportunities to provide input or comments to land use or forest development plans did little to cultivate a relationship between citizens and their forests.

The process of enclosure or creeping privatization of BC's public forests has not been identified as a problem. Its symptoms have surfaced from time to time as "war in the woods" in the form of episodes of civil disobedience and First Nation's claims.

The ongoing enclosure or creeping privatization of BC's Public Forests is not a conspiracy. Rather, it is a result of failing to think things through. It is about to become a hurtling,freight train as the dysfunctional forest sector asks for more entitlements. Our politicians are likely to respond by releasing the brakes.

Most of BC's forests are in public ownership because it was seen as the best way to ensure sustainable stewardship. The Royal Commission that made this recommendation in 1909 also noted that the Achilles' heel of the arrangement was political administrations that failed to make wise independent forest stewardship their first priority in forest policy.

We have experienced 100 years of political administrations that have failed to supply our public forests with independent sustainable stewardship. Reform of our arrangements for stewardship of our public forests and saving them from impending enclosure will require some new arrangements that places some checks on the unilateral authority of central political administrations in Victoria over our forests.

Returning our public forests to the public interest and establishing independent professional forest management can be accomplished if the public and forest dependent communities show enough interest. It will also bring open markets for public timber and a competitive business environment that will result in a healthy diversified forest economy in the long term.

Returning our public forests to the public interest will require new institutions that give local communities a direct interest in the management of local forests. We will look at these in the next blog.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

First Nation's Land Claims and BC's Forests

We acknowledge that First Nation's people have been disadvantaged in Canadian Society. Are we doing enough to rectify the situation? A First Nation's man has a life expectancy 7.4 years less than the average Canadian male. Suicide rates are twice that of the average and housing, services, employment opportunities and conditions in many First Nation's communities need improvement.

Does the Treaty and Land Claims effort redress the situation? The effort has dragged on for many years with limited resolution and benefit except perhaps to lawyers and other big feeders in the game. The game is a European game based on land ownership law that has its roots in Roman law. The word colonial comes from a Roman class of conquered people that were treated as slaves or serfs. Given the lack of progress the whole process looks like a run around.

Public forests are being used as the currency to redress past abuses. This approach has merit if it results in improvement in employment and living conditions in First Nations communities. It will also require careful provision of some mechanisms to ensure that the forests will be managed to sustain their benefits to First Nation's communities.

Innovative solutions are needed and they should be implemented without years or decades of wrangling in law courts. First Nation's people did not understand their relationship with the forests in European land ownership terms. They had a direct relationship with the forest. It sustained them in multiple ways by providing, food, shelter, clothing fiber and medicine. It had spiritual significance.

The idea that forests should provide multiple benefits and not just timber is a major criterion in the the Montreal Process, an international agreement on sustainable forest management. The traditional First Nation's relationship with BC Forests was advanced in this respect.

A true solution is one that will restore the relationship between First Nation's communities and their surrounding forests. A necessary part of this solution is some legal and institutional arrangements that will ensure sustainable stewardship of the forest. This will be easier to achieve if the forest remains under Public or Crown ownership.

Under a land claims approach, First Nation's communities may manage to enclose public forest into their private interest. Given the grudging nature of the process to date,these areas of forest may be of insufficient size to permit economic operation. These forests will just add to the stock of private forest land that can be harvested by forest corporations with reduced requirements for stewardship inputs. Forest corporations will benefit. The net result for First Nations communities is more of the same.

The relationship between First Nation's communities and their surrounding forest landscapes can be restored through new legal and institutional arrangements for Public forests. The Local Forest Trust would give stewardship responsibilities to First Nations Communities. There would be an elected board and a professional forest management staff for an area that is of sufficient size to support economic operations. A Forest Trust Assembly would provide support and audit progress toward sustainable forest management. The Local Forest Trust would have an elected and professional delegates on the the Forest Trust Assembly.

The idea of re-establishing the relationship between First Nation's communities and the surrounding forest should not be restricted to First Nation's communities. It is so grounded in basic common sense that it should apply to other communities also. That local relationship and interest will help progress toward sustainability and ensure that the public forests are retained for the equal benefit of all.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Getting permission to work on trails in Public Forests

The BC Park system is under funded and volunteer trail maintenance is welcomed and needed in most Parks. Contact BC Parks to offer help. Parks have established assessment and approval procedures for new trails.

You need to get permission to construct trails in public forests with forest operations. Contact the Ministry of Forests to get permission. Some public forests have hiking, cross country skiing and snowmobile trails. However, we lack sufficient trails to provide access to special natural features in many working forest landscapes. Visitors to BC write letters to local newspapers noting the lack of trail access.

See previous posts and links on how to locate a trail and survey the location in preparation for approval. You should be willing to make changes to accommodate the authorities. The trail location may need to be altered to avoid some sensitive site or for other cogent reason. Help full accommodation by all will enable a trail project to get approval and proceed toward completion.

In the past, environmental groups constructed trails in Public Forests in attempt to attract public interest in having an area declared a Park or protected area. If your trail project is received with suspicion, make it clear that you wish only to develop recreational access. There should be no resistance to developing recreational trails since it is in keeping with progress toward sustainable forest management. The Montreal Process, the international agreement on sustainable forest management encourages the development of multiple social and economic benefits from the forest. A forest trail is a social or recreational benefit that brings people into a relationship of care and interest with the forest. A community with a good set of forest recreational trails that are well maintained and publicized will encourage some visitors to stay for days or weeks rather than a few hours.

Local groups that wish to develop forest trails to improve community recreational amenities, and are careful to follow location and construction procedures that are in keeping with best practices should be able to get permission. Go the extra mile in accommodating those in authority. Your trail project may be frustrated because Government agencies and forest companies do not want your trails in the local forest landscape. In this event you need to remind the opposition that it is the Public's Forest and become politically active in securing permission.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Building a Forest Trail

Once your community group has got permission to build a trail in a public forest, you should read a good trail building manual. The following is an excellent guide from the US Dept of Transportation:Trail Construction and Maintenance Notebook 2007:

The guide encourages innovation and using your head to find the best solutions for the conditions and materials at hand. While BC has a considerable variety of soil conditions, it is quite common to find a trail location on a steep side-hill in soils that have considerable rocks and boulders and little fine materials.

The typical approach to building a trail in rocky soil on a steep side-hill in BC has been to bash a way through by excavating a bench in the side-hill. Little effort is made to rearrange the materials . Large rocks are left in the trail tread or walking surface and scarce fine material is wasted down slope. Once the trail is used, the larger rocks will project out of the surface creating tripping hazards. Hikers tend to avoid these hazards by walking around them often breaking down the outer edge of the trail in the process.

The trail in the photograph above is on a 100% side slope. It is half bench construction. The rock from the excavation is used to make an outer drystone retaining wall and the fine material is retained to make a trip free walking surface. This method much reduces the excavation and bare soil cut slopes.

Constructing a half bench drystone retaining trail on a slope does not require great skill. Most approach the task thinking that great skill is required to fit uneven pieces of rock to provide a stable structure. First you cut a key into the slope to take the first row of large rocks. Additional layers of rock are roughly placed on top. With each layer of outer large rocks, fill behind with smaller rocks and stones. It is these smaller rocks that add friction and stability to the structure. Finish the trail surface with the finer soil material.

Tools needed are a mattock for excavation, a 12 lb sledgehammer and a steel pry bar to deal with rocks. A wheel barrow and a shovel to end haul scarce fine material is also most useful.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Forest Stewardship reform

The 1909 Fulton Commission recommended that BC's forests should be retained in Crown or public ownership. A Forest Service should provide independent professional management. The intended outcome was sustainable forest dependent communities and a healthy forest industry.

The Fulton Commission noted a possible downside to Government acting as trustee of BC`s forests. Future government administrations might not put wise stewardship of the forests as their first priority. For many decades government priorities have focused on private entitlements in the public forest. We are so immersed in this paradigm that discussions about change are conducted under the subject heading of `Tenure reform`.

The appropriate subject heading for discussions about changes to forest management is found in Criterion 7 of the Montreal Process. The process supplies a comprehensive scientific definition of sustainable forest management. Criterion 7 looks at the Legal and Institutional framework to support sustainable forest management.

We should conserve those features of the existing institutional framework that provide a strong foundation for sustainable forest management and change those features that compromise good stewardship. Our most beneficial existing institution in BC is our Crown or Public forests. This gives us the ability to provide whole forest landscapes with sustainable forest management. This ability has been compromised by private entitlements and BC is on a path that is similar to historic land enclosures in Europe. Assurances that our forest land will be retained in nominal Crown or public ownership as entitlements are strengthened are artifices along the route to enclosure.

To retain our Public Forests as the central institution for sustainable forest management we need consider reforms that reduce private entitlements. The original concept of independent professional forest management has considerable merit. Some innovative governance arrangements will be needed to protect a system of independent stewardship from politicians.

A devolved system of Local Forest Trusts and a Forest Trust Assembly is a potential solution.

The Local Forest Trust would comprise a relatively large geographic area of one or more forest landscapes, of sufficient size to support economic forest operations and a forestry staff. It would have an elected board. The Local Forest Trust would operate under trust documents developed from the Montreal Process definition of sustainable forest management. The local forest managers would be accountable to the local public and would manage the forest to generate timber, non timber and nature based economic activity. Other than woodlot stewardship agreements, the Local Forest Trust will not be able to delegate major forest management responsibilities to forest companies. Timber will be sold in log form on the open market to provide a competitive environment.

The Forest Trust Assembly would be governed by an equal number of elected delegates and professional delegates from Local Forest Trusts. The Forest Trust Assembly would audit Local Forest Trusts, and provide collective services such as forest fire fighting and extension services. The Forest Trust Assembly would act as a court of appeal for the public, the staff of Local Forest Trusts and wood utilization companies. Any major changes proposed by the Forest Trust Assembly would require the ratification of two thirds of the Local Forest Trusts

These new institutions also provide a means of settling First Nations land claims. First Nations could have self governing Local Forest Trusts with the supports of the Forest Trust Assembly to help develop needed sustainable economic development. While First Nations are seeking private rights, the trust alternative re-establishes a traditional relationship between communities and the local forest landscape. The same will be true for other communities. This involvement is beneficial for sustainable forest management.

The open market arrangements for sale of logs will enable existing wood processing plants to continue operations while opening the doors to some new value added manufacturing. The open market will reduce the vulnerability of BC wood product exports to discriminatory taxes. While timber is likely to remain the major component in the forest economy, independent professional management is more conducive to the development of non timber forest products and nature based enterprises, than management by timber companies. Forest professionals will be directly accountable to the public shareholders and this will reduce conflict and incidents of civil disobedience. The public shareholders will get a market price for their wood and local accountable management.

There are major problems in our forests, dependent communities and industry that will remain after the present global economic downturn. The tenure system is at the root of many of these problems. Are we really going to solve these problems by staying on the tenure path? Local Forests Trusts and a Forest Trust Assembly is an institutional framework much more suited to progress toward sustainable forest management as outlined in the Montreal Process. Our forests will be conveyed back to the public interest under local democratic free enterprise institutions.

Full text of this article originally published as "Tenure Reform through a different lens: forest stewardship reform" in the September - October 2010 edition of the the BC Forest Professional published by the Association of BC Forest Professionals.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Community Trail projects in managed forests landscapes

A BC community or community group could enhance local amenities and tourist potential by developing trails in local managed forest landscapes. Permission is required from the Ministry of Forests before a trail can be built.

A group may be able to call on the assistance of a volunteer with some experience in locating forest roads and trails. If not, most groups can follow guidebooks on trail planning and building. A good starting point is:

The first step is planning the trail. Collect maps and local knowledge and identify the starting point or trail head and the destination(s) of the proposed trail. There will be other key control points along the way, such as stream crossings, or a rock bluff or other feature that has to be circumvented.

A route between the control points can be projected on a topographic map. Gradient of trails is a key issue at this stage. Trails should be under 10% gradient to provide comfortable hiking. A trail can switchback on a slope to reduce gradient. Sometimes terrain forces steeper gradients. Care needs to be exercised because trails greater than 15% gradient will erode with foot traffic in some soil conditions.

A preliminary reconnaissance of the map projected route will reveal the feasibility of the route and result in some modification of the route corridor. This is a good time to approach the Ministry of Forests and the forest companies operating in the landscape to discuss the project. Try to reach some general agreement on the project and be willing to modify the route corridor.

Final location of the trail on the ground should be preceded by a very thorough reconnaissance of the whole route. Expect to modify the projected route as you envision placing the trail on the landscape. The objective is to locate a trail that can be built with minimum soil disturbance. This is best for the environment and the backs of the trail builders. Use benches and other micro features in the topography.

Although trails are narrow compared to roads, their location requires greater thought and planning. Roads usually have ditches and culverts. Trails usually do not have constructed provision for drainage other than slight out-sloping of the surface to shed water. Trails with a gradient can collect water that can act as a major erosive force in storm conditions. Trails that climb and particularly steep trails need to have dips or breaks in the gradient to direct this water off the trail. These dips or gradient breaks need to be envisioned in accord with the micro-topography as the trail is located.

Flagging of the final trail location should be followed with a survey of the location. Hand compass bearings and distance measurement between stations along the route should suffice. The survey is plotted on the map. A map, survey notes and flagged location should form the basis of the application to the Ministry of Forests for permission to build the trail.

The next blog will cover trail building

Friday, May 14, 2010

Wilderness and Recreation in Managed Forest Landscapes

In the last post we looked at the considerable area of forest in BC that has been designated as protected areas such as Parks and Ecological reserves. It encouraged individuals and community groups to volunteer to maintain local Parks.

Some communities do not have Provincial Parks at their doorstep. There is an area of wilderness and forest likely to remain in pristine natural condition that is much larger than our designated parks. These natural areas are found within managed forest landscapes. Much of BC has mountain terrain and on average more than half of a managed forest landscape consists of inaccessible forest, water, alpine areas, rock and ice.

These areas within managed forest landscapes will never be harvested or subject to forest operations. Forest road access within a landscape can put you within easy reach of a waterfall, mountain peak or other special landscape feature. Some forest landscapes have many of these special places. Landscape architects call these "genius loci" or spirit of place. Landforms, geology, water, vegetation and view come together to produce something that is unique.

Special places within the forest are part of the natural capital of the forest and are amenities to be enjoyed. Protecting and sustaining these amenities is part of sustainable forest management as defined by the Montreal Process. Hiking trails provide access and enjoyment of the amenity. A community with a selection of natural features and hikes of differing intensity can attract tourists and some direct employment in tour guiding.

Switzerland started developing hiking trails and other infrastructure to attract tourists to its mountain landscapes over 150 years ago. BC has landscapes, features and natural diversity much exceeding Switzerland, yet we have done little to develop our potential. Some of our poorly executed resource extraction has reduced the potential of some landscapes.

Communities, community groups and individuals that want to see trail access developed to features within local landscapes should adopt a can-do attitude and organise volunteers to develop trails. You need to plan the trails and get permission from the Ministry of Forests and follow good practices in trail location and construction. We will cover what you need to do in the next blogs.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Parks and Protected Areas

It is good news that British Columbia has approximately 13% of its area in Parks and other types of protected areas such as Ecological Reserves. This meets international targets and most ecosystems are fairly well represented in protected areas.

Protected areas are intended to conserve biological diversity and ecosystems from the effects of our material needs. Most of BC's parks have forests and forestry interests often talk about them as a threat to to the economic well being of BC. This narrow utilitarian perspective is at odds with the the international Montreal Process definition of sustainable forest management. Its definition sees parks and the conservation of biological diversity in protected areas and in managed forests as an important part of sustainable forest management and conservation.

The increase in the area of parks in BC gives us some hope for a sustainable future. That hope lies not so much in the protected land but in the fact that it signifies some change in our attitude. What do parks say about us? They remind us that we can move beyond that ever present state of anxiety about our material needs. They are like a Sunday's rest from industry and our restless need to make, want or consume more. Targets for the amount of area that should be protected are often around 1/7 of the total land.

BC's politicians like to look good. They can claim that BC has more area protected than other parts of Canada or the world. They dress up well on the issue of Parks. We should celebrate our Parks. Some jurisdictions have parks that are distinguished only by the fact that they are protected. Most BC Parks are spectacular by comparison.

While BC politicians like to put on Parks like a fancy suit, they are reluctant to allocate sufficient funds to maintain parks and protected areas. Parks budgets are unlikely to increase. Trails and other infrastructure in Parks will continue to deteriorate.

Individuals, groups in BC communities can take action to change the situation and show greater care of local parks than that afforded by the central BC Government. BC Parks staff are open to volunteers. Volunteers are even provided with liability insurance coverage while undertaking trail maintenance and other tasks.

Celebrate your local park by maintaining it to a high standard. Improve the amenities available to your community. Remember it is not just material needs that develop economic activity. A community with good hiking trails through its local landscapes and features will attract tourists. It is a sign that a community is extending a caring interest to its surrounding forests and parks.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Change and the BC Forest Service

In response to criticisms of more downsizing, the Minister of Forests, Pat Bell, praised the Forest Service for its ability to evolve and change. The Forest Service will celebrate its centennial in 2012.

The creation of the BC Forest Service, one century ago, was a very progressive idea. Timber companies were exploiting forests and leaving a legacy of ghost towns all over North America at that time. Most of BC's magnificent forests were retained in Crown or Public ownership. The Forest Service was intended to provide independent professional forest management. Sustainable communities and a healthy forest industry was the intended outcome.

In 1909, a Royal Commission on forestry recommended the Forest Service as the independent management institution for BC's forests. A wise system of forest management and conservation was the primary responsibility of Government and the Forest Service. The Commission noted that the weakness in the progressive arrangement was future government administrations that did not make wise forest stewardship the first priority.

Meeting forest industry needs has been the direction of the Forest Service's political masters for many decades. The Forest Service controlled the volume of timber that could be harvested to sustainable levels, but forest companies could select the timber they wished to harvest. Forest companies tended to take the highest value timber on the most accessible sites. The coastal forest industry now faces the harvest of lower value timber from less accessible sites. Meeting forest industry needs in the short term, created problems for the future. That future is now.

The Forest Service met forest industry needs in the interior of BC by fighting forest fires. This saved lots of lodgepole pine from fire. Unfortunately, lodgepole pine was not at the top of forest industry's list for harvest. Consequently large areas of lodgepole pine grew old and susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack. The present 13 million hectare outbreak of mountain pine beetle is much larger than a natural outbreak. All losses of timber to mountain pine beetle cannot be avoided completely. However, a system of forest management that enhances mountain pine beetle habitat and creates a super natural outbreak with timber and economic losses of $100 Billion is hardly wise.

Allocation of most of BC's public timber resources to a few forest companies did aid in the rapid establishment of forest industry in BC. However, the allocation of most of the timber to lumber and pulp producers restricted supplies of timber to other value adding wood industries. The administered pricing system aided the forest companies in times of poor markets. However the arrangement can be perceived as a subsidy and BC has been impacted by discriminatory export taxes. We export logs because our commodity producing forest sector cannot generate sufficient value from their manufacture.

Our legal and institutional arrangements for our Public forests have not yielded the intended outcome. Forest dependent communities and the forest industry are suffering. This situation cannot be blamed entirely on the present serious economic downturn. Problems in the forest will remain. Solving the problems requires major change to our arrangements for sustainable management of our forests.

What are the main problems with the present arrangements? Developing a wise system of forest management has not been the first priority of BC Governments for most of the past century. Rather they have viewed the forest as a resource bank that can be converted to cash. A tenure system of private harvesting rights was developed and forest management responsibilities were delegated to forest companies. Enterprise, competition and wood industry diversity was restricted by allocating most of the harvest to a few commodity producing forest corporations. BC Governments have failed to act as a responsible trustee of our forests. Further they have failed to provide good government by seeing to the interests of forest corporations before those of the public.

What are the solutions? Unfortunately the only solutions that are being offered point down the same path that has caused problems in the first place. Long term tenure in Commercial Timber Reserves will give private interests greater control over our forests.

The biggest problem with solutions that increase private interest in our forests is not one of forestry alone. Even if you live in one of the larger cities in BC and do not feel closely connected to the forests or forest management, it is something that you should think about. Aboriginal people have appreciated BC's wide open spaces for thousands of years. Maybe you or your forefathers came to BC for this reason. Wide open spaces and the freedom to go and visit them is part of BC and who we are. Make no mistake about the fact that forest policy in BC in progressing in the same manner as historic enclosures of land from the common interest to the private interest. Increasing private interest in our forests will reduce our ability to control the quality of our environment in future. This is not a great conspiracy, but rather a continuation of our inability to appreciate the long term consequences of poor forest policy.

Strengthened private rights in public forests and ongoing entanglement between forest corporations and the BC Government will further compromise the Forest Service. The public is entitled to sustainable management of their forests. Sustainable forest management is not just about sustainable supplies of timber. A forest landscape can add to local economies through timber and non timber forest products, and nature based recreation enterprises. Laws and institutions should encourage free enterprise and a diversified value adding wood manufacturing industry. Public timber should be sold on an open market. To achieve the necessary rebuilding of a diversified forest sector, independent management of public forests is necessary.

New institutions are required to provide independent sustainable management of our public forests in the 21st Century. The institutions need to be accountable to the public while providing some checks and balances on political intervention. A devolved system of Local Forest Trusts and a Forest Trust Assembly is a potential solution.

The Local Forest Trust would comprise a relatively large geographic area of one or more forest landscapes, of sufficient size to support economic forest operations and a forestry staff. It would have an elected board. The Local Forest Trust would operate under trust documents developed from the Montreal Process definition of sustainable forest management. The local forest managers would be accountable to the local public and would manage the forest to generate timber, non timber and nature based economic activity. Other than woodlot stewardship agreements, the Local Forest Trust will not be able to delegate major forest management responsibilities to forest companies. Timber will be sold in log form on the open market to provide a competitive environment.

The Forest Trust Assembly would be governed by an equal number of elected delegates and professional delegates from Local Forest Trusts. The Forest Trust Assembly would audit Local Forest Trusts, and provide collective services such as forest fire fighting and extension services. The Forest trust Assembly would act as a court of appeal for the public, the staff of Local Forest Trusts and wood utilization companies.

Local Forest Trusts and the Forest Trust Assembly are two linked institutions that would provide a new forest service that is accountable to the public and communities while at the same time providing a competitive base for a new revitalized and diversified forest sector in BC.

These new institutions can also provide a means of settling First Nations land claims. First Nations could have self governing Local Forest Trusts with the supports of the Forest Trust Assembly to help develop needed sustainable economic development.

The public and forest dependent communities will have to ask for these new institutions. Take an interest and speak up for independent and accountable management local forest management.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Forester in the Local Forest Trust

A change from BC's present centralized system for forest management to Local Forest Trusts will enable BC's well trained foresters,and associated professionals to do a better job of sustaining forests and forest dependent communities.

Under a new system of Local Forest Trusts, professional forest management staff will be responsible for the stewardship of a local forest landscape. They will work out of a local office and will be accountable to the local elected board of the Local Forest Trust. The Local Forest Trust will operate under trust documents that will require sustainable stewardship that meets international standards known as the Montreal Process. The intent of the Montreal Process is to encourage progress toward improvement in sustainable forest management and conservation with a set of criteria and indicators. Under this type of system, the local forester is not bound by restrictive rules and requirements. Rather,it outlines a path to progress and outlines ways of assessing that progress. The forester in the Local Forest Trust will have full responsibility and considerable flexibility in achieving sustainable results.

A BC Forest Trust Assembly will be responsible for auditing Local Forest Trusts and ensuring that there is progress toward sustainable forest management. The Forest Trust Assembly will be governed by an equal number of elected board members and forester delegates from local trusts. There will be a strong component of professional experience to guide the Forest Trust Assembly and ensure that it functions is a practical and supportive manner.

The local forester and staff will have wide responsibility for the local forest landscape. Responsibilities will include, sustaining supplies and quality of timber, non timber forest products, nature based forest enterprises, water wildlife, rare and endangered species, carbon fixation benefits to the atmosphere, spiritual and recreation benefits, traditional aboriginal sites and uses.

The existing centralized industrial forest management system does claim to manage the previously mentioned items. A local forester and staff will do a better job because they will get a better understanding of the local landscape if they are based there. If the Local Forest Trust is made the building block of forest management in BC, there will be institutions that plan and manage the local forest landscape with increasing understanding of local conditions. The managers will be accountable directly to the local communities and the public and charged with managing and conserving the full values of the local landscape.

A change to local forest management makes simple sense. You have a local elected board and a forester and staff to look after the forest. By contrast the existing centralized system is complex. There may be several forest corporations working in the local forest landscape. Since the corporate interest in the public forest is timber, plans have to be checked by the Ministry of Forests and other associated government agencies. All the forest corporations and agencies have their own hierarchies and offices in different places. Foresters and associated professionals usually work in some specialist function and limited responsibility within these hierarchies.

A change to local management of BC`s public forests is long overdue. Local Forest Trusts are a local institution with clear lines of responsibility and accountability to ensure sustainable forests and local communities.

The change to local forest management will happen if local communities take an interest in their forests and ask for the change.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Local Forest Management

This blog promotes Local Forest Trusts as a better way to manage our public forests. Local Forest Trusts will provide a better institutional framework for sustainable forest management than the present centralized system.

Our Crown or public forests were intended to be managed for the long term benefit of the public and forest dependent communities. The present centralized system gives the public and forest dependent communities little opportunity to exercise their interest. The public is given the opportunity to give input to government on higher level land use plans, and a chance to comment on forest company plans for short term harvest. Since the public has limited opportunity to influence the management of their forests, as strong culture of interest in forest matters has not developed in BC.

The existing centralized system of forest management does give major forest corporations the opportunity to exercise their interest in our forests. Corporations have private rights to harvest volumes of timber from public forests. Corporations have the right to propose what areas of forest they will harvest in the short term. This arrangement supposedly served the public interest because it created revenues for forest industry and government. It worked well for many decades as the most valuable timber in public forests was harvested. The forest sector is now in difficulties that are more long term than the present economic downturn.

BC is trying to solve its forest sector problems with the old ideas that caused the problem in the first place. We are trying to solve the problem by giving forest corporations increased private interest in our public forests. Long term tenure in commercial timber reserves is about increasing the private interest in our public forests. Do we want this process of enclosure to continue? Do you want your children or grand children to meet a gate on their way to your favorite recreation spot in the forest?

A new system of forest management based on Local Forest Trusts will enable the public, and forest dependent communities to exercise their interest in forest management. There will be a locally elected board with professional staff that are accountable to the community. It is a vital interest of a forest dependent community to ensure sustainable forest management. Sustainable forest management, by international definition, is not just about sustainable timber supplies. It tries to develop a diversified local forest economy by secondary wood manufacture, non timber forest products and through nature based economic and recreational activities. Freedom from the financial impediment of discriminatory trade tariffs is seen as a necessary part of sustainable forest management. The centralized system of forest management and non market timber allocation in BC can be viewed as a government subsidy. Local Forest Trusts will sell timber on the open market. This will encourage secondary manufacture, free enterprise and reduce our vulnerability to export taxes on wood products. These competitive arrangements will renew and revitalize our ailing forest sector.

Most aspects of sustainable forest stewardship are best achieved through a local accountable forest management organisation like a Local Forest Trust. However there a a few forest services that are better provided through some central organisation. Forest research, and aerial fire fighting operations are examples of needed infrastructure. A Forest Trust Assembly governed by delegates, both elected and professional from Local Forest Trusts can handle these services. The Forest Trust Assembly will audit Local Forest Trusts and provide the public with a court of appeal.

In addition to giving the public and forest dependent communities accountable arrangements for sustainable stewardship of their local forest landscapes, Local Forest Trusts will put a stop to gradual creeping enclosure of BC's public forests into the private interest.