Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A healthy forest economy for British Columbia

An interesting exchange took place on the pages of the Victoria Times Colonist newspaper. A retired forestry professor extolled the benefits for managing forests for many values. This is one of the central concepts of an international agreement on sustainable forest management. Timber remains the major economic activity in this type of management, but local economies can also benefit from harvest of non-timber forest resources and nature based tourism enterprises. Switzerland has developed considerable economic activity over the past 150 years through nature based economic activities in its mountainous forest landscapes. BC has greater potential.

The Truck Loggers Association was quick to respond and throw cold water on these ideas by using the forest sector's economic trump card. The resident or business owner in a BC community always accepts that timber plays a key role in BC's economy and listens to forest sector`s claims of hardship, especially during tough economic times. We are in tough economic times so we easily agree with the sob story. We need to examine the sob story to see if we are being conned.

The first line in the story is that the BC forest industry is becoming less competitive every year. The BC forest industry was never competitive. It is a restricted enterprise arrangement that sees most of our public timber allocated to a few large forest corporations. Most of our timber has been allocated to these large lumber and paper pulp producers. Growth of a secondary value added wood products sector was severely restricted because there was no open market for our public timber. As a result, we do not gain as much employment or dollars for each cubic meter of wood we produce. Our non competitive system has made our wood products vulnerable to discriminatory export taxes or tariffs.

The Truck Loggers Association goes on to say that things are so bad that they cannot afford to harvest some areas because it is too expensive. BC Governments have catered to the forest sector's economic machine for 60 years by providing a timber smorgasbrod. The central Government in Victoria set limits on the volume of timber that could be harvested each year, but allowed their forest industry partners to serve themselves. After serving themselves the most valuable timber for 60 years, they are down to slim pickings. Some of these areas of slim pickings are too costly to harvest.

In the interior of BC, value stripping left large areas of less desirable Lodge Pole Pine to grow old. Here against its pecuniary interests, forest industry unwittingly created a huge habitat for for a forest dependent species. Mountain Pine Beetle likes old lodgepole pine and the beetles have had a 13 million hectare feast. 13 million hectares is about the area of Denmark, Holland and Switzerland put together. While BC cannot avoid some outbreaks of mountain pine beetle, the present outbreak is much larger than a natural one and probably represents an avoidable economic loss in excess of $100 Billion. It is a major waste of BC public resources at the scale of dollar figures used by the US Treasury. No wonder that the BC Government and the forest industry would have us believe that global warming is the sole factor involved.

Residents and business owners in BC communities do agree that public forests play a strong role in the local and Provincial economy. We are the shareholders of the public forests and we should be seeking competent management arrangements. Should we reward the forest sector with a bonus for 60 years of improvident management? The bonus comes under the heading of tenure reform. It entails long term tenures or leases of public forests that would be classified as commercial timber reserves. No need to worry about other forest values or economic potential in these arrangements. Our public forests would be virtually privatized under these arrangements.

One hundred and one years ago BC adopted a very progressive idea for management of its forests. To prevent waste and ensure a sustainable future for communities, BC opted to keep the hands of timber interests off of BC`s forests. BC would retain its forests in public ownership and would ensure that independent professional forest management was supplied by a Forest Service. We broke with that vision after the Second World War and started to give forest management responsibilities to timber interests. BC residents, the Government and the forest sector have agreed to these corrupted management arrangements for our public forest trust for more than 60 years because we were enjoying the material fruits of value stripping our forest. We are all to blame, but we do not need give away our children`s inheritance of a green future in BC by having our public forests enclosed into the private interest.

BC Communities and residents should ask for Trust reform for our forests. It would entail devolving the trust of sustainable stewardship of our forests from central government in Victoria to Local Forest Trusts. The Local Forest trusts would involve forest landscapes of sufficient size to enable economic business operation. They would be required to meet the standards of the Montreal Process, an international agreement on sustainable forest management. The management of the forest would include timber, non-timber and nature based forest enterprises. Timber would be sold in manufactured log form on an open market. This will enable existing forest industry to purchase wood as well as encourage the development of a strong value added sector.

Local forest trusts would have an elected board and professional forest resource managers. A Forest Trust Assembly would audit and support Local Forest trusts and provide a court of appeal. The Provincial Forest Trust Assembly would be governed by elected board members and professional delegates from local trusts. Any policy changes would require ratification by two thirds of all local forest trusts.

First nation`s Communities could have Local Forest trusts. This would give First Nations Communities desired self government and improved economic opportunities. Their stewardship will be supported by the Forest Trust Assembly.

Rather than see their surrounding forest landscapes enclosed in long term leases for the benefit of private timber interests, BC Communities can speak up for local democratic business like stewardship. Take the opportunity to build a new future and an expanded diversified economy.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Green BC Communities: The surrounding landscape

The notion of a green community usually focuses on admirable ideas for reducing energy consumption, waste and carbon emissions. Recycling programs, efficient public transportation, fuel efficient vehicles, improved insulation of homes and other buildings need encouragement and your participation.

Green BC Communities looks at the green forest landscapes that surround British Columbia communities. Most forest landscapes are Crown forests, owned by the public. Why are the forests that surround your community owned by the public?  The intended outcome of this progressive arrangement was to ensure the economic sustainability of your community.

One hundred years ago, pioneers thought that it would be better to prevent timber companies from taking ownership of BC's forests. Instead forests were to be managed by an independent professional forest management agency, the Forest Service. Independent professional forest management was intended to ensure sustainable forests, communities and a healthy forest industry.

We did not follow through on the original vision, but opted to give forest companies tenure through timber harvesting licenses in public forests. Forest management became a partnership between the BC Government and forest companies. Forest management is no longer independent and may not be in the public interest.

It is time for communities to take greater interest in the management of their public forests and that also includes our parks or protected areas. Forest dependent communities including First Nations are facing difficulties. BC's once strong forest industry is floundering. Some would have us believe that these problems are all caused by external economic conditions, but there are also many home grown sustainability issues.

Green BC Communities will explore many of these home grown sustainability issues and propose solutions in future posts. We encourage your comments, questions and submissions.