Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The same old way for a different era

Communities on southern Vancouver island are up in arms because the BC Government allowed forest companies to remove private land from Tree Farm Licences. The communities were not expecting the prospect of commercial and residential development on land that was dedicated forest.

After World War 2, forest companies got Tree Farm Licences by adding private land to a much larger area of public forest land. The private land was intended to be managed for the long term as part of the productive forest.

The BC Government acted on the wishes of the forest company and made no attempt to consult or consider the wishes of communities or the public. For the past 65 years, BC Governments of differing ideologies have given forest companies what they wanted. The Crown or Public forests of BC were supposed to be well managed to ensure a sustainable future for forest dependent communities. A healthy forest industry is certainly part of the equation.

The BC Government is the Trustee of our public forests and is supposed to see that they are managed for our benefit. Unfortunately, the BC Legislature is the highest court and there is just ourselves to see that they are doing their job properly through the process of democratic elections. Most elections in BC like elsewhere in the western world have long been centered on issues of economic prosperity. When we talk about the health of forestry in BC we are usually talking about the health of the industrial forest sector and the dollars it will bring. This is something different than the actual health of the forest.

The forest is a like a bank account. For 65 years BC Governments have been operating with the idea that the forest is an abundant bank account. The forest industry was the vehicle for extracting cash from the account. The BC Government delegated considerable forest management responsibilities to forest companies, essentially making them partners. The government shared in the cash.

The Government made lenient arrangements. Most of the harvest of timber was allocated under timber harvesting licences to a few large forest companies. This restricted the diversity of the forest industry to commodity lumber and pulp producers. The lack of open markets for public timber restricted secondary wood products manufacture and made our forest products subject to discriminatory export taxes. Although the BC Government controlled the amount that could be harvested to sustainable levels, it was very lenient about what timber was harvested. As a result the best timber was harvested first.

The lenient arrangements worked well for half a century simply because there was a lot of value in the bank. Times have changed. On the coast of BC, the remaining old growth forest and the second growth forest presents challenges, and the coastal forest sector find itself in difficulties. In the interior of BC, nature has moved with a vengeance to recycle a short lived species. This short lived species was less desirable and had been left to grow too old. Lodgepole Pine becomes susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack at about 80 years old. Millions of hectares were ripe for an attack. Yes, some mountain pine beetle outbreaks will occur in BC and mild winters help the beetles to survive, but this present outbreak is much larger than a natural one. $100 Billion worth of timber will be lost. These are US Treasury sized figures, and interior BC communities will suffer considerably from this loss.

Mistakes will always be made in forest management. We have made major mistakes in the stewardship of our public forests. Unfortunately we are trying to cover them up. International markets, economic conditions, and global warming are not the only culprits. We have been careless about how we have treated our forest bank account and are beyond the era of forest abundance.

If we expect to get the forest sector back to health with the same old thinking and solutions, we are deluding ourselves. Some extra leniency at this point will just put our forest bank account into further peril. Unfortunately the signs are that the BC Government is about to cash out our forest bank account. It has shown itself willing to let forest companies cash in on their private forest land that was dedicated for forestry along with public lands in TFLs. The next step is to give away the public land in the forest. The writing is on the wall in a recent Forests Round Table report that recommends long term leases and commercial timber reserves in public forests

This will put our public forests into the hands of private interests with no turning back. History has witnessed the enclosure of common lands by a gradual changing of laws that slowly erect legal fences and give the land to private interests. This process has been underway for over 60 years in BC's Public Forests.

The BC Government is likely to introduce new leniency arrangements in our public forests for forest industry. These will be sold as necessities to help an ailing industry and local economies.

Local communities should counter with expressions of interest in local management of Public Forests under a system of Local Forest Trusts and a Forest Trust Assembly

Read about these in other posts in this blog.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Centralized Forest Management

BC's forests were the finest of the world's coniferous forests, before we came along to manage them. The most important part of forest management is not managing the forest but managing ourselves. The forest is a storehouse of green goods that can be sustained. However, humans tend to be greedy and wasteful, so one generation can rob the forest at the expense of the next. A society that wants sustainable forests has to have some legal and institutional setup, to control greed and waste.

Centralized forest management in BC grew out of good intentions to prevent waste and have wise forest stewardship with the intended outcome of having sustainable communities and a healthy forest industry. In 1909, a pioneering commission on forestry looked around the North American continent and observed a legacy of waste, ghost towns in the wake of private timber companies. They came to the conclusion that BC should keep its forests in Crown or Public ownership, and have them managed by an independent professional Forest Service They noted that it would take a long time to develop a wise system of forest management. They identified that the weakness of the arrangement was future governments that had little regard for a wise system of stewardship.

Unfortunately the first half of the Twentieth Century was not a good time for building a wise system of forest stewardship. After the hardships of two world wars and a major economic depression, BC Governments and the people were more interested in cashing in the forests than ensuring a wise system of forest management.

To get the cash for economic development, the BC Government got into partnership arrangements with timber companies to harvest and manage BC's Crown or Public forests. This was contrary to the original vision for our forests. The whole arrangement worked well for 60 years. Stripping the highest value timber from forests always works well for a time. Once you work down to the bottom of the barrel, or nature strikes back against man's activities that have compromised the ecological balance, the glory days are over.

The BC Forest Industry is facing poor economic times and poor markets. There are underlying home grown problems that have eroded its competitive position. On the Coast of BC, the highest value timber has been harvested. In the interior, one billion cubic meters has been lost to the Mountain Pine Beetle. This $100 Billion loss of our timber resources cannot be blamed entirely on global warming. Government and forest industry have managed to convince the public that global warming is the simple answer. However the issue is more complex and there are other factors involved. Lodgepole Pine becomes susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack when it gets to be 80 years old. The forests of the interior of BC were filled with old lodgepole pine because forest industry was not directed by government to harvest enough of the species.

We did not follow through and build the type of independent stewardship of our public forests that was originally intended. We have major forest sustainability issues that are evident. Many forest dependent communities are suffering and the forest sector is not healthy. It is time we started to admit that there have been mistakes and make some changes. We have to do more than wait for changes in external factors such as the global economy. Since we admit no error we will not change.

The change we need is not more of the same ideas that have led to the present decline of forest dependent communities and the forest sector. Unfortunately, forest dependent communities are being asked to accept more of the same. Turning public forests into Commercial Forest Reserves managed by a few Forest Corporations is going further down the road that generated the present problems. It will be the point of no return toward enclosure of our public forests into the private interest.

The alternative that we need to consider is sustainable local forest management of public forests under Local Forest Trusts and a collective governing Forest Trust Assembly. We have never tried to give our public forests the stewardship that was originally intended. We need to try some new arrangements before we send our forests back into the private interest.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Forest Trust Assembly

If stewardship responsibilities for BC's Public forests were devolved to Local Forest Trusts, their elected boards and managers will have considerable freedom to manage the full natural capital of the forest. However, there will be need of some checks and balances as well as some collective services such as fire protection. The Local Forest Trusts will be democratic with an elected board and will be entrusted with the task of ensuring sustainability of the forest and dependent communities. Central government oversight will not be in keeping with the new devolved trusts.

Local Forest Trusts should answer to a council of their peers. A BC Forest Trust Assembly would be governed by an equal number of elected and professional delegates, probably one of each from each Local Forest Trust. The Forest Trust Assembly will do the following:
1. Audit Local Trusts
2. Provide collective services such as fire protection, insurance and extension services
3. Guidance on forest management, planning, data and support tools
4. A court of appeal for the public, boards, managers and employees and customers of Local Forest Trusts

Any new policies or requirements affecting the operation of Local Forest Trusts will require ratification by two thirds of Local Forest Trusts. The balanced relationship between Local Forest Trusts and the BC Forest Trust Assembly will reduce the likelihood of abuses both locally and centrally.

These new proposed governance arrangements for BC's public forests are democratic,and they will provide independent stewardship of the full natural capital of forest landscapes. The framework also provides open markets and open opportunities that will revitalize and diversify BC's ailing forest economy.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Local Forest Trusts

Local Forest Trusts are a much better alternative for BC's Public Forests. Our public forests have been subject to a gradual movement toward enclosure into the private interest for over sixty years. The next step is to place large areas of forest in Commercial Timber Reserves. Forest corporations will be able to lease these forests for the long term. Our Public Forests will serve the interests of forest corporations.

The alternative is for BC's forest dependent communities to assert their interest in sustainable stewardship of their surrounding landscapes. Local people can do a better job of sustaining their forests and local economies than central government in Victoria. The Local Forest Trust devolves control of forest management from central government and forest corporations to local communities.

The Local Forest Trust will not involve small piecemeal token allocations of public forest to communities. Instead these will involve full landscapes or several landscapes at a scale of hundreds of thousands of hectares. The intent is to have sufficient area to enable profitable forest operations and the hiring of forest management staff. A Local Forest Trust will probably include more than one community or rural area or district.

The Local Forest Trust will have a democratically elected board and professional forest managers and other staff. The local trusts will operate under a written trust document that will require the forest stewardship that meets the requirements of the Montreal Process, an international scientific agreement on sustainable forest management.

The board and managers of the Local Forest Trust will be responsible for profitable operation. Trusts will not be permitted to delegate forest management responsibilities through licences to forest companies. Family operated woodlot stewardship licences will be permitted. In addition, the Local Forest Trust will be expected to develop non-timber forest products and nature based economic activities either directly or through stewardship licences. Timber will be sold on an open market in log form, with the Local Forest Trust being responsible for road construction and harvesting. Local contractors will be involved in these activities.

Timber sold by the local forest trusts can be purchased by existing forest companies and other manufacturers interested in secondary wood products manufacture. Existing forest companies will not suffer under the new arrangements. The open market for public timber will result in removal of discriminatory export taxes and benefit existing industry.

The Local Forest Trust will not stand completely alone. A BC Forest Trust Assembly will audit and support Local Forest Trusts and provide a court of appeal. The BC Forest Trust Assembly will not be controlled by central government, but by elected and professional delegates from Local Forest Trusts. See the next blog for more on the Forest Trust Assembly.

Friday, March 5, 2010

BC Public Forests: The False Dilemma

A false dilemma is a device of falsehood. Two choices are presented when there are really more and often better choices. The BC Public has been served a false dilemma on their public forests for one quarter of a century. The two choices come from the war in the woods. Environmental organisations put evangelical fervor into saving forests and reserving them as protected areas. The forest sector counters with the importance of timber to the economy and wants forests turned into commercial forest reserves.

While some take the side of the environmentalists, many residents are swayed by lots of fear talk about impact of parks on the timber economy. The forest sector likes to wave the economic trump card. However,the public as shareholders of BC's public forests should be demanding some economic accountability from the forest sector. What does the forest sector say about its value stripping of the best timber on the BC coast over the past 60 years? It is barely able to operate on what it left for itself. In the interior of BC, failure to harvest sufficient lodge pole pine over the past 40 years, led to aging pine stands that became susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack. The present 13 million hectare epidemic is larger than a natural disaster. The epidemic means a loss of $100 Billion in public forest resources. BC's forest sector has not provided sterling economic management of public forest resources.

Sustainable forest management is the other choice that has not been presented to the public. Sustainable forest management is not just about sustaining timber supplies. It is defined by an international scientific agreement called the Montreal Process. Most people are surprised to learn that protecting representative forest in parks is part of sustainable forest management. It is really a spectrum of good management that applies to parks and timber producing forests.

Another important feature of sustainable forest management is diversifying the local forest economy. While timber is likely to remain the top dollar earner, non-timber forest products, and non consumptive nature based economic activities can add additional dollars to a local economy. The BC forest sector is in our public forests for timber and has no interest in managing our forests for these other benefits.

The false dilemma does not represent the geographic reality of BC's forests. Approximately 13.5 million hectares or 14% of BC is protected in parks. However, there is an even greater area of wilderness, that is likely to remain in natural condition. Where are these unofficial natural areas? They are found in forest landscapes that are also used for timber production. It includes forest that cannot be harvested, alpine areas, mountain tops, glaciers, streams, rivers and lakes.

To manage our diverse forest landscapes for many economic and social benefits,the public or shareholders of BC's public forests need independent professional forest management applied locally.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Local management of Public Forest Resources

Management of public forests in BC is centrally controlled. It was the accepted wisdom that local management of public forests would lead to their over use and decline. In 2009 the Nobel Prize for Economics was awarded to a woman for the first time. Elinor Ostrom, the prize winner showed that big central government was not always the best manager of common resources. Local folk understand their environments, ecosystems and can devise ways to manage them for sustainability.

Is centralized management of BC's public forests working well? The existing establishment will certainly claim that it is working. The Chief Forester of British Columbia sets the the volume of timber that can be harvested from different areas of the Province. The intent is to ensure that forests are not over harvested and that timber supplies can be sustained. To support the Chief Forester, there is a staff in Victoria that analyses statistics of timber inventories and determines timber harvesting levels that are sustainable. Good methods are used in the calculations and the allowable harvests are reasonable.

The centralized system looks robust but there are a few problems under the surface. Although the annual harvest levels were about right, actual harvests in local forests focused on the highest value areas. A sensible forest manager would keep some high value areas for a rainy day when markets are poor during economic downturns. The coastal forest industry has worked itself down to the bottom of the barrel and cannot afford to harvest many areas during the present poor economic conditions.

The Ministry of Forests can claim that it has one of the best centralized forest fire protection systems in the world. Its technology of detecting fires and aerial based methods for putting them out quickly are excellent. Most of the forest fires occur in fire dominated forest ecosystems in the interior of BC. Lodge pole pine, a short lived tree is the species associated with these fires.

If fires are reduced in Lodge pole pine areas, you need to ensure that sufficient areas of pine are scheduled for harvest. Otherwise, pine gets susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack when it gets to be about 80 years old and its value can be lost to beetles. Unfortunately Lodge pole was not the most valuable species and forest companies did not include enough pine in their annual harvest allotment. The forests of the interior of BC became filled with with old pine and 13 million hectares are being lost to an unnaturally large mountain pine beetle epidemic. No, it is not just mild winters caused by global warming that is responsible for this $100 Billion economic loss.

Forest dependent communities on the coast and interior of BC are hurting owing to deficiencies in the centralized system of management of BC`s public forests. We need to look at devolving forest management responsibilities to locally based institutions that can be more attuned to local ecosystem and economic conditions.

Monday, March 1, 2010

BC Communities and their relationship to the surrounding forest landscape

Our largest city, Vancouver, just hosted the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. This would not have been possible without nearby forested landscapes with snow and alpine conditions. The port of Vancouver does major trade in forest products. The city is a major supply center for the forest industry and is home to the corporate headquarters of several large forest companies.

Most residents of Vancouver do not feel closely connected to forest, other than the outstanding backdrop view of the North Shore landscape. First Nations Communities on the other hand, relied on the forest for everything. They saw the forest as their physical and spiritual home.

Smaller cities have a greater feeling of reliance on local forest landscapes. Towns like Port Alberni, Prince George, Terrace or Cranbrook have wood processing industries with a daily flow of logging trucks giving residents a daily reminder of the flow of economic sustenance from the surrounding forest landscape.

The economy of many BC cities and towns is closely connected to local forest landscapes. They supply timber, non timber forest products and provide the nature based activities and natural conditions that make BC so special.

Relationships are a two way affair. Many communities depend on their surrounding Crown or Public forest landscapes. It seems natural the local communities should have a part in the care and stewardship of these landscapes. A good two way relationship should result in sustainability of the forest and the local community.

Unfortunately the legal and institutional arrangements for management of public forests in BC more or less exclude local communities from direct participation in the stewardship of local landscapes. First Nations communities that once relied on forest landscapes for almost everything were cut out of most benefits of the forest. Management of public forests is a centralized affair in BC. A management partnership of the BC Government, Ministry of Forests headquartered in Victoria, and forest corporations often situated in distant centers like Vancouver look after the forests of the hinterland.

The Crown or Public forests of BC were intended to ensure sustainable forest dependent communities and a healthy forest products industry. Many BC towns and cities in BC are facing a decline in their forest economy and the forest industry is in sad shape. The problems are more deep seated than just the present poor market and economic conditions. There are serious forest stewardship issues that have their roots in the the centralized arrangements for managing public forests and the management partnership of Government and Forest Corporations. We will look at the problems and solutions that involve much greater local participation of local communities in future posts.