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.

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