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.

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