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.

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