Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Forester in the Local Forest Trust

A change from BC's present centralized system for forest management to Local Forest Trusts will enable BC's well trained foresters,and associated professionals to do a better job of sustaining forests and forest dependent communities.

Under a new system of Local Forest Trusts, professional forest management staff will be responsible for the stewardship of a local forest landscape. They will work out of a local office and will be accountable to the local elected board of the Local Forest Trust. The Local Forest Trust will operate under trust documents that will require sustainable stewardship that meets international standards known as the Montreal Process. The intent of the Montreal Process is to encourage progress toward improvement in sustainable forest management and conservation with a set of criteria and indicators. Under this type of system, the local forester is not bound by restrictive rules and requirements. Rather,it outlines a path to progress and outlines ways of assessing that progress. The forester in the Local Forest Trust will have full responsibility and considerable flexibility in achieving sustainable results.

A BC Forest Trust Assembly will be responsible for auditing Local Forest Trusts and ensuring that there is progress toward sustainable forest management. The Forest Trust Assembly will be governed by an equal number of elected board members and forester delegates from local trusts. There will be a strong component of professional experience to guide the Forest Trust Assembly and ensure that it functions is a practical and supportive manner.

The local forester and staff will have wide responsibility for the local forest landscape. Responsibilities will include, sustaining supplies and quality of timber, non timber forest products, nature based forest enterprises, water wildlife, rare and endangered species, carbon fixation benefits to the atmosphere, spiritual and recreation benefits, traditional aboriginal sites and uses.

The existing centralized industrial forest management system does claim to manage the previously mentioned items. A local forester and staff will do a better job because they will get a better understanding of the local landscape if they are based there. If the Local Forest Trust is made the building block of forest management in BC, there will be institutions that plan and manage the local forest landscape with increasing understanding of local conditions. The managers will be accountable directly to the local communities and the public and charged with managing and conserving the full values of the local landscape.

A change to local forest management makes simple sense. You have a local elected board and a forester and staff to look after the forest. By contrast the existing centralized system is complex. There may be several forest corporations working in the local forest landscape. Since the corporate interest in the public forest is timber, plans have to be checked by the Ministry of Forests and other associated government agencies. All the forest corporations and agencies have their own hierarchies and offices in different places. Foresters and associated professionals usually work in some specialist function and limited responsibility within these hierarchies.

A change to local management of BC`s public forests is long overdue. Local Forest Trusts are a local institution with clear lines of responsibility and accountability to ensure sustainable forests and local communities.

The change to local forest management will happen if local communities take an interest in their forests and ask for the change.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Local Forest Management

This blog promotes Local Forest Trusts as a better way to manage our public forests. Local Forest Trusts will provide a better institutional framework for sustainable forest management than the present centralized system.

Our Crown or public forests were intended to be managed for the long term benefit of the public and forest dependent communities. The present centralized system gives the public and forest dependent communities little opportunity to exercise their interest. The public is given the opportunity to give input to government on higher level land use plans, and a chance to comment on forest company plans for short term harvest. Since the public has limited opportunity to influence the management of their forests, as strong culture of interest in forest matters has not developed in BC.

The existing centralized system of forest management does give major forest corporations the opportunity to exercise their interest in our forests. Corporations have private rights to harvest volumes of timber from public forests. Corporations have the right to propose what areas of forest they will harvest in the short term. This arrangement supposedly served the public interest because it created revenues for forest industry and government. It worked well for many decades as the most valuable timber in public forests was harvested. The forest sector is now in difficulties that are more long term than the present economic downturn.

BC is trying to solve its forest sector problems with the old ideas that caused the problem in the first place. We are trying to solve the problem by giving forest corporations increased private interest in our public forests. Long term tenure in commercial timber reserves is about increasing the private interest in our public forests. Do we want this process of enclosure to continue? Do you want your children or grand children to meet a gate on their way to your favorite recreation spot in the forest?

A new system of forest management based on Local Forest Trusts will enable the public, and forest dependent communities to exercise their interest in forest management. There will be a locally elected board with professional staff that are accountable to the community. It is a vital interest of a forest dependent community to ensure sustainable forest management. Sustainable forest management, by international definition, is not just about sustainable timber supplies. It tries to develop a diversified local forest economy by secondary wood manufacture, non timber forest products and through nature based economic and recreational activities. Freedom from the financial impediment of discriminatory trade tariffs is seen as a necessary part of sustainable forest management. The centralized system of forest management and non market timber allocation in BC can be viewed as a government subsidy. Local Forest Trusts will sell timber on the open market. This will encourage secondary manufacture, free enterprise and reduce our vulnerability to export taxes on wood products. These competitive arrangements will renew and revitalize our ailing forest sector.

Most aspects of sustainable forest stewardship are best achieved through a local accountable forest management organisation like a Local Forest Trust. However there a a few forest services that are better provided through some central organisation. Forest research, and aerial fire fighting operations are examples of needed infrastructure. A Forest Trust Assembly governed by delegates, both elected and professional from Local Forest Trusts can handle these services. The Forest Trust Assembly will audit Local Forest Trusts and provide the public with a court of appeal.

In addition to giving the public and forest dependent communities accountable arrangements for sustainable stewardship of their local forest landscapes, Local Forest Trusts will put a stop to gradual creeping enclosure of BC's public forests into the private interest.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Discriminatory Softwood Lumber Taxes

Business sections of BC newspapers were reporting economic recovery for the forest sector and rising lumber prices. An added bonus is the reduction of the tax on softwood lumber headed for USA from 15% down to 10%. BC Minister of Forests is hoping that prices will rise even further prompting a further drop of the tax to 5%.

The forests of USA were heavily and in some cases wastefully exploited for a few decades around 1900. This example was one of the main reasons why a 1909 BC Commission on Forests recommended that BC keep its forests in public ownership and have them managed by a professional Forest Service. Forests in USA recovered toward the end of the 20th Century. American lumber producers had a home grown wood supply and wanted protection against Canadian imports.

Protectionism provides the motive for the tax, but we should not blame the Americans entirely. Protectionism is frowned upon and usually cannot be implemented unless you can prove that there is some unfair advantage being exercised. USA points to BC`s non market allocation of Crown or Public timber to a few forest companies as the unfair advantage. We are stuck with these discriminatory taxes because of our own questionable arrangements for managing and selling timber from our forests. While international protocol characterises the dispute between USA and Canada, the dispute is mainly between USA and BC. BC is the largest exporter of lumber to USA.

The Montreal Process, an international agreement on sustainable forest management recognises that discriminatory export taxes are a major impediment. Forest dependent communities and the public are supposed to be the beneficiaries of the public forest. The beneficiaries loose as a result of the export taxes. The beneficiaries also loose on the lenient non market arrangements between the BC Government and a few forest corporations.

A change in the arrangements for managing BC Public Forests with open competitive markets for public timber could revitalize our forest sector and free our wood exports from discriminatory taxes. Our forests and trade prospects are suffering under the present arrangements, and change is long overdue

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Local Forest Trusts should replace central control from Victoria

Central control of local forest landscapes is not working. One hundred years ago, the BC Government was advised that its main responsibility toward our Crown or Public Forests was to ensure that a wise system of forest management was developed.

The system that BC Governments have been developing for the last 65 years has been one of private timber harvesting rights allocated to a small number of forest corporations. The legal term for this type of right is a usufruct. A usufruct is the right to harvest crops from land owned by someone else. It is easy to appreciate that the usufruct is not a good arrangement to ensure the long term stewardship of forest landscapes. Since forest companies could choose the timber they wanted to harvest, the arrangement was conducive to value stripping the best timber. The forest sector and forest dependent communities are now facing difficulties that run deeper than the present economic downturn.

The BC Government has not heeded the early advice because it did not have to. Governments do what they want, even if it is not in the public's best interest. The forest industry is in difficulty and asking for more in the form of perpetual usufructs in public forests. These will take the form of long term leases that will virtually privatize our public forests, while allowing any Minister of Forests to maintain that they remain Crown or Public.

The old historic game of land enclosure is shaping up for a repeat episode in BC. A few powerful interests get the ear of the governing powers and make some economic argument that they can make more out of the land. Land intended for common benefit, through changes or weakening of laws gradually falls into the hands of a few. This has been underway in BC for more than 60 years.

The public and communities should be asking for some stronger institutions to protect their interests in their forests. The existing Ministry of Forests or Forest Service is just an arm of Government that has to do the bidding of the Government and its Forest industry partners. Devolving stewardship responsibilities from central government to Local Forest Trusts would replace the ability of the BC Government to do as it pleases. Instead there would be written Trusts that require sustainable forest management.

A Local Forest Trust would be a large forest landscape or landscapes that is of sufficient size to support economic forest operations and a professional staff. It would have a elected board. It would operate like a business and sell timber on the open market. It would be responsible for the stewardship of the forest and would not be permitted to delegate forest management for anything larger than a family wood lot licence.

To support and audit Local Forest Trusts there would be a Forest Trust Assembly controlled by delegates, both professional and elected from Local Forest Trusts. This body would act as a check and balance as well as a place of appeal.

The new arrangements of Local Forest Trusts and a Forest Trust Assembly enable local participation and local management of forests. Forest professionals will work for local people rather than central government or large corporations.

Communities need to speak up for some new institutional arrangements for stewardship of their forest landscapes. Otherwise the BC Government will heed the advice of its corporate forest management partners.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Value subtracted forestry

International agreements on sustainable forest management encourage a value added forest economy. This means that you try to diversify your forest economy beyond just making commodity lumber and paper pulp. Secondary wood manufacture to produce interior finishing materials, furniture etc adds value. Non timber forest products such as floral greenery, mushrooms and berries, fish and game can help to diversify local economies. Nature based economic activities can be an important addition in forests that are managed to preserve their natural environment and recreational appeal.

Instead of encouraging a value added forest economy, BC legal and institutional framework encourages a value subtracted forest economy. Our public forests were intended to provide an open free market supply of timber to encourage a diversity of entrepreneurs and wood manufacturers. Instead the BC Government allocated most of BC's timber to a few commodity producing forest corporations under a non market system of administered prices. Development of secondary wood industries was impeded because they could not get a supply of wood. Non-market non competitive arrangements removed some of the impetus for innovation within the forest sector.

The main competitive advantage of the BC forest industry did not reside in the competitive merit of the wood utilization industry but in BC's forests. The trees and wood in BC's forests and especially on the coast was simply bigger and better that most coniferous forests of the rest of the world.

BC's Government and forest industry oligopoly honed and exercised its competitive advantage in world markets for many decades by harvesting the best of the best out of the forest. The best timber was value stripped out of the forest to maintain the competitive advantage. On the coast the best timber is gone and along with it the competitive advantage. In the interior of BC, Lodgepole pine tended to be avoided in favor of spruce and other species that gave greater competitive advantage. Forest fires tend to be more frequent in Lodgepole pine forests. The combined effect of fighting fires and failing to harvest enough Lodgepole Pine resulted in a build up of a huge area of very old pine. Old pine is susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack. A mountain pine beetle outbreak, much larger than a usual natural outbreak, has our little beetle friends eating up a $100 Billion worth of wood.

The forest sector is in our public forests for timber and usually grumbles about the economic downside of taking care of other forest values. It wants to give credit for its most successful mountain pine beetle habitat enhancement project to climate change and global warming. It is time the forest sector took some of the credit. The Government contributed your funds in firefighting over several decades to save the pine and forest industry let it grow old just for the beetles. It is quite an achievement to create a mountain pine beetle habitat the size of Denmark, Holland and Switzerland put together. Subtract $100 Billion for feeding beetles.

It is simply not possible to move to a new diverse value added forest economy in BC under legal and institutional arrangements for a non market forest commodity oligopoly. These non market arrangements are the main reason for export taxes and tariffs on BC's wood exports. Log exports are further witness to our lack of diversity in wood manufacture. Others can add the value while we are unable.

Our non competitive value subtracting forest sector is failing. To revitalize the forest sector, we need a complete reform of the legal and institutional framework for forest management in BC. Unfortunately the BC Government is part of the existing non market based oligopoly and is likely to heed the advice of its partners to prop up the existing arrangements. They will prop up the existing arrangements by doing what they have always done. They will take it out of the forest.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Crown Land ? Public Forests? or Forest in Transition to the Private Interest?

The Public Forests of BC are Crown Land held by the Province of BC. The term Crown brings to mind absolute monarchy and autocracy. We have moved ahead a few hundred years and our monarch is just a titular head of state.

The notion of "Public Forests" was firmly embedded in a 1909 Commission on BC's Forests. It recommended that BC's forests should be kept out of the hands of timber interests in Crown or public ownership. This would enable independent professional stewardship to be supplied by a Forest Service. It noted that the BC Government's job as trustee was to see that a wise system of stewardship and conservation was supplied. The intended outcome was sustainable communities and a healthy forest industry. Public ownership of the forest was intended to make timber available to many entrepreneurs and encourage a healthy diverse forest industry.

The 1909 Commission noted that the role of The BC Government toward the forest was to ensure good stewardship. This would sustain communities and a healthy forest industry. The noted that future Government administrations could get off track.

Economic development became the main focus of the government. The public wanted good economic times. To stimulate economic development, the government gave rights to harvest timber to forest companies that would build sawmills and pulp mills. Most of the rights to harvest on Crown or public forests in BC are allocated to a few forest companies. The government has delegated increasing forest management responsibilities to forest companies. While the Forest Service did bring improvements in many aspects of forest management, it never achieved its original mandate of being the independent manager of the forests on behalf of the public.

Our Crown Forest land is no longer public. The BC Government through its allocation of most Crown timber to a few forest corporations established an oligopoly, or a BC forest economy with few players and no real market for timber. It became a partner with timber interests. The BC Government listens to its corporate partners. (Look at the membership of the recent Forestry Round Table) Recommendations for long term leases and Commercial Timber Reserves are the next steps in the transition of our forests into the private interest.

So the Public Forests, your forests that surround your BC community are really Crown Forest lands and Government/Forest Corporate Oligarchs are wearing the Crown and sitting on the throne. We got here because we wanted money in our pockets. Unfortunately oligopoly arrangements are more of a hole in the pocket than money in the pocket. See the next post on value subtraction forestry.