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.

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