Sunday, May 30, 2010

Getting permission to work on trails in Public Forests

The BC Park system is under funded and volunteer trail maintenance is welcomed and needed in most Parks. Contact BC Parks to offer help. Parks have established assessment and approval procedures for new trails.

You need to get permission to construct trails in public forests with forest operations. Contact the Ministry of Forests to get permission. Some public forests have hiking, cross country skiing and snowmobile trails. However, we lack sufficient trails to provide access to special natural features in many working forest landscapes. Visitors to BC write letters to local newspapers noting the lack of trail access.

See previous posts and links on how to locate a trail and survey the location in preparation for approval. You should be willing to make changes to accommodate the authorities. The trail location may need to be altered to avoid some sensitive site or for other cogent reason. Help full accommodation by all will enable a trail project to get approval and proceed toward completion.

In the past, environmental groups constructed trails in Public Forests in attempt to attract public interest in having an area declared a Park or protected area. If your trail project is received with suspicion, make it clear that you wish only to develop recreational access. There should be no resistance to developing recreational trails since it is in keeping with progress toward sustainable forest management. The Montreal Process, the international agreement on sustainable forest management encourages the development of multiple social and economic benefits from the forest. A forest trail is a social or recreational benefit that brings people into a relationship of care and interest with the forest. A community with a good set of forest recreational trails that are well maintained and publicized will encourage some visitors to stay for days or weeks rather than a few hours.

Local groups that wish to develop forest trails to improve community recreational amenities, and are careful to follow location and construction procedures that are in keeping with best practices should be able to get permission. Go the extra mile in accommodating those in authority. Your trail project may be frustrated because Government agencies and forest companies do not want your trails in the local forest landscape. In this event you need to remind the opposition that it is the Public's Forest and become politically active in securing permission.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Building a Forest Trail


Once your community group has got permission to build a trail in a public forest, you should read a good trail building manual. The following is an excellent guide from the US Dept of Transportation:Trail Construction and Maintenance Notebook 2007:

The guide encourages innovation and using your head to find the best solutions for the conditions and materials at hand. While BC has a considerable variety of soil conditions, it is quite common to find a trail location on a steep side-hill in soils that have considerable rocks and boulders and little fine materials.

The typical approach to building a trail in rocky soil on a steep side-hill in BC has been to bash a way through by excavating a bench in the side-hill. Little effort is made to rearrange the materials . Large rocks are left in the trail tread or walking surface and scarce fine material is wasted down slope. Once the trail is used, the larger rocks will project out of the surface creating tripping hazards. Hikers tend to avoid these hazards by walking around them often breaking down the outer edge of the trail in the process.

The trail in the photograph above is on a 100% side slope. It is half bench construction. The rock from the excavation is used to make an outer drystone retaining wall and the fine material is retained to make a trip free walking surface. This method much reduces the excavation and bare soil cut slopes.

Constructing a half bench drystone retaining trail on a slope does not require great skill. Most approach the task thinking that great skill is required to fit uneven pieces of rock to provide a stable structure. First you cut a key into the slope to take the first row of large rocks. Additional layers of rock are roughly placed on top. With each layer of outer large rocks, fill behind with smaller rocks and stones. It is these smaller rocks that add friction and stability to the structure. Finish the trail surface with the finer soil material.

Tools needed are a mattock for excavation, a 12 lb sledgehammer and a steel pry bar to deal with rocks. A wheel barrow and a shovel to end haul scarce fine material is also most useful.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Forest Stewardship reform

The 1909 Fulton Commission recommended that BC's forests should be retained in Crown or public ownership. A Forest Service should provide independent professional management. The intended outcome was sustainable forest dependent communities and a healthy forest industry.

The Fulton Commission noted a possible downside to Government acting as trustee of BC`s forests. Future government administrations might not put wise stewardship of the forests as their first priority. For many decades government priorities have focused on private entitlements in the public forest. We are so immersed in this paradigm that discussions about change are conducted under the subject heading of `Tenure reform`.

The appropriate subject heading for discussions about changes to forest management is found in Criterion 7 of the Montreal Process. The process supplies a comprehensive scientific definition of sustainable forest management. Criterion 7 looks at the Legal and Institutional framework to support sustainable forest management.

We should conserve those features of the existing institutional framework that provide a strong foundation for sustainable forest management and change those features that compromise good stewardship. Our most beneficial existing institution in BC is our Crown or Public forests. This gives us the ability to provide whole forest landscapes with sustainable forest management. This ability has been compromised by private entitlements and BC is on a path that is similar to historic land enclosures in Europe. Assurances that our forest land will be retained in nominal Crown or public ownership as entitlements are strengthened are artifices along the route to enclosure.

To retain our Public Forests as the central institution for sustainable forest management we need consider reforms that reduce private entitlements. The original concept of independent professional forest management has considerable merit. Some innovative governance arrangements will be needed to protect a system of independent stewardship from politicians.

A devolved system of Local Forest Trusts and a Forest Trust Assembly is a potential solution.

The Local Forest Trust would comprise a relatively large geographic area of one or more forest landscapes, of sufficient size to support economic forest operations and a forestry staff. It would have an elected board. The Local Forest Trust would operate under trust documents developed from the Montreal Process definition of sustainable forest management. The local forest managers would be accountable to the local public and would manage the forest to generate timber, non timber and nature based economic activity. Other than woodlot stewardship agreements, the Local Forest Trust will not be able to delegate major forest management responsibilities to forest companies. Timber will be sold in log form on the open market to provide a competitive environment.

The Forest Trust Assembly would be governed by an equal number of elected delegates and professional delegates from Local Forest Trusts. The Forest Trust Assembly would audit Local Forest Trusts, and provide collective services such as forest fire fighting and extension services. The Forest Trust Assembly would act as a court of appeal for the public, the staff of Local Forest Trusts and wood utilization companies. Any major changes proposed by the Forest Trust Assembly would require the ratification of two thirds of the Local Forest Trusts

These new institutions also provide a means of settling First Nations land claims. First Nations could have self governing Local Forest Trusts with the supports of the Forest Trust Assembly to help develop needed sustainable economic development. While First Nations are seeking private rights, the trust alternative re-establishes a traditional relationship between communities and the local forest landscape. The same will be true for other communities. This involvement is beneficial for sustainable forest management.

The open market arrangements for sale of logs will enable existing wood processing plants to continue operations while opening the doors to some new value added manufacturing. The open market will reduce the vulnerability of BC wood product exports to discriminatory taxes. While timber is likely to remain the major component in the forest economy, independent professional management is more conducive to the development of non timber forest products and nature based enterprises, than management by timber companies. Forest professionals will be directly accountable to the public shareholders and this will reduce conflict and incidents of civil disobedience. The public shareholders will get a market price for their wood and local accountable management.

There are major problems in our forests, dependent communities and industry that will remain after the present global economic downturn. The tenure system is at the root of many of these problems. Are we really going to solve these problems by staying on the tenure path? Local Forests Trusts and a Forest Trust Assembly is an institutional framework much more suited to progress toward sustainable forest management as outlined in the Montreal Process. Our forests will be conveyed back to the public interest under local democratic free enterprise institutions.

Full text of this article originally published as "Tenure Reform through a different lens: forest stewardship reform" in the September - October 2010 edition of the the BC Forest Professional published by the Association of BC Forest Professionals.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Community Trail projects in managed forests landscapes

A BC community or community group could enhance local amenities and tourist potential by developing trails in local managed forest landscapes. Permission is required from the Ministry of Forests before a trail can be built.

A group may be able to call on the assistance of a volunteer with some experience in locating forest roads and trails. If not, most groups can follow guidebooks on trail planning and building. A good starting point is: http://www.americantrails.org/

The first step is planning the trail. Collect maps and local knowledge and identify the starting point or trail head and the destination(s) of the proposed trail. There will be other key control points along the way, such as stream crossings, or a rock bluff or other feature that has to be circumvented.

A route between the control points can be projected on a topographic map. Gradient of trails is a key issue at this stage. Trails should be under 10% gradient to provide comfortable hiking. A trail can switchback on a slope to reduce gradient. Sometimes terrain forces steeper gradients. Care needs to be exercised because trails greater than 15% gradient will erode with foot traffic in some soil conditions.

A preliminary reconnaissance of the map projected route will reveal the feasibility of the route and result in some modification of the route corridor. This is a good time to approach the Ministry of Forests and the forest companies operating in the landscape to discuss the project. Try to reach some general agreement on the project and be willing to modify the route corridor.

Final location of the trail on the ground should be preceded by a very thorough reconnaissance of the whole route. Expect to modify the projected route as you envision placing the trail on the landscape. The objective is to locate a trail that can be built with minimum soil disturbance. This is best for the environment and the backs of the trail builders. Use benches and other micro features in the topography.

Although trails are narrow compared to roads, their location requires greater thought and planning. Roads usually have ditches and culverts. Trails usually do not have constructed provision for drainage other than slight out-sloping of the surface to shed water. Trails with a gradient can collect water that can act as a major erosive force in storm conditions. Trails that climb and particularly steep trails need to have dips or breaks in the gradient to direct this water off the trail. These dips or gradient breaks need to be envisioned in accord with the micro-topography as the trail is located.

Flagging of the final trail location should be followed with a survey of the location. Hand compass bearings and distance measurement between stations along the route should suffice. The survey is plotted on the map. A map, survey notes and flagged location should form the basis of the application to the Ministry of Forests for permission to build the trail.


The next blog will cover trail building

Friday, May 14, 2010

Wilderness and Recreation in Managed Forest Landscapes

In the last post we looked at the considerable area of forest in BC that has been designated as protected areas such as Parks and Ecological reserves. It encouraged individuals and community groups to volunteer to maintain local Parks.

Some communities do not have Provincial Parks at their doorstep. There is an area of wilderness and forest likely to remain in pristine natural condition that is much larger than our designated parks. These natural areas are found within managed forest landscapes. Much of BC has mountain terrain and on average more than half of a managed forest landscape consists of inaccessible forest, water, alpine areas, rock and ice.

These areas within managed forest landscapes will never be harvested or subject to forest operations. Forest road access within a landscape can put you within easy reach of a waterfall, mountain peak or other special landscape feature. Some forest landscapes have many of these special places. Landscape architects call these "genius loci" or spirit of place. Landforms, geology, water, vegetation and view come together to produce something that is unique.

Special places within the forest are part of the natural capital of the forest and are amenities to be enjoyed. Protecting and sustaining these amenities is part of sustainable forest management as defined by the Montreal Process. Hiking trails provide access and enjoyment of the amenity. A community with a selection of natural features and hikes of differing intensity can attract tourists and some direct employment in tour guiding.

Switzerland started developing hiking trails and other infrastructure to attract tourists to its mountain landscapes over 150 years ago. BC has landscapes, features and natural diversity much exceeding Switzerland, yet we have done little to develop our potential. Some of our poorly executed resource extraction has reduced the potential of some landscapes.

Communities, community groups and individuals that want to see trail access developed to features within local landscapes should adopt a can-do attitude and organise volunteers to develop trails. You need to plan the trails and get permission from the Ministry of Forests and follow good practices in trail location and construction. We will cover what you need to do in the next blogs.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Parks and Protected Areas

It is good news that British Columbia has approximately 13% of its area in Parks and other types of protected areas such as Ecological Reserves. This meets international targets and most ecosystems are fairly well represented in protected areas.

Protected areas are intended to conserve biological diversity and ecosystems from the effects of our material needs. Most of BC's parks have forests and forestry interests often talk about them as a threat to to the economic well being of BC. This narrow utilitarian perspective is at odds with the the international Montreal Process definition of sustainable forest management. Its definition sees parks and the conservation of biological diversity in protected areas and in managed forests as an important part of sustainable forest management and conservation.

The increase in the area of parks in BC gives us some hope for a sustainable future. That hope lies not so much in the protected land but in the fact that it signifies some change in our attitude. What do parks say about us? They remind us that we can move beyond that ever present state of anxiety about our material needs. They are like a Sunday's rest from industry and our restless need to make, want or consume more. Targets for the amount of area that should be protected are often around 1/7 of the total land.

BC's politicians like to look good. They can claim that BC has more area protected than other parts of Canada or the world. They dress up well on the issue of Parks. We should celebrate our Parks. Some jurisdictions have parks that are distinguished only by the fact that they are protected. Most BC Parks are spectacular by comparison.

While BC politicians like to put on Parks like a fancy suit, they are reluctant to allocate sufficient funds to maintain parks and protected areas. Parks budgets are unlikely to increase. Trails and other infrastructure in Parks will continue to deteriorate.

Individuals, groups in BC communities can take action to change the situation and show greater care of local parks than that afforded by the central BC Government. BC Parks staff are open to volunteers. Volunteers are even provided with liability insurance coverage while undertaking trail maintenance and other tasks.

Celebrate your local park by maintaining it to a high standard. Improve the amenities available to your community. Remember it is not just material needs that develop economic activity. A community with good hiking trails through its local landscapes and features will attract tourists. It is a sign that a community is extending a caring interest to its surrounding forests and parks.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Change and the BC Forest Service

In response to criticisms of more downsizing, the Minister of Forests, Pat Bell, praised the Forest Service for its ability to evolve and change. The Forest Service will celebrate its centennial in 2012.

The creation of the BC Forest Service, one century ago, was a very progressive idea. Timber companies were exploiting forests and leaving a legacy of ghost towns all over North America at that time. Most of BC's magnificent forests were retained in Crown or Public ownership. The Forest Service was intended to provide independent professional forest management. Sustainable communities and a healthy forest industry was the intended outcome.

In 1909, a Royal Commission on forestry recommended the Forest Service as the independent management institution for BC's forests. A wise system of forest management and conservation was the primary responsibility of Government and the Forest Service. The Commission noted that the weakness in the progressive arrangement was future government administrations that did not make wise forest stewardship the first priority.

Meeting forest industry needs has been the direction of the Forest Service's political masters for many decades. The Forest Service controlled the volume of timber that could be harvested to sustainable levels, but forest companies could select the timber they wished to harvest. Forest companies tended to take the highest value timber on the most accessible sites. The coastal forest industry now faces the harvest of lower value timber from less accessible sites. Meeting forest industry needs in the short term, created problems for the future. That future is now.

The Forest Service met forest industry needs in the interior of BC by fighting forest fires. This saved lots of lodgepole pine from fire. Unfortunately, lodgepole pine was not at the top of forest industry's list for harvest. Consequently large areas of lodgepole pine grew old and susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack. The present 13 million hectare outbreak of mountain pine beetle is much larger than a natural outbreak. All losses of timber to mountain pine beetle cannot be avoided completely. However, a system of forest management that enhances mountain pine beetle habitat and creates a super natural outbreak with timber and economic losses of $100 Billion is hardly wise.

Allocation of most of BC's public timber resources to a few forest companies did aid in the rapid establishment of forest industry in BC. However, the allocation of most of the timber to lumber and pulp producers restricted supplies of timber to other value adding wood industries. The administered pricing system aided the forest companies in times of poor markets. However the arrangement can be perceived as a subsidy and BC has been impacted by discriminatory export taxes. We export logs because our commodity producing forest sector cannot generate sufficient value from their manufacture.

Our legal and institutional arrangements for our Public forests have not yielded the intended outcome. Forest dependent communities and the forest industry are suffering. This situation cannot be blamed entirely on the present serious economic downturn. Problems in the forest will remain. Solving the problems requires major change to our arrangements for sustainable management of our forests.

What are the main problems with the present arrangements? Developing a wise system of forest management has not been the first priority of BC Governments for most of the past century. Rather they have viewed the forest as a resource bank that can be converted to cash. A tenure system of private harvesting rights was developed and forest management responsibilities were delegated to forest companies. Enterprise, competition and wood industry diversity was restricted by allocating most of the harvest to a few commodity producing forest corporations. BC Governments have failed to act as a responsible trustee of our forests. Further they have failed to provide good government by seeing to the interests of forest corporations before those of the public.

What are the solutions? Unfortunately the only solutions that are being offered point down the same path that has caused problems in the first place. Long term tenure in Commercial Timber Reserves will give private interests greater control over our forests.

The biggest problem with solutions that increase private interest in our forests is not one of forestry alone. Even if you live in one of the larger cities in BC and do not feel closely connected to the forests or forest management, it is something that you should think about. Aboriginal people have appreciated BC's wide open spaces for thousands of years. Maybe you or your forefathers came to BC for this reason. Wide open spaces and the freedom to go and visit them is part of BC and who we are. Make no mistake about the fact that forest policy in BC in progressing in the same manner as historic enclosures of land from the common interest to the private interest. Increasing private interest in our forests will reduce our ability to control the quality of our environment in future. This is not a great conspiracy, but rather a continuation of our inability to appreciate the long term consequences of poor forest policy.

Strengthened private rights in public forests and ongoing entanglement between forest corporations and the BC Government will further compromise the Forest Service. The public is entitled to sustainable management of their forests. Sustainable forest management is not just about sustainable supplies of timber. A forest landscape can add to local economies through timber and non timber forest products, and nature based recreation enterprises. Laws and institutions should encourage free enterprise and a diversified value adding wood manufacturing industry. Public timber should be sold on an open market. To achieve the necessary rebuilding of a diversified forest sector, independent management of public forests is necessary.

New institutions are required to provide independent sustainable management of our public forests in the 21st Century. The institutions need to be accountable to the public while providing some checks and balances on political intervention. A devolved system of Local Forest Trusts and a Forest Trust Assembly is a potential solution.

The Local Forest Trust would comprise a relatively large geographic area of one or more forest landscapes, of sufficient size to support economic forest operations and a forestry staff. It would have an elected board. The Local Forest Trust would operate under trust documents developed from the Montreal Process definition of sustainable forest management. The local forest managers would be accountable to the local public and would manage the forest to generate timber, non timber and nature based economic activity. Other than woodlot stewardship agreements, the Local Forest Trust will not be able to delegate major forest management responsibilities to forest companies. Timber will be sold in log form on the open market to provide a competitive environment.

The Forest Trust Assembly would be governed by an equal number of elected delegates and professional delegates from Local Forest Trusts. The Forest Trust Assembly would audit Local Forest Trusts, and provide collective services such as forest fire fighting and extension services. The Forest trust Assembly would act as a court of appeal for the public, the staff of Local Forest Trusts and wood utilization companies.

Local Forest Trusts and the Forest Trust Assembly are two linked institutions that would provide a new forest service that is accountable to the public and communities while at the same time providing a competitive base for a new revitalized and diversified forest sector in BC.

These new institutions can also provide a means of settling First Nations land claims. First Nations could have self governing Local Forest Trusts with the supports of the Forest Trust Assembly to help develop needed sustainable economic development.

The public and forest dependent communities will have to ask for these new institutions. Take an interest and speak up for independent and accountable management local forest management.