Saturday, June 19, 2010

Designing new laws and institutions for BC's forests

The Montreal Process, the international agreement on sustainable forest management, says that forest laws and institutions should promote sustainable forest management. BC was almost 100 years ahead in this respect. We reserved most of our forests in Public ownership so that they could be supplied with a wise system of independent forest management to sustain communities and a forest economy.

The strongest part of our existing arrangements for sustainable forest management is our public forests. We are able to place whole forest landscapes and most of BC under a wise system of sustainable forest management.

Unfortunately, we have got a little off track on the central priority for our forest laws and institutions to deliver sustainable forest management. The primary function of our forest laws and institutions is to manage private entitlements or harvesting rights held by forest corporations. There are forestry requirements and there has been considerable technical forestry improvements. However, the system revolves around private entitlements. The forest in this scheme of things is something to be used, rather than something that requires care. The local forest landscape can be fragmented between several forest corporations. The local forest landscape does not have an identifiable and responsible forest steward. It is just a piece of hinterland that is at the receiving end of a centralized command and control system. The local forest steward is lost somewhere in the hierarchies of several government agencies and several forest corporations.

New forest laws and institutions can be designed. First, we must solve the problem that has prevented us from developing a wise system of sustainable forest management in the past 100 years. The Royal Commission that made the recommendations for retaining our forests in public ownership even warned us of the potential problem 100 years ago. The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia is the Trustee of our public forests. They exercise their role without the guidance or requirements of any trust documents. The Commissioners noted that future government administrations might not put a wise system of forest management as their first responsibility. Instead successive political administrations have viewed and used BC's forests as an instrument of economic and political power. In the process, a few forest corporations gained harvesting rights and increasing management responsibilities in our public forests. The process of enclosure of BC's Public forests into the private interest is well under way.

Economic arguments are being advanced to give forest corporations longer term tenures and commercial forest reserves in the public forest. This is nothing but pure accommodation of timber interests and will represent the point of no return in the enclosure of our forests.

The experiment of turning our forests over to pure economic use is already a proven failure on economic grounds. Value stripping of the coastal forests has left the coastal forest industry in an economic jam. Failure to harvest enough less desirable Lodge Pole pine in the interior, left huge areas to grow old and susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack. The present mega pine beetle epidemic with wood losses in the $100 Billion range is no economic triumph. This forest management catastrophe will be used as a hard luck tune to gain greater entitlements in the public forests. A major bonus for incompetent performance.

If the public and forest dependent communities do not wake up, poor stewardship and enclosure of BC Public Forests is almost inevitable. The public needs to call for new arrangements for managing our forests. Streamlined and simple arrangements for providing independent professional sustainable forest management to local forest landscapes can be designed. New institutional arrangements must also look at the trusteeship of the public forests. There should be written trust documents and some check or auditing of the trustees.

A devolved system is better suited to a high standard of local forest stewardship. Also local trustees are better placed to represent the public interest. Forest laws and institutions set the stage for the relationship between society and the forests. Our forests have suffered a hinterland relationship with central economic and political authority for the past 100 years. We need to set the stage for a different relationship. It should have checks and balances to ensure progress toward sustainable stewardship.

The next blog will look at the specifics of a new system.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

BC's Public Forests at risk of enclosure

BC needs to reform its arrangements for sustainable management of its vast area of public forests. The partnership of the BC Government and a few forest corporations in the management of our public forests should be regarded as a proven failure. The lenient relationship between the partners has resulted in problems in the forest and the forest industry.

Unfortunately the only solutions being proposed will take us further along the path that caused the problems in the first place. Forest companies will seek additional entitlements in the public forests. These are likely to come in the form of long term tenures or leases. The path ends in enclosure or privatization of BC's Public Forests. The long term leases or tenures will enable politicians to pull the wool over our eyes. They will maintain that the forests will remain in public ownership as the forests are gradually transferred to the private interest.

The process of enclosure of BC's public forests into the private interest has been underway since World war II. The interest of the public in their public forests was supposed to be satisfied by the notion that Government and forest companies were sustaining timber supplies and manufacturing wood products to put cash in the pockets of ordinary citizens. The public had limited opportunities to get involved in the management of the forests. A few limited opportunities to provide input or comments to land use or forest development plans did little to cultivate a relationship between citizens and their forests.

The process of enclosure or creeping privatization of BC's public forests has not been identified as a problem. Its symptoms have surfaced from time to time as "war in the woods" in the form of episodes of civil disobedience and First Nation's claims.

The ongoing enclosure or creeping privatization of BC's Public Forests is not a conspiracy. Rather, it is a result of failing to think things through. It is about to become a hurtling,freight train as the dysfunctional forest sector asks for more entitlements. Our politicians are likely to respond by releasing the brakes.

Most of BC's forests are in public ownership because it was seen as the best way to ensure sustainable stewardship. The Royal Commission that made this recommendation in 1909 also noted that the Achilles' heel of the arrangement was political administrations that failed to make wise independent forest stewardship their first priority in forest policy.

We have experienced 100 years of political administrations that have failed to supply our public forests with independent sustainable stewardship. Reform of our arrangements for stewardship of our public forests and saving them from impending enclosure will require some new arrangements that places some checks on the unilateral authority of central political administrations in Victoria over our forests.

Returning our public forests to the public interest and establishing independent professional forest management can be accomplished if the public and forest dependent communities show enough interest. It will also bring open markets for public timber and a competitive business environment that will result in a healthy diversified forest economy in the long term.

Returning our public forests to the public interest will require new institutions that give local communities a direct interest in the management of local forests. We will look at these in the next blog.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

First Nation's Land Claims and BC's Forests

We acknowledge that First Nation's people have been disadvantaged in Canadian Society. Are we doing enough to rectify the situation? A First Nation's man has a life expectancy 7.4 years less than the average Canadian male. Suicide rates are twice that of the average and housing, services, employment opportunities and conditions in many First Nation's communities need improvement.

Does the Treaty and Land Claims effort redress the situation? The effort has dragged on for many years with limited resolution and benefit except perhaps to lawyers and other big feeders in the game. The game is a European game based on land ownership law that has its roots in Roman law. The word colonial comes from a Roman class of conquered people that were treated as slaves or serfs. Given the lack of progress the whole process looks like a run around.

Public forests are being used as the currency to redress past abuses. This approach has merit if it results in improvement in employment and living conditions in First Nations communities. It will also require careful provision of some mechanisms to ensure that the forests will be managed to sustain their benefits to First Nation's communities.

Innovative solutions are needed and they should be implemented without years or decades of wrangling in law courts. First Nation's people did not understand their relationship with the forests in European land ownership terms. They had a direct relationship with the forest. It sustained them in multiple ways by providing, food, shelter, clothing fiber and medicine. It had spiritual significance.

The idea that forests should provide multiple benefits and not just timber is a major criterion in the the Montreal Process, an international agreement on sustainable forest management. The traditional First Nation's relationship with BC Forests was advanced in this respect.

A true solution is one that will restore the relationship between First Nation's communities and their surrounding forests. A necessary part of this solution is some legal and institutional arrangements that will ensure sustainable stewardship of the forest. This will be easier to achieve if the forest remains under Public or Crown ownership.

Under a land claims approach, First Nation's communities may manage to enclose public forest into their private interest. Given the grudging nature of the process to date,these areas of forest may be of insufficient size to permit economic operation. These forests will just add to the stock of private forest land that can be harvested by forest corporations with reduced requirements for stewardship inputs. Forest corporations will benefit. The net result for First Nations communities is more of the same.

The relationship between First Nation's communities and their surrounding forest landscapes can be restored through new legal and institutional arrangements for Public forests. The Local Forest Trust would give stewardship responsibilities to First Nations Communities. There would be an elected board and a professional forest management staff for an area that is of sufficient size to support economic operations. A Forest Trust Assembly would provide support and audit progress toward sustainable forest management. The Local Forest Trust would have an elected and professional delegates on the the Forest Trust Assembly.

The idea of re-establishing the relationship between First Nation's communities and the surrounding forest should not be restricted to First Nation's communities. It is so grounded in basic common sense that it should apply to other communities also. That local relationship and interest will help progress toward sustainability and ensure that the public forests are retained for the equal benefit of all.