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.

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