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.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article Andrew!! I agree wholeheartedly! Communities, progressive foresters and enviro's can't let industrial interests steal BC's forests and opportunities for future generations.

    Jim Smith, RPF

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