Saturday, July 24, 2010

A good forester will not let this tree grow old

Almost fifty years ago, a group of freshmen forestry students were given one day introduction to a European Forestry School. In the afternoon, they headed to a local park filled with trees from many parts of the world for some tree identification. The professor made a special point of introducing the students to trees from British Columbia. Douglas Fir, Hemlock, Sitka Spruce, Western Red Cedar,and several balsam or true firs from BC had become important forest crops in Europe. The professor noted that most of the trees from BC grew well and had long life spans. He singled out Lodge Pole Pine as a fast growing straight pine tree of considerable application in forest management.

The professor went on to note that Lodge Pole Pine was an example of a tree that tended to experience decline in health and vigor as it grew old. "A good forester will not let this tree grow old".

It's 2010 in BC, and we have experienced a major epidemic of mountain pine beetle that is killing more than 13 million hectares of Lodge Pole Pine. The economic loss is in the $100 Billion range. This means a loss of thousands of jobs in communities in the interior of BC.

Public relations efforts by the BC Government and forest industry has led the public to understand that mild winters associated with climate change has enabled mountain pine beetle populations to survive through the winter. This is a true, easy to understand explanation. However it is not the whole story or the most important part of the story.

The most important part of story of the mountain pine beetle epidemic is that Lodge Pole Pine becomes susceptible to attack when it gets about 80 years old. Huge areas of Lodge Pole Pine in the interior of BC had been allowed to get very old.

Lots of good foresters in BC were aware of the problem and that there was a high likelihood of a major epidemic but they were not able to stop the speeding train. We have public forests in BC so we could have professional forest managers rather than greedy timber barons driving the train. The train did get hijacked by greed. The Government, the trustee of our forests wanted economic development so it enabled forest companies to cash in on our forests.

The harvesting rights awarded to forest companies in the interior of BC were volume based. Forest companies could choose the timber it wished to harvest. Lodge Pole Pine was less desirable in terms of profitability, so it was under-harvested. Fire fighting services provided by Government became increasingly effective in controlling forest fires in the interior. This saved Lodge Pole Pine forests from fire. The result was large areas of aging pine forests that were becoming susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack.

Our centralized system of forest management, with the Government sharing forest management with forest companies, motivated mainly by short term economic considerations acts collectively like a very poor forester that ought to be fired. The public, the affected people in forest dependent communities should realize that they are the shareholders of the public forest. Your managers have just wasted $100 Billion of your assets and tried to cover it up as climate change.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Making forest stewardship accountable to the Public

New institutional arrangements will be required if BC's public forests were managed under a new system of local forest management units complete with a forest management staff.

Under the existing arrangements, the BC Government is the trustee of the public forests. A major deficiency is that there are no trust documents to guide the trustee in the task of ensuring that there is a wise system of sustainable forest management. The forest is not a cash cow for the trustee and partners to milk.

The local forest management unit should be managed as a trust with good trust documents requiring sustainable forest management. The Montreal Process an international agreement on sustainable forest management and conservation provides a comprehensive definition of all the elements of sustainable forest management. It could be used with minor adaptation as the basis for comprehensive trust documents.

The forest management staff will have considerable leeway to adapt the requirements of the trust documents to local circumstances. They will have considerably more freedom to manage than afforded by the present centralized system. The local forest managers will be given wide responsibility and they will be accountable to the public.

The arrangements for accountability to the public needs to include a mechanism for the forest managers to be directly accountable to the local public and some mechanism for accountability to the wider public. Accountability to the local public can be achieved by having a board, preferably elected. The local forest management unit is likely to be in the vicinity of one or more communities and rural areas. A ward system will ensure balanced representation.

The Local Forest Trust will comprise the local forest management unit, professional staff and an elected board. The Local Forest Trust needs to be accountable to the wider public. There is the need for some body to audit local forest trusts to ensure that the management is living up to the sustainability requirements of the trust agreement. Local Trusts will require extension and research services. Forest fire fighting, is heavily reliant on an electronic detection system and firefighting efforts supported by planes, helicopters and specialist firefighters. Firefighting services need to be supplied and co-ordinated. There is a need for an appeal body that the public, forest companies, forest management staff can approach to iron out any problems that develop at the local trust.

The body that audits and provides central services to the Local Forest Trusts could be the BC Government. An arrangement of this nature would put the local trusts in jeopardy of central political manipulation and the new system could be undermined. A Forest Trust Assembly is a better option. It would be governed by an equal number of elected and professional forest management staff delegated from local forest trusts. The authority of the Forest trust Assembly is the collective voice of local forest trusts. New policies developed by the Forest Trust Assembly should require the ratification of two thirds of local forest trusts. The Forest Trust Assembly will be governed from the local level by delegates with a primary interest in good forest stewardship, rather than politicians that may have little understanding of forest management and considerable motivation to misuse the public forest for short term inhterests.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Local forest management unit

BC needs to move from its complex and cumbersome system of attempting to manage private entitlements in Public forests. The forest is entitled to good independent forest management. We should remember that we kept our forests in Public ownership to ensure that they would be provided with a wise system of independent forest management. Sustainable stewardship is a prerequisite to a healthy forest industry. It is the true bottom line and our forest industry is suffering because we did not stay on track with the original objective of establishing a wise system of independent forest management.

It is time to look a direct independent management of our public forests. They are public assets and should be managed in a business like manner.

The Local forest management unit is the fundamental building block of a wise system of forest management. It would be a forest landscape or geographic area of forest, probably greater than 100,000 hectares in area. It should be large enough to be operated as a profitable business unit and support a forest management staff.

A forest comprises land, biological and ecosystem processes that interact with climate. In BC, the land is often complex mountainous terrain. A local forest management staff will be better placed to develop an understanding of the local forest ecosystem and manage to sustain its productivity. Their focus is the local landscape and they will build a system of maps and information that will be used for long term planning and adaptive management. The focus and the effort goes into actual management of the forest.

The local forest management staff would be hands-on managers rather than distant administrators. They would not be allowed to delegate forest management responsibilities to forest companies. Small woodlot operations, non timber forest products and nature based local economic enterprises would be encouraged. These other activities would be included in the sustainable forest plan.

The local forest management staff would operate the forest like a sustainable business. They would have the good sense to ensure that all the best timber on the most accessible parts of the forest is not logged all at once. This is one of the most significant causes of the present problems in the coastal forest industry. They would also be aware of species and stand of trees that are likely to become susceptible to diseases due to age or other factors and harvest them before they are lost to disease. Failure to harvest enough ageing lodgepole pine in the interior of BC was the most significant factor in the present mountain pine beetle epidemic that is wasting $100 Billion in timber in the interior of BC.

The local forest management unit would have a stable staff, trained workers and some equipment to maintain roads and infrastructure and conduct silvicultural activities. Under the present system of entitlements, some of this work falls through the cracks. There are thousands of kilometers of decaying forest roads left with little or no maintenance after harvest. Although forest companies have to replant and see that a harvested area regenerates, this arrangement does not provide for thinning or more complex stand tending needs of shelterwood or selection silvicultural systems.

Open market sale of timber from the local forest management unit will maintain existing wood processing plants while enabling new value wood processors to become established. Non timber and nature based enterprises in the local forest will add to the local economy. Our wood exports will be less vulnerable to export taxes. Our present system of entitlements with administered prices for timber is seen as subsidization by other countries. It is about time we also realized that our system of entitlements for managing our public forests is funny business.