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.

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