Sunday, August 29, 2010

Forest Planning

Plant a tree after you harvest one. This is a basic element in planning forests for the future. It is an idea that is simple and easy to grasp. Tree planting is a common feature in public relations efforts of forest companies and forest agencies. You need to regenerate forests, but forest planning demands more than just replacing trees.

Forests take a long time to grow, so you need to think about how much you can harvest each year and ensure that the forest piggy bank will sustain annual harvests over the long term. You need an inventory of the different forest species types and ages in the forest. This information and knowledge of growth rates enables good estimates of the volume of timber that can be harvested each year. This is called the annual allowable cut.

In BC's Public Forests, the Government Chief Forester determines the annual allowable cut for large geographic Timber Supply Areas. Forest companies are allocated a portion of the cut in the Timber Supply Area and their job is to plan the harvest and see that a new crop of trees is established on the areas harvested. This whole system appears robust,but it has a few serious problems.

About 800 years ago some villages in France found that forest planning is more complex than just ensuring an annual supply of a volume of timber. Harvests followed a sequence of increasing difficulty. The most accessible often largest timber close to the village would be harvested first until the second or third generation of villagers was faced with hauling the poorest timber from the most distant part of the forest. Planning to solve this problem involved identifying the areas to be harvested over a long rotation of about 100 years. Each generation got a share of the ease and difficulty. In the modern language of sustainability this is called "intergenerational equity".

These villagers in France were engaged in what would now be called "adaptive forest planning". Forests are complex and nothing goes quite as planned. Experience often in the form of mistakes is examined and some changes are made to improve. Change can only come if some deficiency is realized and admitted. Deficiencies are not something that are front and center in the public relations efforts of corporate forest enterprises and agencies.

British Columbia has forest sustainability problems that are about handling different areas within the public forests. The forest industry on the BC coast has the same problem as the French villagers of 800 years ago but on a grander scale. Vancouver Island was harvested from the south east to the north west with the heyday of logging the virgin forest moving from Duncan early last century to the west and north to communities such as Port Alberni and Campbell River. The coastal forest industry got hit with "intergenerational inequity" in recent years because it was faced with harvesting the poorest most distant timber.

In the interior of BC, lots of places in the forest were subject to recurring fires and nature supplied a short lived tree for those sites. Lodge Pole Pine grew on these sites in fire dominated landscapes. If fire did not come with its usual frequency to regenerate a new stand, mountain pine beetles did the job after the pine got to be about 80 years old.

The simple centralized industrial forest management system in BC's Public Forests was planning on volume. The Government Forest Service fought forest fires to save volumes of timber. Meanwhile their forest company partners were favoring the harvest of species other than Lodge Pole Pine. The net result that more places in the interior forests supported old Lodge Pole Pine. A larger than natural sized outbreak of mountain pine beetle has just devoured 13 million hectares of lodgepole pine forests. This feast of $100 billion worth of timber has put a hole in the volume based timber sustainability calculations.

The mistakes in the management of coastal and interior BC public forests are water under the bridge. The real problem that there has been no admission of any mistakes. Admitting a mistake is a positive thing because it paves the way to improvement through adaptive management.

In the previous blog there is a picture of a massive cedar stump from the harvest of the virgin forest on an early accessible site on southern Vancouver Island. It is surrounded by small logs from present day harvest of a immature forest. The forest industry is gearing up for a repeat performance of "take the best and leave the rest". In the interior of BC some very innovative planning of areas affected by mountain pine beetle needs to be done to prevent a repeat epidemic towards the end of this century. The forest management mis-adventure that led to the massive mountain pine beetle losses in the interior of BC has been incorrectly blamed on global warming. So there is little impetus to improve our system of forest management.

What changes are needed? Although forest companies are allocated an annual volume of timber that they can harvest, forest companies can choose the areas they wish to harvest. Forest management is not driven by the needs of the forest and its sustainability but by the short term needs of forest companies. Satisfying these short term needs gives the forest and the forest industry problems in the long term.

If BC truly wishes to embrace sustainable forest management, as defined by the Montreal Process, it needs a forest planning an management system that is focused on managing areas
in a detailed way in the local forest over the long term. An independent local forest manager is needed to replace self serve by forest companies or loggers. (See Local Forest Trusts)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Large stumps, Small Logs

The loggers that first harvested this area used their cross cut saw while standing on spring boards jambed into the notches visible on the old large cedar stump.This precarious arrangement elevated them above the spreading base and made the task of hand sawing the massive tree a little easier.

What would they have thought about the present harvest of young trees? One man sitting in the cab of a feller-buncher machine harvested and stacked the small stems that are in the foreground. The trees are approximately 50 years old. The tough crusty old time loggers of the BC Coast would have referred to these diminutive trees as "bean poles".

On this Vancouver Island site, nature was thinking big, but now we seem to be thinking little. Is this good forestry? There has been two different schools of thought since the early days of forest management. One camp viewed forest management on the lines of agriculture. These are the forest farmers that see trees as a crop with man in the controller seat. The other camp thought that forests should be managed more along the lines of nature because man is simply unable to supply the same level of treatments that occur in agriculture.

Science and technological improvements have made some forest treatments easier. Aerial forest firefighting, and specialized machines for mechanical harvesting are examples. The forest farmer camp will point to these improvements as justification for their case.

The nature based forestry camp can point to the development of non-clear cutting shelterwood and selection silviculture systems as their innovations. Greater scientific understanding of forests and biological diversity has given nature based forestry the new more illustrious title of forest ecosystem management.

"Work with nature or you will be defeated" is an old forestry saying. Nature based forestry works on the precautionary principle. There is more that we do not know than we know about forest ecosystems. Trees take many decades to grow and a crop failure is of greater consequence than in agriculture, where only one years growth is involved.

At a time of poor markets for wood products, low cost mechanical harvesting was a factor in the decision to harvest the young trees in the above picture. It is an example of the forest farming direction of future forest management in BC. BC allocated most of its timber from public forests to commodity wood products producers. Composite floor joists can be made from wood from small trees so you do not even need larger trees to make structural components for residential construction. Government and forest industry will push forest farming of young trees as if there is no other economic choice.

We must remember that the true economic bottom line of the BC forest industry is not the short term balance sheet of the forest company but the condition of the forest that supplies the goods. Short rotations of young trees where nature previously worked on rotations of several centuries may not be wise in the long term. The short rotations are more likely to cause root pathogen problems in the future. Some other unforeseen problem may develop.

One of the biggest defeats in the history of forest management from not working with nature has occurred in BC. Lodge Pole pine in the interior of BC becomes susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack when it gets about 80 years old. Fire fighting and failure to harvest sufficient area of this short lived species is the primary factor in the present massive mountain pine beetle epidemic. The price tag for failing to work with nature is a $100 Billion loss of timber. Forest ecosystem management is portrayed as being more expensive but the cost of not doing it is greater.

The forests of Vancouver island and the coast of BC, produced larger trees of better wood quality, than most coniferous forests elsewhere in the world. The better quality wood is laid down in the tree once it gets older and larger. If we had open markets for our public timber, more value added producers able to realize the value of larger trees will become established. The coast of BC has large areas to accessible young stands that could supply the need for small stem material, through thinning rather than clear cutting. The harvesting cost will be greater but it will leave a standing crop of more valuable older trees.

BC should realize that there are many options and choices for the stewardship of our public forests. We need to diversify our forest industry instead of diminishing our forests in an attempt to prop up a failing commodity wood products industry.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Forest and nature recreation

Drag yourself and your family away from the virtual world of screens and electronic gadgets for a day. Try something real. Get a taste of nature in the forest.

Some of us hunt, fish, ski, snowmobile or do some recreational activity that requires equipment in the forest. The natural environment of the forest is interesting, so all we need to enjoy the forest is adequate footwear and clothing and possibly a lunch in a backpack.

In some parts of BC, there are few forest trails for hiking. Most areas have active an inactive forest roads that can take the place of trails. Often, you can drive part way up the hill or mountain.

A recently logged area may not sound too appealing for forest recreation. However, a large clear cut area can be more interesting than you would expect. If the area is on a hill or mountain, you can see the view because it will not be obscured by trees. Nature is resilient. One of the best demonstrations of resiliency is a recently logged area. Nature goes to work in the first growing season and after a few seasons the impact of man's activities gets overshadowed by new growth.

The forest road in the above picture has red alder naturally established on the bare mineral disturbed soil of the roadside. The alder prevents erosion of the soil and has returned the road to the appearance of nature within a decade.

A pocket guide for identifying trees and wild plants can turn a hike into an educational experience for the whole family. The forest is a symbol of hope. It renews itself and it represents a healthy environment. Walking and other exercise in the woods makes us healthy too.

A high percentage of BC residents live in cities and have lost their connection to the forests. There are forests within close reach of our cities. A day in the forest is good for us. It is good for our public forests. If more people visit the forest, they will be a force for better stewardship. Forests are renewable and give the hope of a sustainable environment and forest based industries in BC. That is why it is important to get your children into the forest. If you enjoy going out to the forest or natural environments,the chances are that you caught the liking from a parent or other adult that introduced you to the wonders of nature.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Stealth Privatization of BC's Public Forests

Could you steal France without anyone taking notice? France, one of the largest countries in Europe, is approximately 550,000 square kilometers. BC's public forests are about the same area.

Privatization of BC's public forests would be rejected by BC residents. Stealth privatization is the gradual conveyance of public forests into the private interest. Forest companies gain a foothold with harvesting rights in public forests. Forest management responsibilities are gradually transferred to forest companies. The way is then paved for forest companies to get long term leases or tenure. Requirements for managing other forest values are reduced and companies are able to focus solely on timber growing. By this stage, forests are turned over to serve private timber interests. Nominal ownership of the land may be retained by the public to enable politicians to claim that no privatization has occurred. With the passage of time, public access may be restricted and the land is transferred to private timber interests.

Stealth privatization of our public forests is not something that is about to start. It has been underway for over 60 years. There is no mastermind con-artist, merely our own desire to gain benefits has pushed us in this direction. We and our politicians have bent over backwards to help forest companies with their financial bottom line. We gave forest companies private rights to harvest public timber at non market administered prices. We were lenient in allowing the forest companies to take the best timber. We reduced prices for timber to help forest companies in periods of declining markets.

The forest industry always bounced back when markets improved. The forest industry is not going to bounce back with the same resilience as we move out of the present global economic downturn. There is some problems with the real bottom line. The real bottom line of BC's forest industry is not the short term financial balance sheet of the forest corporation, but the health, state and condition of our forests.

The coastal forest industry is suffering because the best timber on the most accessible terrain has been logged. In the interior, 13 million hectares of Lodge pole pine have been attacked by mountain pine beetle resulting in an economic loss of $100 Billion. Most of us have been satisfied by explanations that point to mild winters resulting from climate change as the factor responsible for the explosion of mountain pine beetle populations. However, the epidemic is larger than a natural outbreak because the interior of BC had become filled with old lodgepole pine. Old Lodge pole pine is simply good habitat for mountain pine beetles. Government fire fighting efforts coupled with failure to direct forest industry to harvest sufficient lodgepole pine, a less desirable species, led to huge areas of old pine. We need to blame our inadequate institutions for managing our public forests.

Bending over backwards to help corporate forest interests has not done our forests much good. It has not done our trade relationships much good either. Export taxes or tariffs on wood products are essentially sanctions because we are seen to be subsidizing forest companies from our public forests.

We have bent over backwards to help the bottom line of the forest corporation for many decades. Do we have healthy strong forest industry, forest dependent communities or forests? We are not reaping the intended outcome of sustainability, so we need to re-examine our values as they relate to the care and stewardship of our public forests.

Why are over 90% of BC's forests in public ownership? 100 years ago we understood the real bottom line. We decided to keep our forests out of the hands of private timber interests so that they could be supplied with independent professional forest management. Healthy well managed forests would result in a healthy forest industry, sustainable forest dependent communities and a good natural environment. These ideas are good for today and the future.

So Mr Premier and Mr Minister of Forests of British Columbia, these are our forests and we are the shareholders and we want some choice. We want our forest to be well managed for us and for our children. We do not want to be dispossessed of our land, and our favorite open places for recreation and freedom.

We do not need to continue down the road of increasing private corporate control of our forests. We will not be fooled by your claims that you are not privatizing our forests as you open the door to longer term forest tenures and lease agreements. Forest corporations that value stripped our public forests and undermined the economy of forest dependent communities should not be handed title to our forests as a bonus for improvidence.

Shareholders in a public forest should have the right to their own professional managers. Public timber should be sold competitively on an open market. Open access to timber will encourage diversification of the forest industry and secondary manufacture.

If you wish to claim that BC is a world leader in sustainable forest management, study the Montreal Process, an international agreement on sustainable forest management. You will find out that your intentions to enable forests to be managed just for timber growing is not sustainable forest management. On the contrary, sustainable forest management, encourages forests to be managed to include non timber forest products and nature based enterprises. These provide additional economic benefits to local economies while encouraging comprehensive management that maintains the integrity of the forest environment. Facilitating some of these non timber forest enterprises could help many struggling forest dependent communities right now.

When BC decided to retain its forests in public ownership, one hundred years ago, the Government was admonished as to its duty to ensure the development of a wise system of independent professional stewardship. Instead, successive administrations have treated the public forest as economic instrument and depleted the forest piggy bank. The Government has failed as a trustee of the public forests, and the same temptations will remain in the future.

Our public forests are a sustainable resource, and should not be abandoned or jettisoned to private timber interests after their virgin values have been stripped. They should be regarded as a cup that is more than half full to be aided toward recovery by a new arrangements for sustainable management. This requires trustees that will ensure a system of sustainable forest management. Given that the BC Government has proved itself to be a failure as a trustee over the last 100 years, some new institutions with some checks and balances are required. These new institutions need to represent the public shareholders of our forests, the forest dependent communities and include a strong base of professional and scientific knowledge of forest ecosystems.

A promising alternative to stealth privatization is a devolved system of local forest trusts involving large geographic local forest management units of sufficient area to support economic forest operations, and a professional forest management staff. The local forest trust would have a board elected on a ward system from local communities and rural areas. The local forest trust would operate under written trust documents based on the Montreal Process, an international agreement on sustainable forest management.

A BC Forest Trust Assembly would provide collective services such as aerial fire fighting and research and extension services to the local forest trusts. The assembly would audit local forest trusts and provide a court of appeal for the public. The Assembly in turn would be governed by an equal number of elected and professional delegates from local trusts.

These two new institutions would put the forests in the hands of the public shareholders in a system of governance that is based on the interest of local folk that wish to sustain the forest life support system for their industry, community and environment. The Provincial interest in the well being of our forests will be safeguarded by the Forest Trust Assembly.

A new system of local forest trusts will revitalize the forest economy of BC. Existing wood manufacturers will be able to purchase public timber, while open markets will encourage new value added wood manufacturers. Local forest economies will benefit from active management of non-timber and nature based forest businesses. It will provide more efficient deployment of existing forest management professionals and give more freedom for needed innovation. Improved forest stewardship will encourage investment.

The public has nothing to fear in the establishment of a democratic free enterprise system of local forest trusts. The public has everything to fear in the creeping privatization of our public forests.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Focus Magazine Victoria

Most BC residents live in big cities,seemingly far removed from our forests. Focus Magazine of Victoria is to be congratulated for its in depth article on BC Forests entitled the "Big Burn" by Briony Penn.

It deals with privatization of our forests. Just click on the title to go to the article.