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)

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