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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We encourage comments and questions