Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sustainable Forest Management Certification

If you live in a forest dependent community you are probably affected by forest sustainability issues. Thousands of forestry related jobs have been lost, the coastal forest industry is a shadow of its former condition, and in the interior of BC, over 13 million hectares of pine forests have been lost to a massive mountain pine beetle attack. 100 Billion dollars worth of timber has been lost.

Government and forest industry public relations efforts divert you from these local alarm bells with information that BC is a world leader in sustainable forest management. They will tell you that over 54 million hectares of BC's forest have been certified under some sustainable forest management certification scheme.

Something just does not seem to add up. In the last few decades of last century the world decided that "Sustainable Forest Management is Good". On the surface the idea seems to be quite simple and obvious. However a comprehensive definition of sustainable forest management is rather complex. Neither is good a simple affair for humans. Deep down we know what is good, but we complicate this with hypocrisy by making a pretense of virtue. We even make up religious, social or legal rules that we can follow so we can show to the world that we have earned or brownie points of virtue.

Are BC's public forests being cared for with a comprehensive understanding and appreciation of sustainable forest management? Is it from the heart or is it just an attempt to dress up the surface with the good clothes of a brownie point scheme? Brownie point schemes do help because they do moderate behavior. Long term sustainability requires true care.

The most comprehensive and scientific definition of sustainable forest management is the Montreal Process. It is an international agreement on sustainable management and conservation in temperate and boreal forests. It enables countries to examine progress toward sustainable forest management. One of its indicators would raise a red flag in the case of an epidemic that is larger than a natural event. The present mountain pine beetle epidemic in BC is an example. Forest management caused huge areas of lodgepole pine to become too old and susceptible to attack. Another indicator would pick up discriminatory export taxes and tariffs for wood products, such as BC's lumber exports to USA. This indicator is part of a comprehensive examination of the laws and institutional framework that supports forest management. BC's vulnerability to export taxes is associated with the allocation of a large portion of our public timber to a few forest corporations under a non-market government administered pricing arrangement. Reduced access to public timber has limited the growth of a diversified secondary wood products manufacturing in BC.

The intent of the standards in the Montreal Process is to encourage progress toward sustainable forest management by identifying problems and making necessary changes or adaptations. Unfortunately, this concept is quite foreign to to present corporate and government public relations. Rather, problems are hidden behind positive words,sounds or images.

The comprehensive international agreement draws its name from Quebec's major city because Canada hosted the initial meetings of scientists that developed the sustainable forest management and conservation standards. The comprehensive standards of the Montreal Process could have served well to assess sustainable forest management in every Province of Canada.

The Canadian Council of Forest Ministers decided to produce their own set of watered down standards. The Montreal Process has an indicator that examines epidemics that are larger than a normal natural event in an attempt to reduce such events. It would pick up the mountain pine beetle outbreak in BC as one of these events. Forest industry profited from the freedom to choose harvest areas in public forests. This was a major factor in the build up of large areas of old lodgepole pine that is susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack. The Canadian Council of Forest Ministers standards only require the reporting of areas affected by insect and disease outbreaks.

The Canadian Council of Forest Minister's dumbing down of the Montreal Process is most pronounced in the group of indicators dealing with the legal, economic and institutional framework that supports sustainable forest management. The Montreal Process did not come along until the end of the Twentieth Century. In BC, at the start of the Twentieth Century, a Royal Commission on forests recommended that BC retain its forests in public ownership. They saw this as the best way BC society could ensure wise independent professional management of forests. These wise intentions have been eroded by granting forest corporations harvesting rights in public forests. Instead of independent professional forest management, BC is placing greater reliance on forest corporations to manage our forests.

Sustainable Forest Management Certification schemes draw their standards from the Montreal Process. By the middle of 2010 in BC, 31.4 million hectares of forest operations were certified under Canada's national standard (CSA). A further 2.6 million hectares were certified under the Forest Stewardship Council(FSC) and 20.6 million hectares under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) standards They apply to individual forest operations and are intended to give customers assurance that the wood products have produced without exploiting the forest, environment or workers. They do not examine structural impediments originating in a jurisdiction's forest management laws and institutions.

What confidence should we have in these stamps of approval? We feel confident if we see a CSA label on an electrical appliance. Forest dependent communities on the coast and the interior have felt shocks from a declining forest economy, and these are very real if you have lost your job or your business has declined. Forest certification offers customers of wood products some assurance that the materials have produced without complete exploitation.

Forest certification stamps of approval are already being misused. They are being misused to justify reduced scrutiny by government over the management of public forests by forest corporations. Forest Laws in BC have already been changed to accommodate this idea. Interests seeking privatization of your public forests are already voicing the opinion that there is no need for public ownership because these market based certification standards will do a better job than some bumbling bureaucracy.

The large area of public forests in BC confer some special freedoms to its citizens. We have a large area of forest that we can enjoy for recreation. We can ensure wise sustainable forest management to protect our water and environment, to sustain our communities and pass this birthright on to future generations. Do you want to give this up for a stamp of approval, such as you might find on the bottom of your toaster.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Forest Roads: an indicator of forest management

Check out the quality of forest management in your local forest. Take a drive and a pair of hiking boots and look at the roads in your local forest. Forest roads can tell you much about the management of your local forest.

Roads are the environmental footprint of humans in the forest. Road building is our greatest environmental impact on the forest. It involves soil disturbance and roads require careful drainage to ensure that water does not erode the road or contribute to landslides. Good location planning and construction of forest roads in a forest can reduce soil and drainage disturbance. The road network should be systematic so that access can be provided with a minimum length of road. Considerable reconnaissance should be done before a road is located so that it can use natural features of the land such as benches that will reduce the amount of soil excavation. Unstable soil and sensitive areas are avoided.

Regular maintenance of the forest road system is needed to ensure access and prevent damage to streams, water quality and fish. Erosion, washouts, and landslides caused by forest roads move soil, nutrients and sediment from the forest into streams. The forest manager needs to maintain the roads in the forest so he can get to the forest to maintain it.

Forest roads are a good indicator of the quality of forest management. A forest with a well maintained system of forest roads will be managed and maintained. A forest filled with decaying roads is an indicator of a "cut and run" type of forest management.

When you drive to check out the roads in your local forest and turn off the paved highway onto the gravel forest road, you will probably be on a main or arterial forest road. The main road will be the main transportation route that may follow a main river valley into the forest.

Your initial impression of driving on the main forest road will probably be quite good. Main forest roads in BC are usually well aligned to enable logging trucks to travel at a good speed. The BC Forest Service set a good standard when it built main forest roads in the interior of BC with Federal funds in the 1950's and 1960's. Forest companies also built good main roads. In an industrial system of forest management,it pays to have a good main road to reduce log trucking costs by millions of dollars over time.

You may wish to drive on the main road to get a general impression of your local forest landscape. Non industrial users of forest roads often stick to the main roads. If you are wanting to check out the forest roads you should leave the main road and take a look at the branch or spur roads. A branch road is like a secondary arterial road that leaves the main road to supply access to the side of the main valley or a tributary valley. The spur roads are the roads that leave the branch roads to supply access to harvest blocks.

If the branch and spur roads are in use for logging and hauling, the roads will be maintained so you can drive on them. If the branch and spur roads have not been used for some time, you will need the hiking boots. Walk up the old road system and take a look. Roads in some areas remain stable although they may become over grown. Other roads will be severely deteriorated by erosion. If the road was abandoned in the last 15 years, it may have been de-activated by placing water bars and removing culverts. The intent of de-activation is to reduce soil loss and erosion and maintain water quality.

There are tens of thousands of kilometers of forest roads, mainly branch and spur roads in BC's public forests that are abandoned and receive little or no maintenance. Victoria bureaucrats call them "non status roads". The introduction of forest road de-activation in the 1990's was intended to reduce the environmental impact of road abandonment. It is a technical solution that attempts to reduce the impact of the problem of forest road abandonment.

The forest sector does not want to recognize that forest road abandonment is a structural problem that is built into the deficient tenure system of private harvesting rights in our public forests. The harvesting rights are usufructs or rights to harvest on someone else's land. The holder of a usufruct is not supposed to damage the land and maintain its condition. In BC's public forests this obligation is taken as fulfilled if the harvest rights holder, usually a large forest corporation, replants or regenerates a forest crop after harvest. This leaves important forest infrastructure such as roads in limbo. Forest roads are left to decay and cause environmental damage. It indicates a cut and run mentality of the managers of your local forest. These managers are a central government agency and forest corporations.

Under a new alternative system of local forest trusts, with local democratic representation and local stable forest managers, forest roads would be part of their responsibility. Funding for forest roads would come from the free market operation of the local forest trust as a profitable business enterprise. Forest roads could be maintained not just for industrial timber operations but for non timber forest products, nature based forest enterprises and recreation.

If you do decide to take a trip to see the roads in your local forest now or later, share your experiences and write to: forestwise@shaw.ca