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.

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