Friday, December 30, 2011

Forest Resilience, Biodiversity

At the New Year we like to look for signs of hope.  BC's public forests have a high level of forest resilience and that gives hope for the future. Forest resilience means that a forest will return to its original conditions and functions after it has been disturbed. Indigenous virgin forests, like those in BC, have greater resilience because diverse ecosystem components are there to effect recovery.  A considerable area of forest has regenerated naturally, and even in areas that are replanted there is usually some naturally regenerated trees. Ground vegetation and soil organisms remain or recover in time. In areas that are replanted with nursery seedlings, there is considerable likelihood that the seed came from a similar natural forest at the same elevation. Forests on the coast of BC will return to old growth conditions in about 100 years, if left alone.

The photograph shows a forest road on the coast of BC.  There is a strong growth of alder trees on both sides of the road about a decade after the road was built and used for harvesting. Unlike other alder trees, the coastal red alder can fix atmospheric nitrogen in association with root organisms. Red alder functions in coastal ecosystems to colonize areas of soil disturbance. It can get nitrogen from the atmosphere, so it can grow on bare mineral soil with little or no nitrogen. In nature, it goes to work on a landslide or avalanche disturbances that leave bare soil behind. When man comes along to harvest, alder goes to work  to stabilize bare soil on cut and fill slopes along roads.

Locally based forest management is better placed to understand and work with the resiliency components of the local landscape. Centralized forest management is more likely to try to impose interventions on the local landscape that are out of tune with local ecosystem functions. Forest ecosystems are complex and sometimes even resiliency can be a mixed blessing. Red alder with its ability to fix nitrogen has been used by European foresters for benefit. Red alder has been mixed with other trees on nitrogen poor sites to increase the growth of all the trees. If you look at the immediate foreground of the photo above you will see a Scotch Broom plant. It is an alien invasive species from the Mediterranean. It has invaded some rare plant ecosystems such as Gary oak and it can crowd out other species and become a fire hazard. Its function in its native ecosystems is to colonize and vegetate bare mineral soil and it has also got the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen. It has the same ecosystem function as Red alder but in a different ecosystem.
It has found its place in a BC ecosystem by doing its job. It has found employment and eradication is no longer a real option. Red alder will remain to compete with the new species.

While BC has a few problems with the resiliency of alien species, resilient native plants prevail in BC's forest ecosystems even after disturbances of forest road building and harvesting. To sustain indigenous forest ecosystem conditions in the long term, BC needs to move toward  more devolved and local system of forest management.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Corporations Vs Charities

Anthony Britneff

In British Columbia, a province rich in natural resources, a large disparity exists between corporations and charities in the amount of funding and time that each may devote to engaging in discussions of public policy. This disparity is undermining the public interest.

Why should you care about who influences British Columbia’s resource policy? It is you who own 94 per cent of the land and all the freshwater. Thus you, the public, are the principal stakeholders with the largest vested interest.

When it comes to influencing government in Ottawa and Victoria about resource policy some of you may think that charities carry the most weight but their financial influence is minuscule compared to that of corporations.

It is not that charities are not influential, but only that the funding and time they are able to devote to discussing public policy is not commensurate with that of corporations.  They are actually restricted from devoting more than 10 per cent of their resources to matters of public policy. Corporations, however, are unrestricted except for the registration of lobbyists; and the funding and time they may spend on the lobbying of legislators, advertising and publicity is also unlimited.

Unlike corporations, charities cannot fund political candidates, endorse political parties or deduct expenses related to policy advocacy against tax. Also, they have to seek money from foundations and individuals.

Given the harmful disparity between the power and influence of corporations and charities, federal and provincial governments need to amend the law in order to achieve parity. For instance:

1.   By raising fees both provincially and federally for corporate lobbyists by tens of millions of dollars and redistributing those fees to charities thereby increasing their capacity to access legislators.
2.   By increasing the percentage amount of the funding and time that charities can devote to discussing and influencing public policy.
3.   By eliminating donations to, and endorsements of, political parties and candidates by corporations and industrial associations.

Some of you may already be saying, “Charities are special interest groups and are not representative of the general public”. But is that really the case?

Charities are just as much special interest groups as industrial associations. Both have members that are stakeholders and both engage in public policy discussions in the interests of their membership. Industrial associations are no more representative of the general public than are charities.  

In British Columbia, some government officials have gone much further than engaging representatives of corporations in the discussion of public policy and the review of draft laws.  In one instance, industrial legal representatives participated actively with public servants in the writing of resource laws and regulations thereby undermining the democratic responsibility of government to represent all citizens and possibly compromising the impartiality of public servants to act in the public interest.  

In general, corporate private interest in the influencing of public policy and in the exploitation of natural resources tends to affect adversely the environment, social justice and respect for indigenous rights, all of which are policy concerns encompassed by charities.

Added to these policy concerns, the world’s financial system that drives corporate growth has become unstable. It depends upon perpetual economic growth at the expense of the natural world resulting in the consumption of the Earth’s resources beyond the capacity of the carbon cycle to supply fossil fuels and to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

Consequently, climate change is compounding the damage resource corporations do to the environment by changing the natural world, by disrupting the availability of food, by making clean freshwater ever scarcer, and by displacing indigenous groups, even in Canada.  

Yet, Canada still has reasons for optimism in dealing with climate change and in preventing harm to environmental and human health through the exploitation of resources. To ensure that legislators improve resource laws and policies they need to hear and discuss not only the economic perspective of private interests but also perspectives on the environment, social justice and indigenous rights, all of which are public interests that charities collectively work to advance.

So what can you do to curb the excessive power and financial influence of resource corporations? You can write or talk to your MLA and MP.  You could also make a new year’s resolution to join, or donate to, a charity or other non-governmental organization that will champion your policy concerns, values and beliefs, which corporations and industrial organizations disregard. 

Anthony Britneff had a 40-year career with the B.C. Forest Service. He was inspired to write this article by the need in British Columbia for an integrated energy and climate-change policy and for improved provincial laws regulating forestry, oil and gas, and especially water. This article previously published by Victoria Times Colonist

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Parks and biodiversity

Mountain lions, bears, woodpeckers, ravens, owls are some of the animals found in BC's coastal rain forest. An old growth forest can be quite dark on a rainy day in winter. Some less illustrious creatures go about their business in this moist environment. One of the most common creatures is Ariolimax columbianus, the banana slug that feeds and helps to breakdown living and dead material.   Recycling of organic matter is a major task on the coastal rain forest. The banana slug is a very large slug but we give it little attention. Most of the others engaged in recycling are much smaller in size often a millimeter or less. Collembola are some of these tiny organisms, usually found in the soil, but there are also some working high in the canopy of these old growth trees.

Parks or protected areas are intended to be reservoirs of of diversity. My volunteer work of rebuilding trails in the park gives an opportunity to observe people. Most are very polite Canadians that thank you for improving the trail. Some are even ecstatic that the removal of tripping hazards will enable them to look at the park instead of their feet as they hike. The encounters with Homo sapiens are almost entirely pleasant. Rare encounters with the eco-fanatic human run a different course. The first indication is rather concentrated staring. They seem to see a Viking helmet with horns instead of my old toque. They have encountered an Eco-vandal. Usually a hyperventilating rant ensues.

The large slab of rock that has been blocking the trail for years has been moved off the trail to the side with some effort because it weighs several hundred pounds. It has been moved carefully so the moss has not been knocked off the surface. In the process the rock has been rotated about 60 degrees. An obstructive hazard has been moved two feet off the trail. The rock looks the same to me as it did when it was almost blocking the trail. However to the fine sensitivities of the eco-fanatic it is now a major aesthetic impact on the park. A vituperation ensues worthy of a philistine that has just taken a sledge hammer to Michelangelo's David.

Parks are full of diversity

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Nature based economic development for BC's forest dependent communities.

Tourism is already a major contributor to the BC economy. It adds approximately $12 Billion to the economy each year. BC is sold under the heading of "Super Natural BC", but are we doing enough to attract tourists. Switzerland with an area of less than 5% of BC's, takes in more than twice the amount of tourist dollars. While there are considerable populations in the neighboring countries, Switzerland has been developing its nature based economy for more than 150 years.

A web site on hiking trails ( ) provides information on hiking trails throughout the world. A search on BC provides approximately 300 trails, while a search on Switzerland shows well over 2000 trails. Photographs of the trails in Switzerland demonstrate a high standard of trail construction and maintenance. The surface or tread of the trails are well prepared and free of tripping hazards. The average trail in BC is called what we call a "back country trail" built and maintained to a much lower standard. Large stones, roots and other tripping hazards are the norm on our 'back country' trails and some exhibit serious erosion, even in protected areas.

There is considerable opportunity for forest dependent communities throughout BC to expand their nature based forest economies by making their local forest landscapes more accessible for hiking and other nature based recreational activities.  Although BC Parks is celebrating its centennial this year, there is little hope that the presently underfunded Park system will see any extra money for trail building and maintenance. A local initiative manned by volunteers, donations and possibly some help from some government programs could transform towns into desirable destinations. A community based trail development initiative could develop trails on any public land in the surrounding landscape. A trail could traverse area in a timber producing forest and a park or protected area. Although BC has approximately 14% of its area designated as parks, there is an even greater area of wild natural area, that is within working forest landscapes. More than half of some timber producing forest landscapes cannot be harvested or comprise alpine area ideally suited for nature based recreation. A community trail development initiative would just need to get approval from BC Parks and the Ministry of Forests at the planning stage.

Planning and locating a trail system is a key part of a trail development project. A trail may visit several natural features in the landscape on route to its destination that might be a peak or summit or waterfall. The trail needs to be placed or located on the landscape to ensure minimal disturbance and ease of construction. Most forest dependent communities will have some that have experience in road and trail location. There are guidebooks on trail construction that can guide volunteers as they gain experience.

A forest dependent community with system of trails and interesting hikes can make itself known as a desirable destination through tourist information. The trail website mentioned previously allows uploading of routes and photographs of trail features. A trail system can increase local employment directly through  nature based guiding etc. However, the main employment benefits will be in hotels, motels, restaurants and shops. A trail system provides locals with recreation and improves access.  Alpine areas above timber producing forests may be more easily accessible from higher elevation forest roads.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Forests,Human Ecology, Modernity

This massive spruce tree towers toward the sky on the west coast of Vancouver Island. There is soil, mosses and habitat on top of the large branches. This tree is natural vertical piece of living biodiversity. Forty or fifty years ago this tree would have been called "decadent".  We might suppose that ignorance was the reason for such a term and that we are now much more knowledgeable and aware. However, the term "decadent" came because we thought that we were knowledgeable and making progress.

Human ecology looks at the effects of humans on ecosystems. Some even suggest that we are in a new geologic age of the anthropocene where earth will be most altered by human activity. Humans are driven by ideas. Forestry is rooted in modernity. The first modern forestry was the re-establishment of forests in Europe in the late 1700's. Forests had been hammered by overuse. Modern scientific forestry would see to the establishment of orderly forests. The Germans set about the planting of orderly forests, often mono-cultures. By the mid 1800's, some German foresters began to have doubts about man made forests of trees standing to attention in rows. They thought that forests should be managed more along the lines of natural indigenous forests. This was the same idea as what is now known as forest ecosystem management. Non clear-cutting silviculture systems such as shelterwood and selection silvicultural systems were the management techniques developed in Europe to produce more natural, irregular and less even aged forests.

Modernity was based on the idea of improvement of the human condition by the application of knowledge in agriculture, industry and commerce. This single meta-narrative has got a bit confused by events such as the unsinkable Titanic, gas chambers, and use of atomic weapons. Soviet communism was also an exercise in modernity. The idea of improvement is often blamed on Christianity, but it seems to be grounded in human pride.  European foresters were given a lesson in humility by the forest and coined the dictum "Work with nature or you will be defeated".  The "meek shall inherit the earth" is a narrative that exists in European forestry along side the agricultural notion that forests and trees are just another crop that can be manipulated and controlled by humans.

Forests are usually more complex than our human tendency to whittle things down to a few narratives or ideologies. Mere mention of a climax ecosystem will get the attention of any green ears. Heather moors in Scotland are climax ecosystems with an acidified organic layer of peat that leached iron downward into the soil to form a cemented layer. Scottish foresters used bulldozers to pull forest plows through the moors to mix the organic with the mineral layers and improve the soil drainage. Forests were planted with a strong representation of trees from BC. Was this an exercise in anthropocentric vandalism using alien species or a helpful human nudge to create a new forest environment?

Some of North America's early leading foresters went to Europe to study forestry in the late 1800's. They were immersed in the new nature based forestry of shelterwood and selection silviculture systems. They returned to North America and rejected the new nature based notion of forest management. Natural fires were more prevalent in North America, so the "work with nature" notion was out. Fires had to be controlled. Fire fighting became a cornerstone of North American forestry. Man would take on nature and win. Clear- cutting and artificial regeneration of forests was also part of this outlook.

Forest fire fighting in North America in the Twentieth Century, was more than Smokey the Bear. It involved the application of improving technologies. Manned fire lookouts were replaced by infrared sensing devices that would identify new fires for speedy dispatch of aerial fighters in the form of water bombers and helicopter transported fire fighters. British Columbia spent millions on forest fire fighting and technology.

Fire fighting meant that wood was being saved for forest industry. Economics achieved special status after World War II and it would see to an expanding economy and freedom from major economic depression. Forest fire fighting made a good fit with this idea. Most of the forests in BC had been retained in public ownership at the start of the Twentieth Century to ensure that they would have independent professional forest management. After World War II, BC Government administrations forgot that the foundation of a strong forest economy is good forest stewardship and gave economic growth the priority. Government allocated most of BC's public timber to a few forest corporations under administrative pricing and the management of public forests was shared by Government and forest corporations. Forestry in BC was turned into a modern mass production machine. Forest companies built big saw and pulp mill plants and harvested the best timber available. Government provided the fire fighting. The independent professional forester was turned into a specialized assembly line worker for the machine.

The modern forestry machine in BC was also driven by the idea that older virgin forests are not growing as fast as young replacement forest stands. Old virgin forest stands were termed "decadent" because they did not fit the model of modern industrial forest management. The whole idea of modern industrial forest management seemed to work well for decades. Money was made by harvesting the best timber and converting it to dollars.

We forgot that it was not modern industrial forest management that provided the dollars. It was really nature that grew these forests. On the coast of BC, the virgin forests had huge trees with quality wood that easily covered the costs of logging on mountains. Forest industry harvested the best timber that nature had grown. The interior of BC has fire dominated ecosystems where nature coped by having a short lived species. Lodge pole pine was adapted to these landscapes. The Government's fire fighting machine also did most of its work in these landscapes. It went in and saved Lodge pole pine for industry.
Even in a fire dominated landscape things are never simple. Some plateaus and slopes will see a greater frequency of fires than moist niches in the topography. These places will have older larger trees and species. While Government was busy fighting fires in these landscapes, forest industry was busy going after the best timber. Forest industry was not harvesting enough Lodge pole pine. The net result of government and forest industry management efforts in these fire dominated landscapes was to build considerable reserves of old Lodge pole pine trees. European foresters know that this species grows fast and straight when young but tends to stagnate and become susceptible to decline when it gets old. The home indigenous environment of BC has a way of getting the old lodge pole pine out of the way. The mountain pine beetle will supply this service when Lodge pole pine reaches 80 years old. A huge feast of million of hectares of old lodge pole pine was prepared by industrial forest management for the mountain pine beetle. A super epidemic of mountain pine beetle has munched its way through more than 13 million hectares of forest, or about $100 Billion worth of timber.

The super epidemic of mountain pine beetle in BC, and also western USA is perhaps the greatest defeat of modern industrial forest management in the history of forestry. We should realize our pride and mistakes and look toward some new legal and institutional structures that will provide true local care of forest ecosystems. Modern centralized government and corporate command and control organisations are counter to the needs of local forest ecosystems.

Unfortunately, we have not realized that nature has defeated industrial forest management in BC. Public relations and propaganda are a key part of modern organisations. It works by toning down problems and ensuring us that all is well. Propaganda works well when its case rests on some of the truth but not the whole truth. Propaganda works well in forestry. Forest environments are complex with many factors involved. The public wants simple easy to understand answers. The public in BC has been told that warm winters caused increased over winter survival of mountain pine beetles. This is quite true. It is why the mountain pine beetle range extends into BC. BC gets mild winters because it is situated on the Pacific Ocean. Natural outbreaks of the beetle have, and will occur in BC. The present super epidemic is different because of the immense amount of mountain pine beetle habitat that was created by the BC Government and forest industry engaging in industrial forest management that had little regard for the normal functions of forest ecosystems.

Is it the big virgin spruce tree sitting in a sea of young forest on a Vancouver Island,  the decadent organism? Perhaps we ourselves are decadent.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Parks and Safe Sustainable Trails

Sustainable forest management includes the management of parks or protected areas. British Columbia contains 14 million hectares of parks. Most parks are in forested landscapes. The Montreal Process, an international agreement on sustainable forest management gives high priority to the area of forest protected in parks. Parks maintain indigenous forest in natural condition and protect biological diversity. Indigenous forests in parks can provide knowledge that can be applied in the stewardship of timber producing forests.

The human footprint in a timber producing forest is greatest in the forest roads that are used for access. If you do not know much about forests you just need to look at the roads in a forest to see if the human managers are providing good care. The human footprint in a park is greatest in the walking or hiking trails. If you do not know much about biodiversity or ecology, you just need to look at the trails to get an idea of the care provided to a protected area.

Trails are not so wide as forest roads and one tends to think that the impact of trails will be less than roads. However, forest roads are usually provided with drainage in the form of ditches and culverts. Trails are seldom provided with ditches and culverts. Location of a trail can be more exacting than the location of a road because it has to be placed on the landscape to be self draining.

If a trail is located up a draw or topography that collects water, the trail can erode and become more like a ditch than a trail as in the photo above.

Poor standards of trail construction can set the stage for future problems. Most park authorities have minimum standards for the trail surface or tread. Removing rocks larger than 4 inches during constructions prevents  the rocks from becoming hazards. Wear on the walking surface makes larger rocks project and cause a tripping hazard. Tripping hazards can injure hikers but they can also cause injury to a park. Users of a trail will try to avoid the hazard causing widening and damage to the trail.

This trail has widened considerably because hikers have taken two routes around boulders are on the center of the trail. To reduce the area taken up by trails, damage to the environment, and injury to hikers, trials in parks need to be well engineered. Good standards to location and construction are necessary.

BC Government expenditure on Parks is inadequate. There is a skeleton of Parks staff that manage contracts to corporate parks operators. Most maintenance effort goes into campsite and parking facilities.
Trails that go deep into parks are often classified as back country trails that receive little or no maintenance, unless someone volunteers to do the job. Given the present economic conditions, the necessary increases in Parks budgets are unlikely.

If you live in BC, are fit and able and interested in protecting the environment then there is probably a Park in your area that could use some help. Contact BC Parks.

Softwood lumber export tariffs

Exports of BC softwood lumber to USA have hit another bump in the road. US lumber producers are claiming that salvage stumpage prices for harvesting lodge pole pine affected by mountain pine beetle are unrealistically low and amount to a government subsidy. The case has gone to the London Court of International Arbitration.

Softwood lumber disputes and vulnerability to discriminatory tariffs or export taxes has been affecting the BC forest sector for almost thirty years. The problem centers on the administered prices that the BC Government charges forest corporations for logs from public forests. Timber volumes are allocated to forest companies, so there is no real open market, just administered prices. The system is vulnerable to claims of subsidy. The problem started thirty years ago because forests in the USA were recovering from previous exploitation and American lumber producers were eager to get a larger share of their own market.

Canada and BC have decided to live with the problem rather than fix the problem and remove vulnerability to discriminatory tariffs or taxes completely. Government is acting in the interests of forest corporations rather than the BC public or our forests. To reduce vulnerability to discriminatory export tariffs, public timber needs to be sold on an open market. To institute a truly open market, the government would have to take away timber it has allocated to forest corporations. Forest companies would still have access to timber but they would just have to buy it at open market prices.

Local Forest Trusts operating on a business basis could sell wood on an open market and reduce BC vulnerability to discriminatory export taxes. Management of BC's public forests would be independent and accountable to a local democratically elected board. Money that would otherwise be lost to discriminatory taxes or under pricing would flow back to the stewardship of the forest.

The failure of BC Government administrations to solve this problem for thirty years indicates that the interests of corporations come before the citizens of BC and the stewardship of their public forests.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Local democratic forest management of public forests

One hundred years ago, BC aimed to keep its forests out of the hands of  timber barons and timber corporations. The BC Government would act as the  trustee of the public forest and provide independent professional management. Timber from public forests would be available to a range of wood manufacturers and result in a diversified wood products industry in BC. Forest dependent communities could look to a sustainable future.
The future for many forest dependent communities in BC is not so rosy and the forest industry is in trouble. Why? BC Governments after World War II aimed to cash in on the timber in public forests. Instead of pursuing independent professional forest management and sustainability, the BC Government chose to partner with forest corporations.  BC did well for several decades as government and its oligopoly of forest corporations cashed in by harvesting the best timber.
Harvesting the most profitable timber is improvident and sets the stage for problems in the long term. The coastal forest industry experienced difficulty after the best timber was exhausted. In the interior of BC, a super epidemic of mountain pine beetle has destroyed timber valued at $100 Billion. Government and forest corporations have convinced the public that global warming and climate change was at fault. Government and forest corporations really helped the beetles by fighting fires and failing to harvest sufficient volumes of lodge pole pine, a less desirable species. Huge areas of lodge pole pine became old. Mountain pine beetles like trees more than 80 years old. This has been a successful cover-up of the largest waste of public resources in the history of BC. Allocation of BC's public timber to a few corporations at non market government administered prices made BC forest products vulnerable to discriminatory export tariffs or taxes. It has reduced the value or dollars we add to our wood products by restricting enterprise and diversification.
We need to realize that management of public forests by timber corporations is a good recipe for short term gain and long term pain. Propping up the existing arrangements for managing our public forests is not a solution. Giving forest corporations long term leases in our public forests will just be the next step in the enclosure of most of the land of BC into the private interest. This will only reward improvident management.
Forest dependent communities and the BC public should demand an end to the "rip-off to own" management arrangements in BC's public forests. We need new innovative arrangements that will ensure sustainability of our forests, dependent communities and industry. Innovative arrangements that  encourage free enterprise are required. The local public of forest dependent communities need direct representation in the management of local forests. The greater public of BC also needs some new institution to represent their interests in the public forests. The BC Government through successive administrations of differing political stripe has failed as a trustee of public forests through its greater attention to corporate interests than the public interest.
 The Local Forest Trust is the institution for managing local forests. The local forest landscape is entrusted to caring management by a locally elected board and professional forest managers. The area of forest landscape should be greater than 100,000 hectares to permit economic forest management operations. Independent professional management under sustainable forest management trust documents will enable the forest to be managed as a business that gets revenue from timber, non timber forest products and nature based recreational enterprises. Timber will be sold on an open market to encourage local wood product manufacture. Local enterprises such as family woodlots, non timber harvesting, hunting guiding and recreational enterprises can be licensed within a local trust.  Forest companies will be able to buy timber but will not be permitted to hold management licenses. Local communities and rural area will be represented on the board by a ward system. First Nations can have local forest trusts or be represented by a ward system in a local trust.
A BC Forest Trust Assembly would represent the greater public interest in public forests by auditing local trusts and providing a court of appeal. It would also handle collective services for local forest trusts such as fire fighting, extension services and insurance.  To provide a balance between public interest and the ecosystem needs of the forest, the BC Trust Assembly would be governed by an equal number of elected board members and professional resource manager delegates from local forest trusts. New policies developed by the assembly will go back to local forest trusts for ratification.
Support for new institutions to manage BC's public forests needs to grow and develop.  Leaders in forest dependent communities should champion local forest trusts. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Forests and Wall Street

Ecology is a subject that comes to mind when we think about forests.  The geography, terrain, soil, climate plants and animals interact in complex ways often in fairly long term cycles to produce a unique living forest. We humans tend to leave ourselves out of the ecological equation when it comes to forests. Human ecology or how humans interact with a forest is a major factor that we tend to ignore. We are not just talking about the foresters and loggers who work in a forest, but we have to look farther into the laws and institutions that govern forestry. These in turn are affected by politics, social movements, economic and taxation policy.

Does the present " Occupy Wall Street Movement" have implications for BC's forests? This movement may grow or fizzle out, but it has raised questions about corporate power in society.  Large organisations are needed to run large industrial plants etc., but there is a legitimate concern that corporations have too much influence on the levers that control society. An era of industrial feudalism may await, if we do not find ways to reduce corporate power.

 Are we heading down the wrong road?  If we are headed in the wrong direction, we should not blame it entirely on the corporate villain. Just about everyone needs to follow the piper. What tune has the piper been playing?  At election times we tend to vote for the candidate that promises economic growth and jobs by attracting investment.  Deep down, most of us are aware that a future of unlimited growth, means no future if we exceed the earth's capacity to support us. Attracting investment is a code word for aligning taxation policies to attract international corporate capital. The recipe calls for low rates of corporate taxes, consumption taxes, reduction of progressive income taxes and deregulation. These taxation policies tend to produce poor income distribution in a society and negative effects on the economy. The attraction of fast money is too great.  Governments bail out or assume the losses of financial institutions to maintain the system after some fast buck financial schemes go sour.

How do forests fare in a society with a emphasis on fast money?  A long term investment for a human is perhaps one to three decades at most. Most forests are growing on a much longer cycle of  about a century or more.
 This BC coastal forest was operating on a natural cycle of several hundred years before the fast money idea injected itself into this forest landscape. The virgin forest near the top and over the hill will continue to work on the long term cycle of hundreds of years because it is a park or protected area. The fast money idea has worked its way through most of the valley replacing the virgin forests with young trees in the space of less than three decades.

The fast money idea in BC's public forests goes under a euphemism. We call it forest policy or the forest tenure system. After World War II the BC Government needed fast money to bring infrastructure and economic growth. It looked to forest corporations to turn the forests into fast money. It saw that its interests were best served by establishing an oligopoly of commodity wood products producers. Corporations were allocated harvesting rights to large volumes of public timber under a non-market system of administered prices. This Government and corporate alignment did seem to work well initially. Mowing through the best virgin timber forests to supply ready markets did produce fast money. The main market was the USA. This market was wide open after World War II because US forests were recovering from an earlier mowing than BC. When the US timber supply started to recover toward the end of the 20th Century, US wood producers were more ready to supply their own market. BC wood became vulnerable to discriminatory export tariffs or taxes.  The administered prices for timber allocated to forest corporations was open to criticisms of government subsidy.

The improvident mowing of the best virgin timber led to problems on the BC Coast as the corporate forest industry started to tackle the left-overs. Less accessible timber higher on the mountain was less valuable and more costly to harvest and transport. In the interior Lodge pole pine was regarded as the left-over species and avoided in favor of spruce and other species. Huge areas of pine became old and susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack. A super outbreak of mountain pine beetles, much larger than a natural outbreak wasted tens of billions of dollars worth of timber and left many forest dependent communities with an uncertain future. This waste of public resources and value by the Government and forest corporations was much greater than any financial scandal in BC's history. There have been major public outcry over waste of a few million dollars, but the epidemic has gone under the public's radar. The public got sold the story that the beetles survive better in mild winters and were pointed to climate change. However, this skillful propaganda was only part of the story. The public bought the simple, easy to understand, wrong answer to a complex problem. Governments and corporations are masters at public relations. They did a good job of selling not quite the whole truth.

The central theme of BC's forest policy for over 60 years has been to enable forest corporations to rip the best timber out of BC's public forests. The forest industry, the public forests, and forest dependent communities are now suffering as a result of this improvident stewardship.  There is a lack of interest from BC's mainly urban public in the management of our public forests. The problems of the forest sector are likely to be solved by more and greater enabling of forest corporations. This sounds like a Wall Street bailout where improvident bankers were rewarded by bailouts and bonuses. In the case of BC's public forests it will likely mean strengthened tenure in Public forests by forest corporations. Long term leases will be a convenient ruse for politicians and forest corporations to effect the final stages of stealth privatization of our forests. This arrangement will enable them to claim that our forests are still public as they are handed over to private forest corporations. It is time that the residents of BC said no to this " Rip off to own" scheme that the BC Government and forest corporations have been working on for over 60 years.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Rethinking forestry on the BC Coast

A prefabricated timber frame kit made with quality wood grown on the BC coast

The forest industry on the BC coast has been experiencing problems for about 20 years.  While there have been ups and downs in the economy, the underlying problem is in the woods. The industry was the main driver of the BC economy when it was harvesting high volume stands of virgin timber. Troubles surfaced when there was a transition to harvesting second growth and the least desirable virgin forest stands.

Most of the timber harvest on the BC coast is mountain logging requiring the use of cable yarding machines to move logs to the road. Road construction and log handling is more expensive than on gentle terrain. High volumes of timber in virgin stands enabled costs to be covered. Although second growth stands have grown rapidly and productively, there is less timber volume per unit area of harvest and this tends to drive costs upward. Actual harvests have been less than allowable harvests because it is too costly to harvest some areas.

Forest management in BC is centralized and fragmented.  The rapid harvest of virgin timber was based on the calculations of foresters in penthouse offices of forest corporations in Vancouver and BC Government offices in Victoria. The statistics supported the rapid harvest of virgin timber since the second growth would grow rapidly to provide replacement harvest in future. The calculations were generally correct, but the specialist foresters that worked with the timber volume figures did not look farther than projected timber volumes. The value of the timber volume and the feasibility and costs of harvest were not considered.

A more provident approach would have been a less rapid schedule for replacing virgin old growth with second growth. This would have provided a longer and more manageable period of transition. The first of the second growth harvested would have been older with greater volume per unit area. This would have reduced unit costs of harvesting second growth and the timber would have been more valuable and suitable for a wider range of uses and markets.

 Present difficult circumstances are pointing toward increasing the length of rotation (time between successive harvests).  45 million cubic meters of timber have been left unharvested since 2005. This means that considerable areas of coastal forests will be left to grow older and more valuable. However, this value can only be realized if there is a more diversified wood products manufacturing industry on the BC coast.  Log exports are another potential solution for some of the unharvested volume. It could provide some  jobs and cash at present. Log exports should be seen as a symptom of our problem. If someone can transport BC logs across the Pacific Ocean at a time of high fuel costs and manufacture them at a profit, they may have the benefit of lower labour costs but they are most likely extracting higher value from more diversified wood products. To gain the benefit of coastal wood, we need to diversify our wood product manufacture to achieve greater value. Growing larger timber of higher quality fits the terrain and forest circumstances of the BC coast. It makes a better economic and ecological fit than the present commodity wood products focus.

Public forests were intended to result in diversified wood product manufacturing industries because public wood could be purchased by a variety of entrepreneurs. In BC, this benefit of public forests was lost when most of the wood was allocated to an oligopoly of a few commodity producing forest companies. The path to diversity of manufacture of coastal timber remains blocked by these arrangements. A sustainable future means that we have to change our arrangements for managing and selling wood from our public forests.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Clear cutting

Be wary if something is called scientific. Forty or fifty years ago progressive clear cutting of forests on the BC coast was called scientific. The old growth virgin forests were called decadent and these were to be replaced by new young forests that would grow quickly. The future is now here and the photo shows a young forest being harvested on the BC coast.

There is more to this photo than first meets the eye. It is a story of how the dots were not quite connected on the scientific forestry idea of forty to fifty years ago. The idea gave rise to the rapid liquidation of virgin coastal forests. A scientific logging binge one might say! Forty years ago some foresters that worked for these coastal forest companies were thinking about connecting the dots and were discussing the inevitable future. These foresters wondered about the wisdom of harvesting the best most accessible timber first and what would happen when the time of transition arrived. The transition would be a time of dealing with the least accessible and valuable virgin timber and dealing with the harvest and manufacturing of  logs that were much smaller in diameter.

Since the liquidation of the virgin forests occurred rapidly the transition is rapid and difficult. The heavy log loader is capable of loading very large logs. Instead it is employed in placing small second growth logs on the truck. Most of the BC coast is mountainous and logging is mountain logging. It is more costly than logging on the plain and the costs of harvesting on the BC coast are high. A stand of young second growth has much less total volume of timber compared with a stand of old growth. This fact tends to increase the cost of logging a unit of volume of second growth. Present harvesting of second growth targets the most accessible timber to help reduce harvesting and hauling costs.

The foresters that saw this coming forty years ago were cogs in the wheel of a machine. They had specialized tasks in forest engineering or silviculture. The drivers of the machine were far away in centralized locations of Victoria and Vancouver. The BC Government and its partners, an oligopoly of a few forest corporations given timber allocations at non market administered prices were on a roll to convert virgin forests to quick dollars.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


In the last blog, it was noted that silviculture in BC seldom extends beyond regeneration after harvest. The forest stand in the photo was planted in 1960 and it was spaced in 1980. The stand now has fewer larger trees and it is more resistant to winds. Stand tending has benefits
This stand is on the west coast of Vancouver Island.  There quite a few alternatives for the future of this stand. In most parts of the world, growth in a stand of conifers will decline when an age of 70 to 100 years is reached.  It is usually better to harvest and establish a new stand.
On the west coast of BC, nature grew some of the largest conifers in the world. Stands of conifers can put on good growth for 200 years. Later growth is quality growth of clear knot free wood. Stands can be thinned to provide timber before the final harvest. Nature on the west coast of BC was into the business of long rotations, so there may be some wisdom in terms of security of wood supply in following what nature was doing.
Unfortunately BC does not have a diversity of wood products manufacturers. The higher quality wood from longer rotations needs value added manufacturers to realize its full value.  Most of BC's timber from its public forests has been allocated to an oligopoly of commodity wood products manufacturers. Our wood utilization plants are set up to handle volume rather than value.
The stand in the photo is situated near a paved highway and it will be attractive in terms of low truck hauling costs. It is likely to be harvested in the near future to feed construction lumber mills or pulp mills. The Coast of BC presents challenges bay way of terrain that adds costs to competitive industrial commodity timber production. Longer rotations aimed at growing wood value rather than just wood volume may be a smarter option for the management of coastal forests. Unfortunately we are so locked into industrial commodity timber supply that we cannot stop to consider alternatives.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sustainability or Exploitation?

The forest is growing back after harvesting, so everything is OK.  This simple idea has made industrial forest management acceptable in British Columbia. It enables the label "sustainable" to be attached to industrial timber production. The virgin coastal rain forest in the valley where the photograph was taken has been exploited by clear cutting most of the entire forest in the last 35 years. Most of the valley has reforested by natural regeneration and has saved the cost of tree planting. Vigorous stand of young trees have replaced the virgin forest.

Some forest areas in BC give challenges to regeneration and occasionally the subject of " Not Satisfactorily Restocked" areas surfaces in the media and gains a bit of interest. If the forest is not growing back there is a problem that is readily obvious.  There is a problem with with the natural regeneration in the photograph. The natural regeneration has been so successful that there are too many trees. Young forests with this problem can be spaced or thinned to allow for better growth of the remaining trees. Thinning, spacing or stand tending is not the norm in BC's forests. Once in a while, some special program of limited duration will give some funds for a limited amount of stand tending. The BC Government as trustee of BC's public forests has often used forest revenues for other purposes.

Natural competition within a dense stand will eventually see some of the less vigorous trees die out and natural thinning does take place. However, it usually takes longer to get large merchantable trees if the forest is not helped along with some spacing or thinning. The valley in the photograph is exposed to Pacific storms and winds.  Trees with a height diameter ratio of 60 (a 60 foot high tree that is 1 foot in diameter near the bottom)  are susceptible to wind throw and considerable economic loss.  The trees in the photograph are on track to be susceptible to wind throw.  The previous virgin forest trees were better shaped to withstand the wind.

Human beings are not very good at thinking or planning for the future. Forest management is an endeavor that requires thinking for the future. The public relations perspective of the BC Government and forest industry would interpret the above photo as sustainable forest management.  It may be forest  exploitation with tree planting to give a good facade for the present and problems for the future.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Healthy Forests Healthy Communities Initiative

The Healthy Forests Healthy Communities initiative is continuing to hold community dialogue sessions in communities throughout BC. Visit the site to find the date of the meeting in your community. It is a civil society effort manned by volunteers with the initial intent of bringing forestry issues into debates surrounding a BC Provincial election that was expected for Fall 2011. BC voters rejected the Harmonized Sales Tax in a recent referendum and an election is no longer expected for Fall 2011. The initiative is to be commended for organizing a civil society volunteer group that can give the public an independent view.

Frustrated foresters and other resource professionals who know that BC can do a better job of its forest resource stewardship are a strong force within the movement. Many are passionate about proposed improvements to the legal and institutional framework for managing BC's public forests. The central thrust of community dialogue sessions is a vision toward some form of devolution of control of BC's public forests from central control by government and its forest company partners to local communities.

Most foresters and resource professionals have the correct idea about Government that it is there to represent the people and will act on their behalf, especially in the case of public forests. Under this ideal view of things, the initiative just needs to summarize community and professional input for the political decision makers to make changes and act on behalf of the people.

Unfortunately the Government of BC is not there to represent the people as trustee of our huge area of Crown or public forests. BC Government administrations have given tenure to the public forests in the form of harvesting rights to a relatively small group of forest companies. The BC forest sector is a government created oligopoly that gets its wood supply through administered prices. The Government has been handing more and more forest management responsibilities to forest companies. BC's forests have been under a scheme of stealth privatization for decades. This whole arrangement worked well for the government and forest industry for many decades as it gorged itself on the best virgin coniferous forests in the world.

The existing system has been in crisis for a number of years and change is needed. Both government and forestry companies are locked into the existing system and unable to make effective changes. In circumstances such as these, citizens movements arise to fill the gap and create change. The movement to abolish slavery was the first modern movement of this type.

 Bill Moyer, not to be confused with TV journalist Bill Moyers, has studied the mechanics of social movements and has provided guidelines for developing a successful social movement. Organizers of the Healthy Forests Healthy Forests initiative should Google: Bill Moyer Social Movements for ideas to plan the future of their movement.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Locals try to stop development on land previously dedicated to forestry

Locals are trying to stop residential development near the Juan de Fuca marine trail on the West coast of Vancouver Island near Victoria. (Click on title to see map) A public meeting organised by the Capital Regional District had to be extended to three days to accommodate presentations that were overwhelmingly against the development.

The private land in question was once owned by a forest company. It was dedicated to forestry purposes as part of a Tree farm Licence. After World War II, forest companies could get Tree Farm Licences if they offered some private land to gain harvesting rights to a much larger area of public forest land. Both the private and public forest land was dedicated to sustainable forest management in perpetuity.

In recent years, the BC Government allowed forest companies to withdraw their private lands from Tree Farm Licence agreements. The private land along the Juan de Fuca trail were once part of a Tree Farm Licence agreement. After the land was withdrawn by the forest company, it was sold to a developer. The problem was downloaded to a regional district. Public resistance is now blocking development.

The BC Government is now being called to buy back the private lands to solve the problem. The BC Government under the original terms of the Tree farm Licence agreement, had the right to ensure that the private lands would be dedicated to forestry purposes rather than development. Now the Government will have to use taxpayer dollars.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Biodiversity green-wash blown

The large trees blown down onto this road was one of several small patches of old growth left in a harvest area on the BC coast. The patch was left to provide an island of old growth intended to aid biodiversity.

Forest management requires thinking and planning for the long term. Unfortunately in BC, centralized management of public forests by the BC Government and an oligopoly of a few forest corporations operates in the short term. In the 1990's, centralized forest management was influenced by a blip of politically correct environmental righteousness that manifested itself in a forest practices code with lots of guidebooks and regulations. Biologists with limited forestry training were in the ascendancy within government bureaucracies propelled along by an emerging current of biodiversity awareness. The government and companies wanted to look like they were responding. Clear cut harvesting was getting bad press. The politically correct green wash that emerged was variable retention silvicultural systems and leaving patches of old growth to protect biodiversity. It all sounded sophisticated when it emerged from government and corporate public relations machines. On the ground it was really clear cutting with a few patches or bits and pieces left so that it could be called something else.

In a space of a few years, the patch of green wash in the photo was blown over. Although the timber is valuable, the cost of reactivating the road has made recovery uneconomic. The harvest area is in a valley that has been heavily clear cut in the last 30 years and it takes storm winds from the Pacific Ocean. Single old growth trees or small patches of groups of trees that are well over 100 feet high stand little chance of remaining upright in the face of winds. This patch of trees was left on a projecting nose of topography rather than in a depression in the terrain. The location aided its demise.

The era of the forest practices code was hailed as some complete turn around in forest stewardship in BC. The legacy of this era of supposed great improvement is a few wind thrown or wind damaged patches of old growth that are mostly leveled. Most of the surrounding landscape has also been leveled of old growth in the past 30 years. A sea of young second growth has replace the old forest in a short time.

Could this landscape have been planned and managed to maintain forest cover more similar to indigenous forest structure to maintain biodiversity? Yes, it could have been done but harvesting of the valley would have been over a much longer time frame exceeding 100 years rather than 30 to forty. Also considerable long term planning and thought would have been required in the design of harvest areas, silvicultural systems and permanent planned road network to do the job without suffering excessive wind damage. Under BC's system of short term forest development planning, sophisticated forest design and stewardship is impossible. Short term planning now dressed up under the name of forest stewardship planning.

Healthy Forests Healthy Communities

The Healthy Forests Healthy Communities initiative has already got feedback from some BC communities. Click on the title and check the website for dates of community dialogue sessions scheduled for the fall. Communities are giving a similar message. They are concerned about the management of local forest landscapes and want more control over their management.

The BC Government and forest corporations are likely to respond with some more community involvement within the present centralized management framework. Communities should not be duped and should realize that it is the present centralized forest management framework of the government and corporations that is the problem. The solution is not another facade of public involvement but some new devolved institutions that put communities in control of forest stewardship.

BC needs a new legal and institutional framework for sustainable forest management to replace the present poor arrangements that have already put our public forests on the track of enclosure into the private interest. We need two new building blocks.

Local Forest Trusts are the primary building block of a new framework. A local forest trust would manage an large area of forest landscape of sufficient size to provide for economic operation. It would have a board elected on a ward system from local communities and rural areas. A professional forest management staff would manage the forest to a charter or trust agreements that require management in accord with the Montreal Process standards. This means that the forest would be managed for timber, non timber and nature based economic and recreational benefits. Timber would be sold on an open market and the local forest trust would operate like a business. There would be no delegation of forest management responsibilities for anything larger than a family woodlot.

A Forest Trust Assembly is the companion institution that would exercise the Provincial interest by auditing and supporting local forest trusts and providing a court of appeal. It would be governed by an equal number of elected delegates and professional forest management delegates from local forest trusts. New forest policies developed by the Forest Trust Assembly would go back to local forest trusts for ratification.

These new institutions are democratic and will open up public timber to a more diverse spectrum of wood manufacturers. Open markets for timber will reduce BC's vulnerability to discriminatory wood export tariffs and taxes. They also enable First Nations to have local forest trusts or be represented by ward system on local forest trusts.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Following the tracks: Trails in Parks or Protected Areas

British Columbia has approximately 13% of its area protected in parks. Most parks are forested. Some of the largest episodes of civil disobedience in Canada have centered around the use of forests in BC and the effort of the environmental movement to save forests in parks. Public perceptions about stewardship of forests have been polarized and distorted. Once a forest has been "saved" as a protected area, the battle has been won and we think that nature will look after everything with little stewardship effort or expenditure on our part. Since we have saved a considerable area of forest in parks, the timber producing forests are damned and even the environmental movement has been almost silent on the need to improve forest stewardship on these lands.

In the polarized disputes over forest land use, the environmental movement strives for the moral high ground on the green side while the forest sector does the same on the economic side. The truth is that our stewardship of all forests including parks could be better. The gap is filled with more than a little hypocrisy. Through the public relations efforts of both government and forest corporations we convince ourselves that we are giving good stewardship to our timber producing forests. Since we have already got a bit of a halo for the large area of BC that we have protected in parks we are even more ready to be convinced that our stewardship of protected areas is top notch.

If you go to a Provincial Park you can easily be convinced. This year we are celebrating the centennial of the start of BC's park system. The warm glow will continue as you approach the park by road because it usually will have nice signs and a parking lot that is attractive. The first stretch of trail may exhibit excellent maintenance. If you are fortunate enough not to be impeded by the modern malady of excess body weight and are given to walk a couple of kilometers into the park, trail quality and maintenance can deteriorate rather quickly. Trails in parks seldom have ditches and cross drainage. The location of a sustainable trail requires more reconnaissance and fitting to the landscape than a road. The location of some park trails is poor and maintenance is non existent is some cases.

Public funding for our parks is being reduced rather than increased. Stewardship is accomplished by a few BC Government Parks bureaucrats who oversee contracts to a few private parks facility operators. Beyond keeping up appearances near the parking lot, stewardship is at a derelict level. Most jurisdictions with parks in North America have some minimum standards for trails in protected areas. These standards encompass the location and grade of the trail, quality and safety of the tread or surface of the path. The purpose of a park or protected area is to conserve natural conditions and biodiversity and a trail is human built structure that involves removal of a small area of the natural condition. The best solution to this conundrum is to have some quality forest engineering in the location and construction of the trail. A good trail is less likely to erode and cause greater loss of productive area. Preparation of a safe walking surface or tread on the trail by following the four by four rule which means trying to keep rocks larger than four inches out of the top four inches of the trail surface material. This will reduce tripping and falling by 90% and users stay on the trail path rather than widen the trail when trying to negotiate tripping hazards.

Cash strapped BC Parks bureaucrats have managed to develop a simple, easy to understand, wrong trail classification to reduce the angst of their inability to maintain stable safe trails. The minimum standard of trail is "back country trail classification". It seems to be the daydream of some ecologist with little forest engineering or trail experience and the idea that the back country trail is something barely constructed that lightly winds its way across the landscape. On the ground, it comes to reality as a poorly located trail that is prone to erosion. Low effort and standards of construction usually see light fine materials being cast to the side, leaving projecting tripping hazards in the path. As foot traffic negotiates these obstacles, the trail widens and removes additional natural area from the park. Reconstruction of these trails to bring them to a safe standard poses problems because valuable fine soil materials have been lost.

The photo above is a trail in a BC Park classified as a back country trail. Unlike many trails of this type this trail is in excellent condition. It has a walking surface or tread of sorted sandy gravel material with no projecting rock tripping hazards. Lush vegetation comes right up to the edge of the trail and there is minimal impingement on the natural conditions. It is an approach to a small bridge culvert over an area prone to flooding. The trail is raised above the ground surface and contained on both sides by a row of rocks, a trail technique sometimes known as a turnpike.

The trail in the photo and the bridge culvert was reconstructed by two volunteers two days before the photo was taken. They have volunteer agreements with BC Parks and fill a needed stewardship gap. The existing rotten and unsafe wooden bridge culvert at the site was replaced by a more permanent structure supplied out of the pockets of the volunteers.

If you are a BC resident, most of BC's forests are your forests. If we we took more interest in our forests and got involved in the stewardship, we could raise the standard. Communities also should take more interest in the stewardship of their surrounding landscapes. We could do much better at stewardship of our timber producing forests and parks. Get involved, its your economy,your environment and your freedom to roam and enjoy.

Following the tracks: Trails in harvest blocks

Beyond the forest road there may be trails made by logging equipment in the harvest area. Heavy cable harvesting or yarding machines are used to harvest large logs on the steep terrain of coastal BC. The trails into the harvest area are cable ways, so minimal disturbance of the soil occurs during harvesting. Logs are completely or partially elevated as they are moved by cable. Some slight soil scarification may occur, but it is usually beneficial for regenerating the next trees.

While cable logging is preferable to reduce soil disturbance, it is more costly. The machine in the photo has a high capital cost. Considerable effort is required to set up the machine before harvesting can commence. Guy lines have to anchor the machine and a loop of logging cables has to go around large pulley blocks at the distant edge of the harvest area.

In areas of BC with smaller timber and less challenging terrain, wheeled or tracked logging equipment traverses the harvest area to drag or carry logs to the road. Minor roads or skid trails are constructed within harvest areas for the equipment. Considerable soil disturbance and erosion can be caused particularly in the case of poorly planned skid trails on steep slopes. Soil disturbance can be reduce by better planning of trails, deactivating trails. Snow or frozen conditions may help to reduce soil disturbance on certain sites.

Logging machines of all types are heavy and powerful. While most equipment operators are skilled in manipulating their machines, BC has made little or no attempt to institute some form of trades certification and training. Training courses in soil and environmental conditions and in planning the harvest of an area would make operators more able to work with minimal impact on the environment.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Following the tracks: 3. Logging or spur roads

Logging or spur roads provide access to the harvest block for logging or stand tending. This road was constructed after the introduction of forest practice standards in the 1990's. Water bars were installed when the road was deactivated after logging to reduce erosion. Although water bars were installed to divert storm water flow off the road, there is substantial erosion of the road surface. Water bars could be considered a successful treatment because the foot deep erosion could otherwise have been three to six feet deep.

Deactivation of logging roads by installing water bars is a technical symptomatic fix for a larger systemic problem. This human sign at the start of a logging or spur road bears witness to a problem of deteriorating logging roads in BC.

This sign had been in place for a few years and it was no longer possible to drive on the road. BC has tens of thousands of kilometers of deteriorating forest roads. This means that there is considerable loss of access infrastructure for the sustainable management of forests. Decaying forest roads can cause erosion or landslides and negative effects on water quality and fish. The source of the problem is not in the technical ability to locate, construct or maintain forest roads. Rather it is a systemic problem that has its origins in the tenure system of timber harvesting rights. To secure access to timber allocations forest companies submit plans for road construction and harvesting for a short term planning horizon of approximately 5 years. Once regeneration is established, the obligations of the forest company in the harvest area have been fulfilled. The result is thousands of kilometers of forest road that receive little or no maintenance. The bureaucratic term is the euphemistic "non status road" meaning no one is responsible for its stewardship. The planning of harvest blocks on a short term basis is not conducive to systematic road developments comprising main forest roads, branch or feeder roads that connect to many blocks. It is not uncommon to find a pattern of forest road development comprising a main forest road with a series of logging roads that punch uphill with little or no branch roads. Roads developed in this manner are usually steeper than in a system of branch roads connecting to logging roads. Steep roads are prone to erosion and decay.

Although BC claims to be practicing sustainable forest management, its legal and institutional framework of harvesting rights enables forest companies to reduce their stewardship responsibilities to zero after harvested areas are regenerated. The end result is a decaying forest access infrastructure.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Following the tracks: 2. Branch Roads

There are three types of road that you should find in a forest landscape. We have looked at main forest roads. Next there are branch roads that leave the main road to provide a secondary artery to a tributary valley or to service one side of the valley. Branch roads are sometimes called collector or feeder roads. They provide access to logging or spur roads that provide access for harvesting and tending.

A good system of branch roads in the landscape indicates planning for the future. A planned forest road network in the landscape will have less roads in total and less steep roads than a network that just develops over time. Forest road networks that just develop as the next area is harvested tend to be haphazard. There is usually too much road and more steep roads than necessary. Systematic forest road networks are more sustainable because they are less costly to maintain and do less damage to the environment.

The branch road in the photo above is an example of a well located stable branch road. The road was located probably over 40 years ago on a high rainfall area of the BC coast. It has recently been reopened by brushing the vegetation on the road sides. The original surface, road drainage are all in good condition and the road has been returned to service at minimal cost. It is a sustainable road with relatively gentle gradients. The road was located by a forester or forest engineer in the days before the environmental awakening brought environmental protection regulations and forest practice codes. Although the road was not deactivated with protective water bars, it remained stable for decades.

The forester or forest engineer that located the road overcame a major terrain challenge. The road is a branch road that gains entry to a hanging valley that meets the main valley at a higher elevation. Hanging valleys are a common feature in BC's glaciated mountainous terrain. A common error in road location to hanging valleys is to attempt to gain entry with locations that are too steep. He found a location that fitted the landscape, provided a gentle gradient and has proved to be stable and sustainable. Part of the location went through an area of timber that would have been considered undesirable 40 years ago. The area was not harvested until recently. He did a good job and probably took considerable criticism from his logging managers of that era, for locating a length of road through an area that would not be harvested.

This branch road is newly constructed. The terrain challenges are similar to those in the first picture, but this road is steep with the gradient reaching at least 18% as the road turns at a switchback. Imagine being the driver of a logging truck who has to negotiate this switchback with tens of thousands of kilos of logs behind him. Today's standards will be followed and this road will be deactivated by installing water bars. However, there will remain a considerable likelihood of erosion. This road built after a period of imposed standards and regulations is much less sustainable than the first road. The motivation in the case of the road the first picture came from the forester or forest engineer and the road was placed on a sustainable location on the landscape.

Conclusion Branch roads are a key part of systematic forest road networks. The presence of well located, stable branch roads is an indicator of sustainable management and thought for the future.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Following the tracks: 1. Main Forest Roads

If you want to find out about wildlife you can follow their tracks to learn more about their habits. About 20 years ago, I accompanied a wildlife biologist on the track of a Grizzly Bear on the steep slope above a coastal inlet or fiord. We went on a series of circular loops on the steep slopes for most of the morning. These circular loops escaped the attention of the bear biologist since he was focused on details such as the contents of bear droppings. We thought that we were observing a bear, but the bears movements indicate that he was making the loops to observe us.

In this series of blogs we will track humans and their activities in BC's public forests and try to make some sense of the behavior. The hoof tracks in our case are wheel tracks and we build forest roads for our mechanical transportation devices. If we head for the forest, up a main valley we find that the people in BC's forests know how to build a good main forest road. The road will have good alignment, 2 lanes adequate ditches and drainage and a gravel surface. Main forest roads are the transportation arteries in the forest and a good road reduces log transportation costs in the long term.

If you drive on a main forest road be prepared to meet a logging truck.

Remember that the logging truck has you outnumbered in terms of momentum by 50 to 100 times and drive defensively.

Expect one at every corner, realize that the gravel surface is not like a paved road. The gravel may be loose in dry summer conditions and dust from traffic movement can obscure vision. Slow down and pull over and give the truck the road. A truck may have some extra long logs that can sweep another vehicle on the outside of a curve off the road.

Efficient transportation is the motive behind good quality main forest roads in BC. The BC Forest Service built some main forest roads in the 1950's and 1960's. Forest companies have also built many main forest roads to a high standard.

While the public will react to clear cutting as man's foot print in the forest, the heaviest footprint is the forest roads. Harvesting once in 80 to 120 years is a relatively temporary and low intensity act of cultivation on the land. Road building is a higher intensity impact. On a well built forest road, this impact is limited to the loss of a small percentage of productive forest area. However, a forest road that is poorly located built and maintained can cause considerable soil loss through erosion or landslide. The eroded soil usually ends up in streams and rivers causing damage and reduced water quality and fish. Even a foot trail in a protected area or park can cause long term erosion or stability problems.

Conclusion We know how to locate and build good quality forest roads in BC. Main or arterial forest roads meet a high standard because we are motivated to reduce transportation costs.

The next blog will follow the tracks off the main forest road

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Saving British Columbia from theft

"Enclosure" is a word that probably brings to mind an attachment in an Email message. Enclosure of common or public land into private ownership is probably not something we would think about.
Professor Cosmo Innes (1798-1874), a Professor of Constitutional Law and History explained the enclosure of common lands in Scotland:

“Looking over our country, the land held in common was of vast extent. In truth, the arable - the cultivated land of Scotland, the land early appropriated and held by charter - is a narrow strip on the river bank or beside the sea. The inland, the upland, the moor, the mountain were really not occupied at all for agricultural purposes, or served only to keep the poor and their cattle from starving. They were not thought of when charters were made and lands feudalised. Now as cultivation increased, the tendency in the agricultural mind was to occupy these wide commons, and our lawyers lent themselves to appropriate the poor man’s grazing to the neighbouring baron. They pointed to his charter with its clause of parts and pertinents, with its general clause of mosses and moors - clauses taken from the style book, not with any reference to the territory conveyed in that charter; and although the charter was hundreds of years old, and the lord had never possessed any of the common, when it cam to be divided, the lord got the whole that was allocated to the estate, and the poor cottar none. The poor had no lawyers."

The public forests of BC are technically Crown forests owned by the Province of British Columbia. Are these forests safe from land enclosure? Surely land enclosure could never happen in BC. Unfortunately BC already has a history of land enclosure. Dunsmuir,a coal baron managed to get approximately 1 million hectares of the best forest land on Vancouver Island. Robber barons are gone, but they have been replaced by corporations. These corporations can be international in scope and have financial and legal resources that much exceed those of the robber barons. Their collective power has been sufficient to influence the taxation policies of most major countries.

Given that most of the forests of BC are Crown or publicly owned, one might expect that the central piece of forest law would be focused on the stewardship and management of the forest to ensure community and forest industry sustainability. The Forest Act focuses on rights to timber in public forests. Most of these rights are held by a few corporations. These rights have been in place for many decades and should be viewed as the first step toward enclosure of our public forests into the private interest. The public management agency, the Forest Service, will be 100 years old next year and it is a failed public institution. The Forest Service was originally intended to be the independent professional forest management agency. It never fulfilled this role. Instead, forest management responsibilities were handed over to forest corporations. A change in name from the Forest Service to Ministry of Forests enabled the forest management agency to be viewed as just another government regulatory agency that gets in the way of business. It has been downsized to set the stage for greater private involvement. Perhaps the greatest problem is that we lack the interest or ingenuity to change course. Most of British Columbia does not have to fall into the hands of a few corporations.

We should not be afraid that some major changes to our arrangements for managing our forests will have negative economic consequences. We need major change to solve the poor economic outcomes that we are experiencing with the existing system of management by centralized government and their corporate partners. Allocation of most of BC's public timber to commodity wood products manufacturers under administered prices has reduced value added wood products diversification and made our exports vulnerable to discriminatory taxes and tariffs. Improvident forest management involving the stripping of the best timber on the coast of BC, and leaving lodge pole pine in the interior of BC to get old and susceptible to mountain pine attack will have negative economic consequences valued at over $100 Billion. We need changes to the arrangements for forest stewardship to prevent losses and improve the BC economy.

Can we trust the Government of British Columbia to ensure that our public forests are not handed over to corporate interests? Unfortunately, BC Governments of differing ideological persuasions have for over 60 years been conveying the wealth of the public forests to forest corporations. Instead of acting for the people of BC, governments have been acting to benefit corporate interests. We can look forward to long term lease tenures of public forests for industrial wood production as a prelude to outright privatization.

The Government of BC needs to hear from the people of BC, from forest dependent communities. One hundred years from now, a history book should not record that the people of BC gave up the freedom of millions of hectares of forest and wilderness, the opportunity to develop a strong vibrant diversified forest economy and the ability to ensure a quality environment without a whimper. The people of BC need new democratic institutions institutions that connect them to their forests. This will insure that they will not be taken away by well disguised fraud conceived by government and corporate lawyers.

The Crown forest of BC are owned by the Province of BC. In democratic Canada, this should mean that the Government of BC should act as the trustee of the forest in the long term interests of the people. Unfortunately the BC Government seems to have acted like a pre-democratic monarch by handing out the spoils of the forests to the modern feudal baron, the corporation. We do not need a repeat of the land enclosure story of Professor Innes here in Canada in the 21st Century.

We need some new institutions that ensure direct public accountability over the stewardship of our forests. There is first a need for local accountability. The local forest landscape provides local forest dependent communities with timber, water supply, non timber forest products as well as recreational and nature based economic activities. There needs to be local accountable forest managers. There is also a need for wider provincial accountability. Since a majority of BC's population is resident in major cities, there needs to be some provincial institution that helps to support a vibrant provincial forest economy and ensure that forest stewardship includes a strong component of environmental protection in the public interest.

The Local Forest Trust should be the primary building block for the new democratic forest stewardship institutions. The local trust would involve a large area of forest of sufficient size to permit economic operation. It would operate under trust agreements or a charter built on the Montreal Process, an international scientific sustainable forest management and conservation agreement. The local forest trust would have professional forest management staff accountable to a board elected by a ward system from local communities and rural areas in the vicinity. The local trust would manage the forest and timber would be sold on the open market. Delegation of forest management responsibilities to corporations would not be permitted.

A Forest Trust Assembly could form the institution with Provincial scope. The forest trust assembly would be governed by an equal number of elected board and professional forest manager delegates from local forest trusts. The Assembly would audit local forest trusts and handle extension and fire protection services and act as a court of appeal for the public. Any major policy changes from the Assembly should be ratified by local forest trusts.

The new institutions comprising the building block of the local forest trust and a provincial forest trust assembly will put BC's Crown or public forests in the hands of the people and insure that they will not be stolen by the devices of the central BC Government and their corporate feudal partners.

The new institutions also provide a fair mechanism of resolving aboriginal rights. Instead of offering piecemeal settlements of chunks of public forests that are too small for economic operations and will fall to predation by forest corporations,the new institutions will protect customary rights on all forests and First Nations will be able to have local forest trusts