Friday, January 21, 2011

The Freedom of the Forest

We do not fully appreciate freedom until we lose it. We enjoy special freedoms in British Columbia. BC is defined by its forests and the public owns 95% of them. This gives us freedom of access to a huge area of forest and wilderness. Although 13% of B C is protected area or parks, there is an even greater area of wilderness within landscapes that also support forest operations. We have the freedom to enjoy our forests and wide open spaces.
Public ownership of forests is an institution intended to ensure good forest stewardship. Good forest stewardship supplies a society with important freedoms. Freedom from economic hardship results from wisely managed forests. Public forests were intended to encourage freedom of enterprise in wood manufacture. Good forest stewardship gives us clean water, fish, wildlife, intact biodiversity, healthy forests, carbon fixing, and aesthetic forest landscapes. City dwellers and folk in forest dependent communities benefit from these freedoms.
We surrendered some of these freedoms in the arrangements we made to manage public forests. At the end of the Second World War, we wanted economic development so we gave timber harvesting rights to forest corporations. This idea seemed to work well initially. High quality timber from our virgin forests supplied booming markets. Our arrangements for managing BC's public forests have been failing for about 40 years. Instead of developing new arrangements for an era of sustainable forest management, we keep trying to prop up the old ones. In the process, our public forests are being gradually conveyed to the private interest.
By the 1970's, industrial timber management in public forests was challenged by a generation that saw forests as more than just timber to be turned into dollars. Conflicts with the environmental movement developed into some of the largest incidents of civil disobedience in Canadian history. In the 1980's, US timber supplies were recovering from previous forest exploitation and US producers were seeking increased market share. BC's system of administered prices for public timber made our wood exports vulnerable to discriminatory tariffs and export taxes.
In the 1990's, a highly regulatory Forest Practices Code was introduced. While the intent was to improve environmental stewardship, forest codes of this nature prove to be too inflexible for practical implementation. The Forest Practices Code placed forest companies in a difficult position.
In 2004, the Forest Practices Code was replaced by the Forest and Range Practices Act. It had the good intention of replacing detailed regulations with reliance on skilled forest resource professionals. Unfortunately the implementation is seriously and fundamentally flawed. We have public forests to ensure independent professional forest management. The concept of "professional reliance" of the new act relies on professionals employed by forest corporations.
Further, forest professionals work within laws that enable forest corporations get short term access to public timber. Forest companies can choose the areas of timber they want to harvest and submit a plan to government. Short term plans provide a mechanism for the forest company or the logger to go into the public forest and take the best timber and leave the rest. On the coast of BC, forest companies gorged the best most accessible timber. By the 1990's the coastal forest industry ran into difficulties when it had to face the left over's. In the interior of BC, Lodge Pole Pine was the species that was left over. Huge areas of pine forests got old and susceptible to mountain pine beetle infestation. A mountain pine beetle epidemic, much larger than a natural event has affected over 13 million hectares of forest. The public relations efforts of government and forest industry have blamed this $100 Billion loss of timber on climate change. Short term piecemeal harvest plans remain under the public relations name of "Forest Stewardship Plans".
The downward slide of BC's forest industry and forest dependent communities can be traced back to a failure of the trustee, the Government of BC, to ensure independent professional management. Inviting forest corporations to share in the management of our forests was unwise. Unfortunately the present administration is trying to solve the problem by handing over greater management responsibilities to forest industry. Our forests will remain in nominal public ownership, but will be managed by forest corporations for their interests.
We do not need to accept the creeping privatization of our forests that has be underway for over 60 years and is intensifying. One promising alternative is a return to independent professional forest management under local forest trusts. These trusts would have an elected board and professional managers. The trust documents would require management of timber, non timber and nature based forest resources to sustainable forest management standards defined by the international Montreal Process. Auditing and support of local trusts at the Provincial level would be accomplished by a BC Forest Trust Assembly governed by delegates from local forest trusts. The trusts would operate on a business basis with logs being sold to an open market. First Nations could have local trusts within the system.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The State of British Columbia's Forests

The State of BC's Forest, the 2010 edition has been released by the Ministry of Forests, Mines and Lands. (Click on the title block to view the report).

The reports authors and contributors are to be commended on compiling the considerable information and statistics on BC's public forests contained in the report.

British Columbia owns most of its forests and has jurisdiction over them. The Montreal Process is an international forest sustainability assessment process intended to be applied to countries. It provides an independent scientific format that could be applied to BC. The State of the Forests report uses a different format but does reference the Montreal Process indicators. The State of the Forests Report is similar to other forest assessment and certification schemes in trying to draw credence from the international scientific standard. However,the comprehensive assessment of the Montreal Process is avoided in favor of producing a public relations facade.

The Montreal Process has a section devoted to the examination of the legal and institutional framework to determine if it supports sustainable forest management. Most of the problems with forest stewardship in BC originate in the forest management framework. Our State of the Forests report's examination under the heading of "Law" makes the bold assertion that "BC's forest law enables and supports sustainable forest management". This is little more than a public relations effort to make the public feel assured and secure. If we scratch below the surface of BC's legal and institutional framework using the Montreal Process a different conclusion emerges.

British Columbia does have a very strong foundation for good forest stewardship. We decided, one hundred years ago, to retain our forests in public ownership to ensure good stewardship that would result in sustainable forest communities and industry. We own the forest to ensure stewardship. Clarity of tenure is important. Our present legal and institutional framework undermines this foundation. We have a Forest Act that grants harvesting rights to forest companies. Harvesting rights are not a good arrangement to ensure good stewardship. The Ministry of Forests was intended to be the independent professional manager of our public forests. Instead, increasing forest management responsibilities have been handed over to forest corporations. There is little clarity of tenure. We are in a process of gradual enclosure of our public forests into the private interest. Management of forests by forest companies or timber interests is not conducive to the management of non timber forest products and nature based enterprises. Allocation of public timber on a non market basis to commodity producing forest corporations has restricted the diversity of wood manufacture in BC and made our forest products vulnerable to discriminatory trade tariffs and export taxes. We have a good foundation for sustainable forest management in our public forests but our laws have been undermining that foundation.

Page 54 of the report notes, "The current mountain pine beetle epidemic, enabled in part by climate change,increased rapidly after 1997 to peak at over 10 million hectares in 2007". The public is always served the climate change story and the account omits the other parts or factors involved in the story. The other major part of the story, always omitted, is that huge areas or lodgepole pine was allowed to grow old and susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack. The Ministry of Forests fought fires and saved lots of lodge pole pine. Meanwhile their forest industry partners in forest management were avoiding the harvest of pine. The partners in management of our public forests, central government and forest corporations prepared a huge area of mountain pine beetle habitat. No wonder the other part of the story is avoided. It cost us about $100 Billion in economic losses.

The Ministry of Forests,Mines and Lands State of the Forests report is a typical in house public relations production designed to create the impression that "all is well" with forest sustainability. The state of the forest industry, forest dependent communities indicates that all may not be well and some major improvement is needed.