Sunday, July 24, 2011

Biodiversity and species at risk

British Columbia has done a relatively good job of designating parks or protected areas. About 14% of BC is protected with fairly good representation of most ecosystems. There is an even greater area of poor forest and alpine environments that is likely to remain untouched by human development. Although BC has a considerable area of designated parks and an even larger area of defacto wilderness, BC's ability to sustain its biodiversity and species at risk is being questioned in the media.

International agreements and conservation organisations recognize parks or protected areas as a cornerstone in sustaining biodiversity and species at risk. However, they also promote stewardship of biodiversity in landscapes that are not protected areas. Forestry is a lower intensity use of land involving less drastic change and human control than agriculture. Forests can be managed with care and intention to sustain biodiversity and species at risk.

The legal and institutional arrangements for forest management on public lands in BC has resulted in a limited and polarized perspective that restricts our thinking to protected area solutions. Forest companies refer to species at risk or maintaining biodiversity as a "constraint". Mention of constraint usually is linked to more costly forest operations and a large dark grab bag of fears about the forest economy of BC going down the tube. No one asks the obvious question. "What is the the forest company being constrained from doing?" The forest company is constrained from doing short term industrial forest management. It involves the piecemeal planning of a few years of harvest in the public forest. The long term is addressed by the requirement to regenerate a new crop on the harvested areas. While forest planning in BC is dressed up with land use and higher level plans, the rubber hits the road with these inadequate short term development plans. These short term development plans have had a public relations upgrade in recent years and are called forest stewardship plans. However they remain a short term plan for a piecemeal part of a forest. A true forest stewardship plan would look at a whole landscape for the long term and craft specific measures to deal with biodiversity and species at risk.

Forest industry has managed to persuade our elected officials that they should not be constrained too much in the forest or it would be bad for our economy. Given the hegemony of the material interest of forest corporations over the forest, biological professionals and environmental groups propose solutions that would protect areas by taking them out of the hands of forest industry. In response, forest corporations have proposed working forest or commercial forest reserves that would protect area for industrial forest management.

The driving forces for our arrangements for forest stewardship and biodiversity are rooted in a human social,economic and political struggle. You do not want to be a species at risk on a planet whose top dog species is in conflict.

Forest ecosystems, biological diversity and species at risk are complex and are not amenable to the simple wrong answers that are produced in the politics of conflict. Forest management has to be constrained by the limits of the forest ecosystem or it fails. Industrial forest management in the interior of BC blindly ignored the natural limits of age in Lodge Pole pine. In fighting fires and failing to compensate by harvesting sufficient volume of the species, the forest sector allowed huge areas to get old and susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack. We avoided or ignored this natural constraint and lost probably $100 Billion worth of wood. If we had respected these constraints our economy would be better.

If we look at species at risk, we assume that it is always human activities that is pressuring these species. In BC, a considerable percentage of species of risk were always at risk in BC because they were at the edge of their range. Some of the key sites for these species were around Vancouver, Victoria and the Okanagan Valley. In Sweden and some other countries foresters design and implement detailed forest treatments to enhance habitats for species at risk. Usually the treatments are long term affairs involving thinning, species mixes, or non clear cutting silvicultural systems. They require local forest managers with an intimate knowledge of local conditions. BC has an industrial system of forest management restricted by centralized regulation with responsibilities for forest management and biological diversity fragmented between forest corporations and various government agencies. The fragmented management is usually distant from the local area and located in different centers.

In BC all our thinking on forest stewardship and protection of the environment is boxed in by our outdated arrangements for forest management in public forests. Economic, social, political arguments, both true and false, concerning the hegemony of forest corporations and central government over public forests drive stewardship arrangements. Our species at risk will remain at risk until we humans sort out our problems. These are our public forests and we should be looking toward a system that devolves control to local forest trusts with elected local boards and a local forest management staff. Sustaining biological diversity would be a requirement of the trust. Local professionals with independence from forest corporations will be better able to design detailed treatments follow through with the necessary long term maintenance

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Species at Risk Report

The British Columbia Task Force on Species at Risk issued their report on Jan 31, 2011. The main report seems to skirt the issue of stewardship of BC's public forests. However the Appendices to the report does mention the elephant in the room. (Click on title block to view)
Stealth privatization of our public forests is covered in the Appendices:

"3.4 Existing Tenures, Contractual Rights and Compensation

British Columbia is fortunate in that over 90% of the total land base is Crown land rather than private property. To many, this would seem to suggest that the provincial government would have a great deal of flexibility and leeway in making decisions about how this Crown land, and the attendant resources, will be used,including the potential to set aside species at risk habitat or change the current management regime to one that takes greater account of species at risk needs. But in reality this is not actually true. Or at least, it usually cannot be done without imposing some type of negative economic implications. This is because although the land base is owned by the Crown, successive governments for over a century have been making legal commitments to the land base resources as probably the most important component of the province’s overall economic development strategy.
These commitments have been made in, for example, logging, mining, guide outfitting,
agriculture, ranching, tourism, independent power production, recreation and trapping, and they are usually legally binding through contractual obligations. Some of these contracts may, in fact, be extremely long‐lasting tenures that remain in effect as long as the tenure holder maintains specific standards of use and stewardship. For example, some timber tenures under the Forest Act such as a tree farm licence (TFL), have an ‘evergreen’ clause that allows the tenure holder to renew the tenure before the end of its stated timeline. This ensures that there is continuity such that the TFL holder can justify significant long‐term investments in equipment, infrastructure and jobs.
These tenure and contractual commitments cannot simply be denied, taken away or changed unilaterally by the government because there is now evidence that the land and/or resource is required for a species at risk. Or at least under law, this cannot happen without some type of due process and usually some requirement to pay compensation. Yet British Columbia has no clearly articulated and broadly accepted process by which this can happen. Usually, each individual case develops its own ad hoc process as the situation warrants. This means that there is uncertainty for the Government, stake holders and species at risk."

Protecting species at risk is part of sustainable forest management according to the Montreal Process the international standard. This standard also puts considerable emphasis on the need for the legal and institutional infrastructure to support sustainable forest management. The report demonstrates the inadequacies of BC's arrangements. The report does not offer solutions to this central and major problem.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Canada Day and our public forests

We celebrate Canada on the first day of July. We talk of our freedoms and think of the geography of our vast country. We are defined by our geography.

One important and special aspect of freedom in Canada is our Crown or public lands and forests. We have the freedom to roam our wide open spaces for recreational purposes, and the timber, water, oil, gas and minerals from these lands are our main exports and driving force in our economy.

Our public lands and forests should be regarded as a trust for a sustainable future. We need to exercise good stewardship of these lands and forests. One generation should not take too much and pass on problems and additional costs to future generations. All Canadians rather than a few Canadians should share in the economic benefits that flow from public lands and forests. Institutions for the care and use of public lands and forests should promote social and economic justice.

Canada's great cities owe much of their wealth to the economic activity from public lands in the distant hinterlands of the country. Are aboriginal or resource communities as well endowed as our cities? Infrastructure, such as sidewalks, clean water or recreation centers are an expected part of life in our major cities. Resource dependent communities may lack some of these. Our politically correct idea of green encompasses filling the recycling bucket while we loose sight of the care and maintenance of our great green country.

Are we too ready to accept the wealth that comes from our public lands and forests without ensuring that there is adequate stewardship? Are we too ready to take the dollars and turn a blind eye? In the interior of BC, huge areas of green lodge pole pine forests changed colour and died owing to a massive mountain pine beetle epidemic. We readily accepted the official story that it was caused by mild winters that enabled the beetles to survive. Tens of billions of dollars worth of timber were lost and the economies of many forest dependent communities will be adversely affected for decades. The official story paints a picture of a natural disaster that was beyond our control.

The full story of the mountain pine beetle includes other factors. Lodge pole pine becomes susceptible of mountain pine beetle attack when it gets over 80 years old. The forest landscapes of interior BC became filled with lodge pole pine often much older than 80 years. It was a beetle storm waiting to happen. The old pine forests were created by our inadequate arrangements for managing public forests. Our public forest managers, the BC Government and an oligopoly of forest corporations were managing the forest with their eyes on dollars rather than the ecological health of the forest. Actions of both parties were uncoordinated. The Government spent your dollars fighting fires to save timber. Lodge pole pine is the major species in forest landscapes affected by fires. Forest companies avoided harvest of Lodge pole pine in favor of other more profitable species. The net result of these uncoordinated activities was huge areas of very old Lodge pole pine forests, susceptible to mountain beetle attack.

BC prides itself on the area of forest that has been certified under some sustainable forest management certification scheme. These schemes accept the legal and institutional framework that is in place without question. If a jurisdiction's legal requirements for forest management are just one step above exploitation the certification schemes will give forest management a passing grade. Sustainable forest management certification makes a nice story.

For the full story on sustainable forest management you have go to the international standard, the Montreal Process for the full assessment. It has criteria and indicators to assess the legal and institutional arrangements. Another tool in sustainable forest management is the adaptive management cycle. This means that you take a look back over time at forest management and the outcomes and adapt so you improve and avoid the same mistakes in the future.

Instead of dismissing the tens of billions of dollar losses of the beetle epidemic as a natural disaster, we should be examining our arrangements for forest management and making improvements. Our centralized forest management involving the BC Government and an oligopoly of forest corporations has had short term dollars as the primary consideration. We have many indicators that this industrial system of harvesting and replacing trees is not well attuned to the ecological health of local forest landscapes. This is not some nice environmental idea. If your management of a forest is out of sync with its natural processes you will loose out economically in the long term. The present mountain pine beetle epidemic is much larger than a natural event and is a major failure in forest management.

Our forest management arrangements contributed to the improvident stripping of the best timber on the BC Coast. The forest industry worked itself into a difficult spot. The non market administrative pricing of public timber allocated to an oligopoly of commodity wood products manufacturers restricted the diversification of our wood industries and made our exports vulnerable to export taxes or tariffs.

Our public lands and forests are in desperate need of good citizenship. We as citizens are the owners or shareholders of our forests. We need to take an interest in our forests and move beyond the assumption that Government and corporations are doing a good job for us. Their public relations efforts try to convince us that there is a superior level of stewardship. The media does not scrutinize and investigate these claims. If you are a citizen in a forest dependent community you probably see some indicators of decline in the local forest industry.

If you want better stewardship of your local forests, you have to ask for it. You have to ask for better arrangements for managing your local landscapes. If you leave it up to any BC Government administration, they will make changes that suit their forest management partners. Forest corporations are likely to get increased forest management responsibilities under long term leases. This will amount to the next step in a stealth privatization process that has already been underway in BC's public forests for 60 years. Will your grand children have the freedom to roam the forest and wild open spaces or will face a gate across every forest road?

Citizens and shareholders should ask for arrangements that ensure sustainable forest management and are accountable to the citizen shareholders both at the local and Provincial level. One of the most promising ways of revitalizing our institutions for forest management is through a system of local forest trusts and a provincial forest trust assembly.

The local forest trust would comprise an area of forest landscapes of sufficient size to be an efficient business unit. The trust would have an elected board based on a ward system from communities and rural areas in the vicinity. The trust would have professional forest managers charged with running the forest as a business under a charter or trust documents modeled on the international Montreal Process to ensure sustainable forest management. Local trusts would sell timber on an open market and also derive income from non timber and nature based forest economic activities. First nations could have local forest trusts and representation on the boards of most local forest trusts.

Local forest trusts would be audited and supported by a Provincial Forest Trust Assembly that in turn would be governed by an equal number of professional and elected board delegates from local trusts.

A new system of devolved local forest management would revitalize the BC forest sector. Forests would be managed as businesses with the costs of stewardship and upkeep being financed by forest business income. Open markets for timber would encourage the growth of a diversified wood utilization industry rather than maintaining the present restricted enterprise commodity wood products oligopoly.

Canadian and BC citizens need to speak up for better management of their own forests. We as citizens need to wake up and not sleep as our forests are gradually conveyed to the private sector in a process of stealth privatization.