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

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