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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We encourage comments and questions