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 Robber barons are gone, but they have been replaced by corporations.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

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