Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sustainability or Exploitation?

The forest is growing back after harvesting, so everything is OK.  This simple idea has made industrial forest management acceptable in British Columbia. It enables the label "sustainable" to be attached to industrial timber production. The virgin coastal rain forest in the valley where the photograph was taken has been exploited by clear cutting most of the entire forest in the last 35 years. Most of the valley has reforested by natural regeneration and has saved the cost of tree planting. Vigorous stand of young trees have replaced the virgin forest.

Some forest areas in BC give challenges to regeneration and occasionally the subject of " Not Satisfactorily Restocked" areas surfaces in the media and gains a bit of interest. If the forest is not growing back there is a problem that is readily obvious.  There is a problem with with the natural regeneration in the photograph. The natural regeneration has been so successful that there are too many trees. Young forests with this problem can be spaced or thinned to allow for better growth of the remaining trees. Thinning, spacing or stand tending is not the norm in BC's forests. Once in a while, some special program of limited duration will give some funds for a limited amount of stand tending. The BC Government as trustee of BC's public forests has often used forest revenues for other purposes.

Natural competition within a dense stand will eventually see some of the less vigorous trees die out and natural thinning does take place. However, it usually takes longer to get large merchantable trees if the forest is not helped along with some spacing or thinning. The valley in the photograph is exposed to Pacific storms and winds.  Trees with a height diameter ratio of 60 (a 60 foot high tree that is 1 foot in diameter near the bottom)  are susceptible to wind throw and considerable economic loss.  The trees in the photograph are on track to be susceptible to wind throw.  The previous virgin forest trees were better shaped to withstand the wind.

Human beings are not very good at thinking or planning for the future. Forest management is an endeavor that requires thinking for the future. The public relations perspective of the BC Government and forest industry would interpret the above photo as sustainable forest management.  It may be forest  exploitation with tree planting to give a good facade for the present and problems for the future.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Healthy Forests Healthy Communities Initiative

The Healthy Forests Healthy Communities initiative is continuing to hold community dialogue sessions in communities throughout BC. Visit the site to find the date of the meeting in your community. It is a civil society effort manned by volunteers with the initial intent of bringing forestry issues into debates surrounding a BC Provincial election that was expected for Fall 2011. BC voters rejected the Harmonized Sales Tax in a recent referendum and an election is no longer expected for Fall 2011. The initiative is to be commended for organizing a civil society volunteer group that can give the public an independent view.

Frustrated foresters and other resource professionals who know that BC can do a better job of its forest resource stewardship are a strong force within the movement. Many are passionate about proposed improvements to the legal and institutional framework for managing BC's public forests. The central thrust of community dialogue sessions is a vision toward some form of devolution of control of BC's public forests from central control by government and its forest company partners to local communities.

Most foresters and resource professionals have the correct idea about Government that it is there to represent the people and will act on their behalf, especially in the case of public forests. Under this ideal view of things, the initiative just needs to summarize community and professional input for the political decision makers to make changes and act on behalf of the people.

Unfortunately the Government of BC is not there to represent the people as trustee of our huge area of Crown or public forests. BC Government administrations have given tenure to the public forests in the form of harvesting rights to a relatively small group of forest companies. The BC forest sector is a government created oligopoly that gets its wood supply through administered prices. The Government has been handing more and more forest management responsibilities to forest companies. BC's forests have been under a scheme of stealth privatization for decades. This whole arrangement worked well for the government and forest industry for many decades as it gorged itself on the best virgin coniferous forests in the world.

The existing system has been in crisis for a number of years and change is needed. Both government and forestry companies are locked into the existing system and unable to make effective changes. In circumstances such as these, citizens movements arise to fill the gap and create change. The movement to abolish slavery was the first modern movement of this type.

 Bill Moyer, not to be confused with TV journalist Bill Moyers, has studied the mechanics of social movements and has provided guidelines for developing a successful social movement. Organizers of the Healthy Forests Healthy Forests initiative should Google: Bill Moyer Social Movements for ideas to plan the future of their movement.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Locals try to stop development on land previously dedicated to forestry

Locals are trying to stop residential development near the Juan de Fuca marine trail on the West coast of Vancouver Island near Victoria. (Click on title to see map) A public meeting organised by the Capital Regional District had to be extended to three days to accommodate presentations that were overwhelmingly against the development.

The private land in question was once owned by a forest company. It was dedicated to forestry purposes as part of a Tree farm Licence. After World War II, forest companies could get Tree Farm Licences if they offered some private land to gain harvesting rights to a much larger area of public forest land. Both the private and public forest land was dedicated to sustainable forest management in perpetuity.

In recent years, the BC Government allowed forest companies to withdraw their private lands from Tree Farm Licence agreements. The private land along the Juan de Fuca trail were once part of a Tree Farm Licence agreement. After the land was withdrawn by the forest company, it was sold to a developer. The problem was downloaded to a regional district. Public resistance is now blocking development.

The BC Government is now being called to buy back the private lands to solve the problem. The BC Government under the original terms of the Tree farm Licence agreement, had the right to ensure that the private lands would be dedicated to forestry purposes rather than development. Now the Government will have to use taxpayer dollars.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Biodiversity green-wash blown

The large trees blown down onto this road was one of several small patches of old growth left in a harvest area on the BC coast. The patch was left to provide an island of old growth intended to aid biodiversity.

Forest management requires thinking and planning for the long term. Unfortunately in BC, centralized management of public forests by the BC Government and an oligopoly of a few forest corporations operates in the short term. In the 1990's, centralized forest management was influenced by a blip of politically correct environmental righteousness that manifested itself in a forest practices code with lots of guidebooks and regulations. Biologists with limited forestry training were in the ascendancy within government bureaucracies propelled along by an emerging current of biodiversity awareness. The government and companies wanted to look like they were responding. Clear cut harvesting was getting bad press. The politically correct green wash that emerged was variable retention silvicultural systems and leaving patches of old growth to protect biodiversity. It all sounded sophisticated when it emerged from government and corporate public relations machines. On the ground it was really clear cutting with a few patches or bits and pieces left so that it could be called something else.

In a space of a few years, the patch of green wash in the photo was blown over. Although the timber is valuable, the cost of reactivating the road has made recovery uneconomic. The harvest area is in a valley that has been heavily clear cut in the last 30 years and it takes storm winds from the Pacific Ocean. Single old growth trees or small patches of groups of trees that are well over 100 feet high stand little chance of remaining upright in the face of winds. This patch of trees was left on a projecting nose of topography rather than in a depression in the terrain. The location aided its demise.

The era of the forest practices code was hailed as some complete turn around in forest stewardship in BC. The legacy of this era of supposed great improvement is a few wind thrown or wind damaged patches of old growth that are mostly leveled. Most of the surrounding landscape has also been leveled of old growth in the past 30 years. A sea of young second growth has replace the old forest in a short time.

Could this landscape have been planned and managed to maintain forest cover more similar to indigenous forest structure to maintain biodiversity? Yes, it could have been done but harvesting of the valley would have been over a much longer time frame exceeding 100 years rather than 30 to forty. Also considerable long term planning and thought would have been required in the design of harvest areas, silvicultural systems and permanent planned road network to do the job without suffering excessive wind damage. Under BC's system of short term forest development planning, sophisticated forest design and stewardship is impossible. Short term planning now dressed up under the name of forest stewardship planning.

Healthy Forests Healthy Communities

The Healthy Forests Healthy Communities initiative has already got feedback from some BC communities. Click on the title and check the website for dates of community dialogue sessions scheduled for the fall. Communities are giving a similar message. They are concerned about the management of local forest landscapes and want more control over their management.

The BC Government and forest corporations are likely to respond with some more community involvement within the present centralized management framework. Communities should not be duped and should realize that it is the present centralized forest management framework of the government and corporations that is the problem. The solution is not another facade of public involvement but some new devolved institutions that put communities in control of forest stewardship.

BC needs a new legal and institutional framework for sustainable forest management to replace the present poor arrangements that have already put our public forests on the track of enclosure into the private interest. We need two new building blocks.

Local Forest Trusts are the primary building block of a new framework. A local forest trust would manage an large area of forest landscape of sufficient size to provide for economic operation. It would have a board elected on a ward system from local communities and rural areas. A professional forest management staff would manage the forest to a charter or trust agreements that require management in accord with the Montreal Process standards. This means that the forest would be managed for timber, non timber and nature based economic and recreational benefits. Timber would be sold on an open market and the local forest trust would operate like a business. There would be no delegation of forest management responsibilities for anything larger than a family woodlot.

A Forest Trust Assembly is the companion institution that would exercise the Provincial interest by auditing and supporting local forest trusts and providing a court of appeal. It would be governed by an equal number of elected delegates and professional forest management delegates from local forest trusts. New forest policies developed by the Forest Trust Assembly would go back to local forest trusts for ratification.

These new institutions are democratic and will open up public timber to a more diverse spectrum of wood manufacturers. Open markets for timber will reduce BC's vulnerability to discriminatory wood export tariffs and taxes. They also enable First Nations to have local forest trusts or be represented by ward system on local forest trusts.