Friday, November 25, 2011

Parks and Safe Sustainable Trails

Sustainable forest management includes the management of parks or protected areas. British Columbia contains 14 million hectares of parks. Most parks are in forested landscapes. The Montreal Process, an international agreement on sustainable forest management gives high priority to the area of forest protected in parks. Parks maintain indigenous forest in natural condition and protect biological diversity. Indigenous forests in parks can provide knowledge that can be applied in the stewardship of timber producing forests.

The human footprint in a timber producing forest is greatest in the forest roads that are used for access. If you do not know much about forests you just need to look at the roads in a forest to see if the human managers are providing good care. The human footprint in a park is greatest in the walking or hiking trails. If you do not know much about biodiversity or ecology, you just need to look at the trails to get an idea of the care provided to a protected area.

Trails are not so wide as forest roads and one tends to think that the impact of trails will be less than roads. However, forest roads are usually provided with drainage in the form of ditches and culverts. Trails are seldom provided with ditches and culverts. Location of a trail can be more exacting than the location of a road because it has to be placed on the landscape to be self draining.

If a trail is located up a draw or topography that collects water, the trail can erode and become more like a ditch than a trail as in the photo above.

Poor standards of trail construction can set the stage for future problems. Most park authorities have minimum standards for the trail surface or tread. Removing rocks larger than 4 inches during constructions prevents  the rocks from becoming hazards. Wear on the walking surface makes larger rocks project and cause a tripping hazard. Tripping hazards can injure hikers but they can also cause injury to a park. Users of a trail will try to avoid the hazard causing widening and damage to the trail.

This trail has widened considerably because hikers have taken two routes around boulders are on the center of the trail. To reduce the area taken up by trails, damage to the environment, and injury to hikers, trials in parks need to be well engineered. Good standards to location and construction are necessary.

BC Government expenditure on Parks is inadequate. There is a skeleton of Parks staff that manage contracts to corporate parks operators. Most maintenance effort goes into campsite and parking facilities.
Trails that go deep into parks are often classified as back country trails that receive little or no maintenance, unless someone volunteers to do the job. Given the present economic conditions, the necessary increases in Parks budgets are unlikely.

If you live in BC, are fit and able and interested in protecting the environment then there is probably a Park in your area that could use some help. Contact BC Parks.

Softwood lumber export tariffs

Exports of BC softwood lumber to USA have hit another bump in the road. US lumber producers are claiming that salvage stumpage prices for harvesting lodge pole pine affected by mountain pine beetle are unrealistically low and amount to a government subsidy. The case has gone to the London Court of International Arbitration.

Softwood lumber disputes and vulnerability to discriminatory tariffs or export taxes has been affecting the BC forest sector for almost thirty years. The problem centers on the administered prices that the BC Government charges forest corporations for logs from public forests. Timber volumes are allocated to forest companies, so there is no real open market, just administered prices. The system is vulnerable to claims of subsidy. The problem started thirty years ago because forests in the USA were recovering from previous exploitation and American lumber producers were eager to get a larger share of their own market.

Canada and BC have decided to live with the problem rather than fix the problem and remove vulnerability to discriminatory tariffs or taxes completely. Government is acting in the interests of forest corporations rather than the BC public or our forests. To reduce vulnerability to discriminatory export tariffs, public timber needs to be sold on an open market. To institute a truly open market, the government would have to take away timber it has allocated to forest corporations. Forest companies would still have access to timber but they would just have to buy it at open market prices.

Local Forest Trusts operating on a business basis could sell wood on an open market and reduce BC vulnerability to discriminatory export taxes. Management of BC's public forests would be independent and accountable to a local democratically elected board. Money that would otherwise be lost to discriminatory taxes or under pricing would flow back to the stewardship of the forest.

The failure of BC Government administrations to solve this problem for thirty years indicates that the interests of corporations come before the citizens of BC and the stewardship of their public forests.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Local democratic forest management of public forests

One hundred years ago, BC aimed to keep its forests out of the hands of  timber barons and timber corporations. The BC Government would act as the  trustee of the public forest and provide independent professional management. Timber from public forests would be available to a range of wood manufacturers and result in a diversified wood products industry in BC. Forest dependent communities could look to a sustainable future.
The future for many forest dependent communities in BC is not so rosy and the forest industry is in trouble. Why? BC Governments after World War II aimed to cash in on the timber in public forests. Instead of pursuing independent professional forest management and sustainability, the BC Government chose to partner with forest corporations.  BC did well for several decades as government and its oligopoly of forest corporations cashed in by harvesting the best timber.
Harvesting the most profitable timber is improvident and sets the stage for problems in the long term. The coastal forest industry experienced difficulty after the best timber was exhausted. In the interior of BC, a super epidemic of mountain pine beetle has destroyed timber valued at $100 Billion. Government and forest corporations have convinced the public that global warming and climate change was at fault. Government and forest corporations really helped the beetles by fighting fires and failing to harvest sufficient volumes of lodge pole pine, a less desirable species. Huge areas of lodge pole pine became old. Mountain pine beetles like trees more than 80 years old. This has been a successful cover-up of the largest waste of public resources in the history of BC. Allocation of BC's public timber to a few corporations at non market government administered prices made BC forest products vulnerable to discriminatory export tariffs or taxes. It has reduced the value or dollars we add to our wood products by restricting enterprise and diversification.
We need to realize that management of public forests by timber corporations is a good recipe for short term gain and long term pain. Propping up the existing arrangements for managing our public forests is not a solution. Giving forest corporations long term leases in our public forests will just be the next step in the enclosure of most of the land of BC into the private interest. This will only reward improvident management.
Forest dependent communities and the BC public should demand an end to the "rip-off to own" management arrangements in BC's public forests. We need new innovative arrangements that will ensure sustainability of our forests, dependent communities and industry. Innovative arrangements that  encourage free enterprise are required. The local public of forest dependent communities need direct representation in the management of local forests. The greater public of BC also needs some new institution to represent their interests in the public forests. The BC Government through successive administrations of differing political stripe has failed as a trustee of public forests through its greater attention to corporate interests than the public interest.
 The Local Forest Trust is the institution for managing local forests. The local forest landscape is entrusted to caring management by a locally elected board and professional forest managers. The area of forest landscape should be greater than 100,000 hectares to permit economic forest management operations. Independent professional management under sustainable forest management trust documents will enable the forest to be managed as a business that gets revenue from timber, non timber forest products and nature based recreational enterprises. Timber will be sold on an open market to encourage local wood product manufacture. Local enterprises such as family woodlots, non timber harvesting, hunting guiding and recreational enterprises can be licensed within a local trust.  Forest companies will be able to buy timber but will not be permitted to hold management licenses. Local communities and rural area will be represented on the board by a ward system. First Nations can have local forest trusts or be represented by a ward system in a local trust.
A BC Forest Trust Assembly would represent the greater public interest in public forests by auditing local trusts and providing a court of appeal. It would also handle collective services for local forest trusts such as fire fighting, extension services and insurance.  To provide a balance between public interest and the ecosystem needs of the forest, the BC Trust Assembly would be governed by an equal number of elected board members and professional resource manager delegates from local forest trusts. New policies developed by the assembly will go back to local forest trusts for ratification.
Support for new institutions to manage BC's public forests needs to grow and develop.  Leaders in forest dependent communities should champion local forest trusts.