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. 

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