Sunday, December 23, 2012

Clear Cutting: An institution in BC

Clear cutting in the public forests of BC is an institution. Public forests are managed under a scheme of timber harvesting rights allocated mainly to forest corporations. A right to harvest crops from some one else's land is called a usufruct and was developed by the Romans. The productivity of the land usually goes downhill under this arrangement because the the rights holder has  incentive to exploit the land. In the case of public forests a timber harvesting right will point the holder to the lowest cost type of harvesting and that is clear cutting. Other silvicultural systems such as shelterwood or selection systems require the harvest to be extended over several sequences that may cover several decades. This requires continuity of local forest management over the long term. The system of harvesting rights is geared to short term forest plans of five years or less so attempts at non clear cutting silvicultural systems are almost doomed to failure.

Other historical influences pointed forest management in BC toward clear-cutting. The first North American foresters had to go to get training in Europe because there were no forestry schools in North America until approximately 1900. Non clear-cutting silvicultural systems were being developed in Europe in the 1800 owing to some failures of some mono-culture reforestation efforts. Some foresters thought that non clear-cutting systems were more akin to conditions in indigenous forests. North American foresters thought that they were unsuited to North America owing to their complexity and the excuse that North American forests were more dominated by fire than European forests.

Other factors led to clear cutting. The coastal rain forests of BC had huge trees that posed a physical challenge. Trees were over 200 feet high in some cases and the large mass of a coastal old growth tree will damage other trees on the way down. The old large stump in the photo above was a virgin Western Red Cedar tree from the previous harvest of a virgin forest. The tree was cut before the days of the chain saw. The two notches in the old stump held spring boards or planks with a metal wedging device that went into the notch. The tree was cut by two men standing on the spring boards and pulling on a cross cut saw. It was less work to saw the tree above the fluted base.
A non clear-cutting silvicultural system in virgin coastal forests would have required a strip arrangement with strips at least as wide as the height of the trees to enable falling and yarding by cable logging equipment. Two times tree height enables wind to get down to the ground and damage the edge of the uncut forest. Managing these strips over time to reduce or prevent wind damage losses would have required some very detailed long term planning. This would have been beyond the mindset of BC forestry 50 years ago, and sadly remains so today.

Clear cutting is sometimes the best silvicultural solution for some sites. If the site is infected with root rots, clear cutting is usually better than partial harvesting. There is also the issue of fire dominated ecosystems. The coastal rain forests are not fire dominated, but natural disturbance by fire is a feature of considerable area of forests in the interior of BC. Fire is a catastrophic disturbance, similar to clear cutting in many ways. Over the years, there has been considerable debate over the differences. The main difference is that a fire will leave an area with more length of forest edge because fires tend to burn out in fingers rather than the straight edges of a clear cut.  There is probably a little validity in the notion of early North American foresters that fire dominated ecosystems needed different treatment. In some cases, clear cutting is most appropriate in these ecosystems.

While North American foresters pointed to fire dominated ecosystems as an excuse for avoiding non clear cutting silvicultural systems and avoiding the finesse of European forestry methods. (A European forestry and silviculture professor returning to the class room after an extensive trip to view silviculture practices in North America, was able to report to his students that silviculture in North America always involved running a bulldozer over everything.  A physical fact in many cases and also a good metaphor.)

European foresters were the first to take a closer look at fire dominated ecosystems. In Finland, foresters noted that the frequency of disturbance or the return frequency of fires varied considerably in these landscapes. The variation was associated with topography. Low moist sites had older forests, more biodiversity and different species than hill tops and plateaus. Areas with frequent fires had a species suited to colonize and reforest the burnt over areas.  In BC, the species that does this is Lodge Pole Pine. Its cones open after the heat of a fire and the tree grows vigorously but is short lived. If it does not get burnt after 80 years, mountain pine beetles will dispose of the stand often in a catastrophic fashion.

Instituted clear-cutting to enable forest corporations to have a profitable time exercising their timber harvesting rights in BC's fire dominated public forests in the interior of the Province played out with a rather peculiar twist. The BC Forest Service built some of the main forest roads after WWII to enable development of the interior. That assistance was followed by a scheme that enabled forest companies to build main roads and subtract the cost from their bill from the Province for harvesting wood. The companies also got a favorable rate for the logs that they removed from the road right of way. This played out as a high grading subsidy on the ground. A subsidized main forest road on the rolling terrain on the interior plateau often had a few slightly peculiar characteristics. On a dry hump with lodge pole pine forest the road right of way would be of minimum width and then widen considerably as the road descended through a dip in the topography where there was more moisture and other species. The first harvest blocks would appear on these moist sites. Clear cutting was the norm, although some of these could have been candidates for non clear-cutting to maintain biodiversity. Mean while the drier lodge pole pine stands that were candidates for clear-cutting were avoided. The expiry date of 80 years on lodge pole pine was forgotten. Huge areas of forest got beyond the expiry date and the mountain pine beetle had the habitat for a binge. The binge amounted to a munch valued at $100 Billion.

Clear-cutting is not bad if it is appropriate for the conditions. BC forest harvesting is almost entirely clear-cutting because it is the low cost enabler of corporate timber harvesting rights in public forests. Corporations have taken the profits and the public bears the losses of Billions of dollars for feeding pine beetles, reduced economic viability of forest dependent communities, and reduced economic, social and ecological value of our forests in the long term.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Wealth or Money?

Canadians are known for dishing up natural resources. The country has been slow to learn the difference between money and wealth. Hew some wood and sell it for money and that seems to have equaled wealth. Canadians have been ready to give the country away to anyone that promises to turn natural resources into cash.

Canadians were solidly behind the "trickle down effect" decades before some hapless economist invented the term. In the 1880s, the Federal Government paid a coal baron to build a railway from Victoria to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island and then we threw in 20% of Vancouver Island as a land grant to help him along. There was strong resistance at the time, but the promises of trickle down dollars won the day.

In 1909, there was a flicker of light, a sign that Canadians were starting to understand the difference between wealth and money. A Royal Commission on BC forests decided that they should be kept out of the hands of the timber barons that had devastated huge areas of forest in North America leaving behind a legacy of ghost towns. BC would retain its forest in public ownership and have them managed by professional foresters organised into a Forest Service. Well managed forests were seen as a source of sustainable wealth.

After World War II, economic development seemed to dictate that we needed the timber barons back in the form of forest companies to convert timber into dollars. The forest companies did a good job of converting timber into dollars. Large old growth Douglas fir trees with superb timber quality were converted into construction grade plywood. Most of the timber was allocated to commodity timber and wood pulp products, so a secondary value adding wood manufacturing sector never got a chance to develop more wealth out of the timber. A scheme of timber harvesting rights held by forest corporations is hardly a foundation for adequate forest stewardship. It worked for a half century long timber harvesting binge but it has been experiencing difficulty for some time.  This arrangement has failed and it is a testimony to a failure of imagination that a recent BC Legislative Committee was out seeking more timber to convert to cash. We need new forest stewardship arrangements that will enable the forest to  be a source of sustainable wealth.

Construction of a pipeline to carry bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to the coast of BC is much in the news with considerable resistance from BC residents. The tar sands is a major oil reserve of global and strategic significance. While the Province of Alberta owns the resource under the Canadian constitution, there also seems to be a need for the Canadian Government to have some say given that it is responsible for foreign policy. What about developing an advance petro-chemical and refining industry to generate more wealth?  Is this just going to be a binge for a couple of generations? Should we slow the rate of development down until we can recover more oil with less energy use and environmental impact. Should we keep some long term oil reserves for future pacification of our oil addicted elephant neighbor.. Any thought about the future are likely to be swept away by the force of "let's make a fast buck now".

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Reliance on Forest Professionals

In the early 1900's, BC decided to keep most of its forests in Crown or Public ownership. One of the main reasons for this decision was to ensure that BC's forests would receive professional forest management. A BC Forest Service staffed by professional foresters was instituted to provide independent forest management. Independent professional forest management held great promise at the time, as an alternative to treatment of forests by greedy timber barons. Timber interests had chopped there way through much of the forests of USA. USA was placing some of its remaining virgin forests in a system of National Forests with independent professional forest management. BC followed with a major scheme of public forests.

Have the benefits of independent professional forest management been realized?  They have not been realized because the concept has been subverted for a century. Instead of getting the timber interests out of the forests, BC's public forests were allocated in the form of timber harvesting rights to forest companies. This was not an arrangement to ensure good forest stewardship, but rather a means to ensure rapid conversion of timber resources into cash. It is a system of economic exploitation at its core. It has been dressed up to make it appear to be sustainable. You can only exploit for so long before you run into trouble and BC forestry has been in trouble for some time.

The industrial forest management scheme in BC, turned the professional forester into a technician that serviced the machine. Although there land use and higher level plans that often furnish little more than vague objectives, most of the planning for the roads, clear cut harvesting is done for short periods of a few years on piecemeal parts of the forest.  Most of this planning is done by forest companies, and over the years there has been an increasing transfer of forest management responsibilities from the Forest Service to forest companies. The public's independent forest managers have forced by politicians to abdicate their independent professional management responsibilities.

In the past decade there has been an accelerated transfer of forest management authority to forest corporations. No one seems to understand that this is also a gradual transfer of public forests into the private interest. A center piece of the public relations to effect this change has been "Professional Reliance".  In other words this means that the public has to rely on a professional forester employed and paid by a timber corporations to manage their forests. This is nothing but a facade to move the public forests further into the private interest.

Yes, we should rely on forest professionals to manage our public forests. We should get the reporting relationships right. Should the forest professional be reporting to a profit making forest corporation?  Rather the forest professional should report to a locally elected public board that oversees a local forest trust. Local forest trusts covering all public forest landscapes in BC should be governed by a BC Forest Trust Assembly comprised of one elected and one professional forest management delegate from each local forest trust. The BC Forest Trust Assembly would benefit from a balance of professional advice. We need effective institutional arrangements to ensure that we really rely on professional foresters. The present concept of professional reliance is little more than a scam

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Land Use Planning in BC

A greater part of British Columbia is public lands. Strictly speaking they are Crown Lands held by the Province. The BC Government is supposed to be the the trustee of the land for the benefit of all the people. Aboriginal people certainly did not see much benefit from the trustee for many decades, and legal persons in the form of corporations seem to have had the icing off the cake.

Land Use Planning is needed to decide what areas are going to be timber producing forests and what areas are going to be Parks or protected areas. Land use planning exercises have often involved the public, environmentalists and interest groups. There is nothing wrong with that either, but there is a political element in these exercises. If environmental or interest groups are part of making these higher level planning decisions, they feel appeased and part of the solution. Within Parks or protected areas and timber producing forests other zones may be identified and higher level planning objectives are developed. There is nothing wrong with this approach. Wildlife habitats have been identified on some plans that follow through with some good habitat protection.

Environmental groups have put a lot of effort into some of these plans. Generally, everyone seems to think that it is effective. However, it can end up being less effective than advertised. In timber producing forests, the Government or its agencies will lead these land use planning processes. However, it is private forest companies that will implement something on the ground to meet the objectives. They do this under short term piecemeal forest plans that may only cover a small part of a zoned area with objectives. If the plans propose something that seems to provide something toward the sometimes vague objectives, then it will probably get approved. Over time a few more plans may get approved in the zoned area without assessing the effectiveness of previous measures in the area.  In the general muddle of events over the long term, the objectives may not be realized.

Environmental groups have put so much effort into saving forests as parks or protected areas that these areas go to " heaven" and few questions are asked thereafter.  There are also land use zones within parks or protected areas. Special feature zones with sensitive environments or sites are placed next to the holy of hollies and objectives are often aimed at prohibiting, restricting or reducing human access. The photograph above is the one good viewpoint on a 6 kilometer trail in a Park the follows a fiord. The trail seems to meet objectives by keeping people away from sensitive sites that provide better views than the one above. Unfortunately, almost all of the regular users go off the designated trail and find other ways to get to these additional viewpoints. The actual result is an increasing amount of random visitation in an area zoned for minimal human movement. There is even erosion on some of the un-designated paths. Rather than trying to keep people away, the objectives could have been realized by providing a good trail to these other viewpoints. The total disturbance is less than that caused by random access.

Higher level planning objectives have to be followed by adequate design or they will not be realized.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Clear Cutting, Forest roads, Parks and protected areas

Clear cutting of forests raises public concern about environmental impact. It is visual. It stands out on the landscape. However, forests regenerate either by natural or artificial means. Forests are resilient and harvest of trees, once in many decades, amounts to minimal disturbance compared to agriculture that may turn over the entire soil in a field every year.

Clear-cutting in BC got a bad rap because large tracts of forest were harvested within a short period and the impact on the visual landscape gave people the sense that something was amiss. This impression may have been correct, because the BC forest sector is facing a few problems resulting from taking more from the forest than nature can provide.

The major environmental impacts of clear-cutting is not usually in the removal of trees but in the human footprint of getting to the trees. Forest roads required for harvesting and transport of logs do disturb the soil and drainage patterns. If roads are well located, constructed and maintained environmental impact is minimal. However, poorly located, constructed or maintained roads can be an ongoing source of erosion and sometimes, soil movements or landslides.

For the past three months, I have been doing volunteer work in a BC Provincial Park to survey and assess the trail system. The park was clear-cut approximately 60 years ago with little regard for anything except economic values. Many of the sites would have been extremely sensitive, with thin soils and rock. After 60 years, the forest has regenerated and the sensitive sites have recovered. The park has a greater percentage of its area in a "Special Features Zone" intended to protect special natural sites and features, than any other park in BC. Most of these sites have recovered through natural resiliency.

Some of the old logging roads are now trails within the park. Some of the old roads were well located and now provide almost perfect trails, that are sustainable. Cut and fill slopes are covered with ground vegetation, and a covering of tree needles on the road surface gives an idyllic appearance. Other roads were poorly located with very steep gradients. They have been eroding for 60 years and continue to erode. Unfortunately, some of these remain as main trails in the park. The narrow park trail on the existing forest road attracts water flow and exacerbates the erosion. To stop the erosion, the trails or old roads need to be de-activated and ditched to promote natural recovery. New detour trail sections are needed. Alternative locations are hard to find in some cases, because the terrain is challenging.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Does BC Forest Industry have an image problem?

The University of BC is hosting a panel discussion in Victoria on Tuesday, November 13, 2012 on the above question For details visit

The title raises a few questions. The BC forest industry seems to have greater problems than its outward appearance. The BC Government and its corporate forest industry partners have been extracting more than nature can provide from our public forests. The day of reckoning has arrived and it appears that the fearless leaders of improvidence think that they can solve their problems with a little public relations green wash. There is no new thinking and approach here. The exploitation of BC's public forests has been covered up with green wash for decades.

The public relations men will not like the word exploitation. However, BC legal framework of managing public forests is based on rights to harvest timber and that will result in exploitation and future problems. Yes, you can dress it up with higher level planning objectives, tree planting after short term planning for harvest in piecemeal parts of the public forest and call it sustainable forest management. Yes, you can dazzle the public with facts about over-winter survival of mountain pine beetles in warm winters. You neglect to inform the public of other factors involved in the recent mountain pine beetle epidemic that has caused the loss of approximately $100 Billion in timber values. (We were too busy harvesting more valuable species in the interior of BC that we let huge areas of Lodge pole Pine get too old and susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack).

There is an excellent future for forestry in BC. The public has got it right in having a poor perception of forest management in BC. The public can realize a good future of BC Forest management in BC by demanding a new system of forest stewardship that is not based on corporate rights to harvest timber. rather the system should be based on responsibilities for comprehensive stewardship of forest landscape under democratic locally managed forest trusts.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Association of British Columbia Forest Professionals

The primary duty of the Association of British Columbia Forest Professionals is to serve and protect the public interest. This responsibility is particularly important because the public owns most of the forests in BC.
BC has experienced a massive mountain pine beetle epidemic of long term consequence for forest dependent communities in interior of the Province. Foresters know that there are usually several factors involved in an epidemic of this nature. The public on the other hand will find the weighing of several factors a bit fuzzy and rather complex. "Complex problems have simple, easy to understand, wrong answers."
Professional spokespersons for the BC forest sector have provided the public a simple easy to understand answer for the massive epidemic to the extent that it has become accepted wisdom. The narrative of global warming or climate change causing increased over winter survival of mountain pine beetles has now become politically correct and unassailable conventional wisdom. A senior spokesperson for the Association of BC Forest Professionals recently reinforced this accepted view in a letter to a major Vancouver newspaper.
Increased survival of mountain pine beetle in mild winters is correct science. However, there is other compelling science that has never entered the public discourse. Lodge Pole Pine, the main species under beetle attack, becomes susceptible to attack by mountain pine beetle when it gets to about 80 years old.  The forests of interior BC had become filled with large areas of old and susceptible pine. Fire fighting by the BC Forest Service was so effective that it almost removed fire as an agent in natural recycling of aging pine. The forest industry did not harvest sufficient pine so aging and susceptible pine became a feature of forest landscapes.
Mild winters may have lit the fuse, but there were large areas of old susceptible pine stands ready to fuel the epidemic. Since BC is situated on the Pacific Ocean and we get mild winters, even without global warming.
The recent special BC Legislative Committee on timber supply heard much comment on the BC brand of sustainable forest management.  The public relations narrative of sustainable forest management rests on the fact that many forest operations in BC have achieved certification under a market based sustainable forest management certification scheme. Market based sustainable forest management certification schemes have developed under various agendas. Most of these schemes do not measure up to the international scientific standard for forest conservation and sustainable forest management, the Montreal Process.
The present mountain pine beetle epidemic is much larger than previous outbreaks. It is a forest management indicator under the Montreal Process provisions for maintaining forest ecosystem health and vitality. The warm winter narrative puts the cause outside the control of BC forest management. However, the accumulation of large areas of aging pine stands was under the control of forest management.
Market based certification schemes accept a country's or jurisdiction's legal and institutional arrangements for forest management as a given.  The Montreal Process asks if these support forest conservation and sustainable forest management.  It is evident that the arrangements for managing public forests in BC contributed to the accumulation of pine forests that were susceptible to attack by mountain pine beetle.   A tenure system of timber harvesting rights, established to meet short term economic imperatives, contributed to reduced harvest of pine. Lenient government administration did not require the harvest of sufficient pine. Government fire fighting aimed at saving timber for the regime of industrial forest management also helped to compromise the health of forest landscapes. Non market allocation of timber, under government administered prices, has made BC forest product exports vulnerable to discriminatory taxes or tariffs and contributed to a lack of diversity in value added wood products manufacture.
BC Forest Professionals operate within the prevailing legal and institutional framework. It is the existing paradigm and it is easy to think within the established box, support the status quo and proclaim that "all is well".  The recent special legislative committee examination of timber supply was more of a collective delusion than an investigation. It was formed because there is a real sustainability crisis, but it seemed more concerned with protecting  public relations branding of sustainable forest management in BC. The Association of BC Forest Professionals needs to be an independent voice and give the public more insight than the accepted conventional wisdom. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sustainable hiking trail surveys

Hiking trails in forests and Parks may have developed haphazardly over the years leaving a trail system that may not be sustainable.  Existing trails can be surveyed to determine their sustainability and the need for improvements, re-locations or completely new route corridors.

A survey of the existing trails requires necessary equipment as illustrated in the photo.

A surveyor's or cruiser's vest is a handy way of carrying the measuring chain, a compass and clinometer, a waterproof paper notebook, flagging tape and a GPS unit. GPS units with maps can do a good job of positioning the horizontal alignment of a trail as you traverse the trail. The gradient or vertical alignment of the trail is best recorded the old fashioned way. The trail is traversed measuring sections of the same grade. The distance, the gradient of the trail, the gradient of the side slope is recorded. Two people are required, a surveyor or recorder and the chain man who pulls the chain ahead to the next change in trail gradient. Additional data on rock and soil conditions, viewpoints, junctions and other points of interests are recorded and referenced to the GPS track.

Once the gradient and other measurements are recorded for each section, a judgement of the sustainability of each section can be noted. Some sections with gradients under 10% may be unsustainable owing to soil and moisture conditions such as a swamp or a bog. If you are on a side hill a pattern or a relationship between gradient and sustainability usually becomes evident. Provided that there are no soil or water problems, trail sections with gradients of 10% or less usually demonstrate little erosion from foot traffic. The hiker walks with a flowing motion on these gradients. On gradients above approximately 10% the hiker switches into a climbing step or a braking step if going downhill. Depending on the amount of clay or cohesive material on the trail tread some foot erosion becomes evident and is almost always present when the gradient gets to 20% unless the trail surface is solid rock. In addition to foot erosion, steep trails are more susceptible to erosion from water flow. Look for rocks larger than 4 inches or 10 centimeters wearing out of the trail surface to become tripping hazards.

Data from the survey notebook can be reviewed later. It may be possible to relocate a section that is unsustainable. However, if a trail has many sections that are unsustainable owing to excessive gradient, a whole new route corridor is indicated.

Trails may be unsustainable for reasons other than poor physical condition, erosion etc. A trail route that does not take hikers to points of interest in the landscape, or takes an indirect location to the final objective such as a mountain top encourages pioneering of shortcuts and more people disturbance especially if the area is protected. A trail that goes to the summit of a distant mountain should climb there with a minimum of avoidable downhill stretches on the way up. Poor route corridors encourage shortcuts and confusing networks that contribute to people getting lost and requiring search and rescue efforts.

A sustainable trail survey that takes notes and measurements provides a data narrative for each trail segment. It supports the larger picture task of assessing the suitability of the existing trail system in the landscape and planning necessary changes, de-activation, improvements and new routes.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Converting to area based forest management in BC

The recent BC Legislative Special Committee on Timber Supply made the following recommendations to move from timber volume based forest tenures to area based forest tenures in BC's public forests:

"Expanding area‐based tenures
Approximately 80% of the Crown forest resource is currently under “volume-based” tenure, where a tenure holder is typically one of many having rights to a specific volume of timber within a timber
supply area. The remaining 20% of the resource is under area-based tenure, in First Nations
woodland licences, tree farm licences, community forest agreements or woodlot licences.
During the consultations, interest was expressed in expanding the amount of area-based tenure in the Province, or any other future form of area-based tenure."

Volume based tenures are an invitation for picking the best timber out of public forests, and are not a sensible basis for sustainable forest management in the 21st century. This poor institutional arrangement was mostly responsible for the recent loss of $100 Billion in timber to the larger than natural mountain pine beetle epidemic. Lodge pole pine did not comprise the best pickings, and the species got left to get old and susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack. In the period up to the 1980's, the BC Government was responsible for reforestation on volume based tenures. The Government fell down on the job because the money was employed on more politically desirable activities such as building roads, schools and hospitals. In the 1980's, the BC Government required the companies harvesting in volume based tenures to reforest. This worked reasonably well to ensure that harvested areas would be reforested.  The BC Government now has a major reforestation problem on its hands because mountain pine beetles have no contractual obligation to reforest.

Reforestation did occur on area based Tree Farm Licences, mainly on the BC coast, over the same period that the BC Government was falling down on the job in volume based tenures. Reforestation was a contractual obligation of the Tree farm Licence and the fact that the corporate license holder could look forward to renewing the licence for the long term provided an incentive to invest in future harvests. Within the concept of BC's existing legal and institutional infrastructure for tenure in public forests, area based tenures are better.

Unfortunately every public examination into the management of BC's public forests in the past half a century has been done by accepting the legal and institutional arrangements for managing our public forests as a given fact that cannot be changed. Sometimes the terms of reference restricted any examination of the arrangements. If not, the hearings around the Province would hear from foresters and other forest sector interests that assumed that BC should continue to operate with a framework of timber harvesting rights tenures. Recommendations are restricted to some monkey wrenching of the existing system to keep it going. Everyone wants to continue cooking with the same old recipe. We need to change the recipe.

The existing arrangements involving harvesting rights tenures evolved after WW II and previous trying times involving a great depression and WW I. They were established to attract forest corporations to harvest BC's abundant forests and generate economic activity and development. By 1970, an environmental awakening started throughout the world, and there was pressure for a change in forest management. Instead of making some fundamental change in the tenure arrangements to ensure comprehensive stewardship of all forest values, the existing system was retrofitted to make it appear to supply sustainable forest management. While some of these facades have appeased environmentalists, the proof is in the pudding of the major decline in timber supply expected in the interior of BC and in the difficult transition from old growth harvest that is being experienced on the coast of BC. It is time to trade in the old arrangements for something new, because the problems are beyond monkey wrenching and symptomatic fixes.

If area based forest management is better, then we should seek the best institutional arrangements that support this type of stewardship. Area based management will work best at the local scale. The area of forest landscape should be of sufficient size to support  economic operation and forest management staff. The forest managers should be resident in the area and familiar in detail with the local forest environment. They should be free to manage all the natural capital of the forest and plan integrated timber, non timber, and nature based economic activities. The forest should be operated like a local business with the income covering the expenses of stewardship. Timber should be sold on an open market to encourage open access to wood supply and diversity in wood utilization. The owners should be represented on a board.

Can BC's public forests be managed on a local area based forest business model?  Yes, the arrangement to do it is the Local Forest Trust, where elected local representatives would form a board of directors assisted by local professional forest managers. It makes locals the represented shareholder in the local forest trust.  Given that the shareholders of BC public forests are all BC residents or citizens, another level of representation is required to ensure that local forest trusts are managed for the benefit of all. Since the BC Government or trustee of the public forests and its agency the Forest Service or Ministry of Forests has demonstrated its failure to ensure forest sustainability or a period of one century, there is a need to seek an alternative institution. A BC Forest Trust Assembly comprised of an elected board delegate and a professional forest management delegate from each Local Forest Trust could provide audit, extension and support services and a court of appeal for public forest matters.

Local Forest Trusts and a BC Forest Trust Assembly is a progressive option for stewardship of BC's public forests. It provides a free enterprise footing and democratic representation of the local and more distant shareholder public. It provides for the stewardship and development of economic activity from all forest resources. It will encourage diversification in wood products manufacture and an open free market in public timber will reduce vulnerability of wood exports to discriminatory tariffs and taxes. Progress towards this direction will require forest dependent communities and the public to ask for their shareholder representation in public forests. The Local Forest Trust solution is a new recipe, and if the public and communities do not ask for new innovative management arrangements, the public will get old cooking.

The innovative Local Forest Trust and BC Forest Trust Assembly are new institutions that will give the public and communities a sense of ownership and foster stewardship of local forest landscapes. The default, old cooking, area based forest management solution will work on the same principle of increasing the sense of ownership, but it will be forest corporations that will get greater ownership.
The existing area based tenure is called a Tree Farm Licence, and an even longer term lease arrangement in public forests could surface under some new title crafted by public relations people to disguise the next step in the enclosure of public forests into the private interest.

Some will maintain that it is better for private interests to exercise ownership than the public interest to exercise ownership. They will tend to quote the paper entitled "Tragedy of the commons" by Garrett Hardin. It is a paper that rests on a conservative political hypothesis that multiple users of a common will tend to extract too much from the land or ecosystem and cause its decline. The concept has been used by spokesmen for BC forest corporations to push for privatization or greater private control of BC's public forests. It fits well with neo-conservative trends of recent decades. The argument is severely flawed. BC's forests were never treated as a common with many users. The use of BC's public forests was allocated to a few forest corporations and if there is a tragedy it is a tragedy of oligarchic use and therefore a good reason to seek management arrangements rather than timber tenures for stewardship..

Elinor Ostrom set out to examine Hardin's hypothesis in real life situations and found that community based arrangements for managing local resources do not necessarily lead to overuse and decline but have been successful in maintaining sustainability. She was awarded the economics prize in memory of  Nobel in 2009 for this work. The Local Forest Trust and BC Forest Trust Assembly are institutions that can provide sustainable management of local forest resources.

The report of the Special Legislative Committee on Timber Supply has had little favorable press. However, the recommendation that BC should give away its public forests for management under private area based leases has garnered no criticism. The public of BC and forest dependent communities should not accept this scheme of increasing enclosure of our public forests into the private interest as the only area based management solution available. Local Forest Trusts are a viable alternative that places the ownership of public forests where it belongs.

Monday, August 20, 2012

MLAs aren't facing the truth: B.C. forests are tapped out

AUGUST 20, 2012 8:34

Since May, when a special committee of the legislature was appointed to address a looming "timber supply" crisis, questions have arisen about what the committee would say about one community in particular.
That community is Burns Lake, where an explosion and fire in January levelled the local sawmill - the village's major employer - killing two workers and put-ting another 250 out of work.
Well, the wait is over, and if the unanimous recommendations of the committee's Liberal and NDP MLAs are an indication, our forests and many rural communities are headed for even harder times than previously thought.
Here's why. Rather than focusing on the core issue (how many trees are left, and what the future holds for our forests) committee members allowed themselves to be swayed by dramatic yet unrelated events.
What happened in Burns Lake naturally triggered outpourings of concern. But let's be clear: the loss of the mill has nothing to do with a looming timber supply crisis. Rather, it underscores the severity of the problems ahead for numerous communities, Burns Lake included.
We are on the cusp of a monumental shift in our Interior forests. After a decade-plus attack by mountain pine beetles and other pests, a spate of intense wildfires and years of unsustainable logging, our forests are largely depleted of commercially desirable trees.
To their credit, members of the special committee on timber supply acknowledge this. They conclude that the projected drop in logging rates places eight sawmills in danger. This is probably an underestimate. Either way, when mill capacity outstrips what our forests can provide, mills must close.
Yet having acknowledged that existing sawmills have an appetite for wood that exceeds what our forests can provide, committee members turned around and suggested we should build another mill first and find the timber later.
To entice the owner of the destroyed Burns Lake mill to rebuild, the commit-tee chose to go down the same tired road that gave rise to the timber supply crisis: push the boundaries of what can be harvested to the extreme. This was essentially the approach applied in the East Coast cod fishery, and we all know how that worked out.
The committee astonishingly suggested that there are actually twice as many trees to log in the forests around Burns Lake than what senior forest professionals in government estimated just last year - one million cubic metres of wood a year instead of 500,000.
How did the committee magically double timber supply? With three key recommendations.
First, that more "marginally economic" forests be logged. Second, that the government underwrite a massive fertilization program to boost tree growth. And third - and here committee members use weasel words to mask the true intent of their proposition - to increase the logging of remnant old-growth forests that were previously ruled off-limits to logging.
It is far from clear that this will produce enough wood to supply a rebuilt mill.
First "marginal" forests are marginal for a reason. They are generally of inferior quality, further from mills and more costly to log. And they are often found in places where trees grow less vigorously, for example at higher elevations. Hence, they are risky to log, both economically and environmentally.
Second, with government having drastically curtailed its investments in growing trees, no one should assume there is appetite for big spending increases on fertilization. Never mind the ecological impacts of repeated applications of tree fertilizers on shallow soils and on our waterways, fish populations and other plant life in our forests.
Third, perceived increases in old-growth logging could prove a nightmare in international markets where the B.C. government and forest companies alike have worked judiciously to have forestry operations independently certified as sustainably managed.
If the government embraces the committee's recommendations for Burns Lake, expect the same unsustainable logging practices to be applied province wide, and with devastating consequences.
The real tragedy in the committee members' recommendations is that they are well aware of where the real challenges lie. The committee acknowledges the essential importance of improved forest inventories - looking at how many healthy trees we have. Why isn't this the first order of business? B.C. needs an expedited, thorough assessment now, before we have committed to even more unsustainable logging rates.
To proceed with logging increases before such work is done is irresponsible and an insult to forest-dependent com-munities across the province.
Anthony Britneff recently retired from a 40-year career as a professional forester with the B.C. Forest Service. Ben Parfitt is a resource policy analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
© Copyright (c) The Province

Friday, August 17, 2012

Clear cutting in marginally economic forests

The Special Legislative Committee on Timber supply, identified marginally economic forests as a potential source of timber to replace losses caused by the massive mountain pine beetle epidemic. To create incentive to harvest, a volume of timber that can only be taken from marginally economic forests will be determined.

Is this a good idea and how will it affect the local forest landscape?  This politically driven centralized forest policy emanating from Victoria will trickle down to the local landscape with a spectrum of results. In some cases the results will be good, but there are a number of factors at play that will tend to propel results to the bottom end of the spectrum.

The notion of marginally economic forests tends to bring a picture of a few bits and pieces of poor forest scattered at the edge of an otherwise harvestable forest. In a few forest landscapes in BC, this may be the case, but the in average forest landscape only about half of the forest is harvestable. The environmental movement worked hard to get approximately 13% of BC protected in parks. The non harvestable area of forests exceeds the area in parks and for the most part it forms a huge area that will remain in natural condition. When combined with alpine areas, it is BC's largest wilderness.

The report of the committee on timber supply noted the importance of protecting the BC brand of sustainable forest management and forest certification. However, if the committee had been versed in the concepts of sustainable forest management embodied in the Montreal Process, an international agreement and standard, they could have taken another view of marginally economic forests. The standard encourages forests to be managed for multiple social and economic benefits. Marginally economic stands and alpine areas within working forest landscapes offer opportunities for non consumptive nature based economic activities. If these are developed by way of trails and other infrastructure, there are added recreational and social benefits. The title of the committee's report "Growing fibre, growing Value" is a Freudian slip indicating that timber values are paramount, and that the main role of BC's public forests is to feed timber to an oligarchy of forest corporations that secured BC's public timber supply in the 20th Century. Needed diversification of BC's forest economy to include value added manufacture and nature based economic activities will not occur until BC's public timber supply is freed from present hands. The report of the committee would strengthen that hold by enabling the oligarchy to have long term area based tenures in public forests. This sets the stage for enclosure of public forests into the private interest.

Diversification of BC's forest economy would increase the value of raw logs. This would give more options for sustainable forest management in marginally economic forests and would reduce the impetus for log exports. Given that the report makes recommendations that will sustain the hold of the commodity forest products oligarchy on BC's public timber supply, there will be a range of problems in harvesting marginally economic forests.

Some of the site conditions in a marginally economic forest stand may point toward  the application non clear cutting silvicultural system, but cost factors will dictate clear cutting because it is less costly. It should be pointed out that clear cutting is not always bad. A marginally economic forest stand may be composed mainly of a species that suffers disease and decline with age. Lodge Pole pine becomes susceptible to attack by mountain pine beetle after 80 years, and harvest may be a forest health benefit. (This fact rather than climate change is the main reason for the larger than natural outbreak of mountain pine beetle that has wasted $100 Billion worth of timber in BC's central interior) Clear cutting with appropriate harvesting equipment that does not cause excessive soil disturbance could be a benefit for the forest and the economy.

Many marginally economic forests in BC are at the edge of accessibility on steep or mountainous terrain. There are cost pressures in building forest roads and transporting logs. Ground based harvesting involving wheeled or tracked machines that move logs over the ground are more suited to gentle terrain. This type of harvesting is at the lowest end of the spectrum in terms of logging cost. If the terrain is steeper and you need to use cable logging equipment or helicopters, then logging costs push upwards. There is impetus for the logger to use ground based harvesting equipment on slopes that are too steep to reduce costs. Soil disturbance and erosion can be considerable.

There are opportunities for additional timber supply in marginally economic forests, but there is a major risk that things will go sadly wrong owing to the pressure to cut costs.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Special Timber Supply Committee Report

The BC Legislative Committee on Timber Supply has completed its report entitled "Growing fibre, growing value".
Read the report at:

The Committee of elected representatives went to the effort of travelling the Province to take advice about the problems in BC forestry. It has summarized the advice and developed recommendations. The process was thorough and effort was made.

Unfortunately, the whole process was parochial since it examined symptoms within the BC public forests box, and proposed a line of solutions. This was not entirely the fault of the committee because most of the forestry folk that showed up to give advice were in the same box. "You cannot solve a problem until you know what the problem is".  The Committee owes its existence to the mountain pine beetle epidemic that will reduce timber supply in the central interior of BC for decades. The outbreak was larger than a normal natural event. The committee did not prod into the causes of this outbreak and seems to accept the broadcast view that it is a black swan event caused by climate change.

The Committee had two ex-Chief Foresters or the officials in charge of setting the level of timber harvest. These advisers probably had a hand in one of the main recommendations aimed at finding some additional timber supply. There is potential to find additional timber from marginally economic forest stands. To create incentive to harvest these marginally economic stands, allowable harvests could be "partitioned".  This is the jargon for identifying a volume of timber that can only be taken from marginally economic stands. This is an administrative technique that Chief Foresters can and should exercise.

If Chief Foresters of the Ministry of Forests from about 1960 had consistently required lodge pole pine to be harvested by partitioning in Timber Supply Areas in the central interior, large areas of the species would not have become old and susceptible to mountain beetle attack. Probably some outbreaks would have occurred but a mega- outbreak involving the loss of $100 Billion in timber could have been avoided. Why was this not done? The answer gets you to the root problem that needs to be solved.

After World War II, BC wanted money and economic development and turned the harvest from its abundant public forests over to a few forest corporations, essentially turning the BC forest industry into a Government supported oligopoly. This is why we are burdened with discriminatory wood export tariffs. Oligopolies support oligarchy or a system of a few big feeders at the top that need to get fed. The supply of public timber was done on a very lenient basis and our forests and forest dependent communities are now suffering.

The elephant in the room is the whole mindset to needing to feed forest corporations with our public forests. It is not bringing long term prosperity to BC. One of the main problems with the committee's report is that it opens up new feeding opportunities in our public forests. The idea of area based tenures and encouraging private investment set up the future for enclosure of public forests into the private interest. The title of the report " Growing fibre, Growing value" is an oxymoron. If you think of wood as fibre, you think of wood fibres in paper pulp or some low value commodity wood product. Value in wood is usually about some product that demonstrates the natural aesthetic qualities of wood.

The Western Maple brackets joining Douglas Fir beams in this timber frame house is about adding value to wood. The oligopoly holding most of BC's public timber supply is mainly into commodity wood products and there has been little timber supply to value added manufacturers.

We are not going to solve BC's forest problems with the type of thinking that caused the problems in the first place.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The sustainable and safe trail

What are the physical attributes of a sustainable and safe forest trail? If there are already some hiking trails in your local forest landscape, how do you assess their safety and sustainability. Can the existing trails be used in an expanded system of trails in the landscape? We will look at some of the physical aspects of a safe and sustainable trail.

Specifications of trail users: The human bipedal hiker walks with a flowing motion on gradients up to approximately 10% gradient (one up in ten along). On gradients above 10% the flowing motion is replaced by climbing steps that direct greater force into the ground. Depending on the cohesion or how well the soil material in the trail surface stick together, the climbing steps start to dig, loosen and erode the surface. Most hikers prefer trails that provide the marching flowing motion rather than climbing steps. On hard rock surfaces, humans can walk up gradients of 100%. Humans fall over with ease, and muscles from the feet all the way up through the body core and head, shoulders and arms work to maintain the delicate balance. Roots, projecting rocks in the trail tread or surface can undo the delicate balance.

Horses are much heavier than humans and their iron and steel shoes can chew up a trail surface. Gradient control and reduced maximum gradients are needed to accommodate horses. The same applies to mountain bikes. Braking can erode and damage a trail surface.

The physical sustainability of a hiking trail is affected by the inter-play of the following in the landscape:

  1. Gradient control 
  2. Soil conditions
  3. Control of water
In the case of trail gradient and soil conditions, a trail can be unsustainable in loose sand at under 10% gradient. On wet organic soils, a trail can be unsustainable at 0% gradient.  Soils with some cohesion will support foot traffic from 10 % to 15% gradient. Gradients approaching 20% or greater are problematic in most soils. Trails on solid rock can go up to 100%.

Water flow is eroding this steep trail
Unlike roads, trails seldom are supplied with ditches and culverts, so the issue of water control and trail sustainability is very important. It is easy to envision water flowing down a steep trail gradient causing substantial erosion. Yes, this does happen and is a problem. Water flow on a trail can be a problem as it moves through the topography in the landscape in some unexpected places. On smooth uniform gentle side slopes of 25% or less a trail can make the only crease in the surface and catch water. Trail gradients on such gentle slopes should have a gradient of one quarter the gradient of the side slope. Steeper side slopes are often more irregular in micro-topography and a combination of out sloping of trail surfaces and the incorporation of gradient breaks or dips can be effective in directing water from the trail surface.

Most forest landscapes have rather elusive water springs, intermittent seasonal streams or topography that tends to draw and direct water. Some of these spots, even appeal to the inexperienced trail locator as a good way to go. A considerable water supply at a storm event and a steep trail gradient can be a recipe for a major rapid erosion event. Erosion on a forest trail in a protected area or park can match the scale of an erosion event on a forest road in a timber producing forest.
Abandoned forest roads in trail networks
In BC it is not uncommon to find abandoned forest roads that have become part of a forest trail network. Most forest roads have had the benefit of some forest engineering and may have good gradient control and sensible placement on the landscape. Most BC forest environments are resilient and the disturbed soil along an abandoned road may re-vegetate quickly giving a natural forest trail appearance.The rather idyllic forest trail on the right was once a forest road with a gentle gradient. Abandoned forest roads in trail networks can be unsustainable. An abandoned forest road on a steep side slope with  gradients above 10% may present problems. Such a road has a considerable cut into the slope often capturing considerable water flow.  Once the road drainage fail for lack of maintenance, storm water flows down the trail, sometimes causing rapid erosion.

The safe trail
The trail in the photo above right has a safe tread or walking surface. There are few projecting rocks or roots to trip the hiker. The trail in the first or top photo is unsustainable through erosion. The erosion has left many loose or projecting rocks on the tread to trip or derail the hiker.

The trail on the right is unsafe but it is not unsustainable. It has a gradient of under 5% and has not been subject to erosion by water. It was constructed with no regard to a standard for the tread or walking surface. Most Parks or protected area jurisdictions follow the 4 by 4 inch rule: No rocks greater than 4 inches should be within 4 inches of the surface. Foot traffic will rub away smaller finer material surrounding the rock and the rock projects up from the trail and becomes a tripping hazard. This is perhaps the most important rule in trail construction. This rule has seldom been followed in BC. Coarse soils, or soils with a good measure of rocks and boulders are most common on the hills and mountains of BC. A trail built without regard to the standard of the tread in these soils ends up unsafe. Trail construction in some of BC's protected areas was done under the notion of light foot print and minimal disturbance. This idea seems to be favored by some ecologists but the end result is a heavy foot print. The trail in the photo widens in the foreground where several large rocks are exposed. Hikers choose different routes around these obstacles and cause the trail to widen and the foot print increases. Unsafe trails with many tripping hazards are not attractive to hikers because they have to spend most of the time looking at their feet rather than surrounding nature.

Unsafe trails in coarse soils can be maintained and improved. However, it often involves a rebuilding effort greater than initial trail construction to achieve a result that is less satisfactory than having built the trail properly in the first place. The necessary fine soil materials have been lost from the trail

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sustainable Forest Trail Guide: Introduction

Many forest dependent communities throughout BC will seek ways to augment and diversify their timber economies. One major area of opportunity is the non consumptive, nature based forest economy. Forest trails are perhaps the most important development requirement for opening up the local landscape for recreational activities.

Forest trails can go through timber producing forests, forested parts of timber producing landscapes that will not be harvested, alpine and mountain areas, and Parks or protected areas. The area of public forest land that is available for timber harvesting in BC is approximately 22 million hectares. The area of public land available for nature based activities, accessible by potential trails, is three or four times that area. Much of the area is endowed with interesting topography, ecological diversity and will remain in natural condition. BC could host a nature based economy several times that of Switzerland.

Forest trails provide access to nature. They are the necessary infrastructure for a nature based economy. Locals throughout BC will often refer to a forest trail in the local landscape or Park as a goat trail. Often these trails are more suited to a four legged goat with hoofs, than a bipedal human with shoes. Trails of this type do not attract tourists to stay for a few days in a community. If a trail makes for difficult walking, the chances are that it is also an erosion and environmental hazard. Any route between point A and point B does not make a suitable trail.

A sustainable forest trail will traverse points of interest in the landscape along its route. It avoids impact on environmentally sensitive sites. After thorough reconnaissance, it is located on features of the land to cause the least physical disturbance. Gradients are controlled to ensure ease of walking and minimum erosion. Construction will ensure a safe walking surface or tread. A sustainable trail should give service for the long term with a minimum of maintenance.

The guide will be available under the Label "Trail Guide" in the right bar of this blog. Sections or chapters in the guide will follow progress of a sustainable trail project in a local landscape. It will start with an assessment of existing trails in a landscape and move on to location to new trail sections or routes, construction and maintenance. Since government funding of forest trails is likely to remain "Priority Z" in BC the guide will also give some advice about generating local volunteer social capital for a trail project.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

D O Gorman's presentation to the Special Committee on Timber Supply

This presentations to the Special Committee on Timber Supply by Dennis O Gorman differs in that it starts to think outside the box of BC's present forest tenure system:

D. O'Gorman: Good morning. Mr. Chairman, thank you very much, and thank you to the members for this opportunity to speak to you.
I've endeavoured to follow the commentary, and I say that as a non-forester but somebody who is familiar with the resource scene, having worked for the provincial government for 29 years in times past. I've followed the work of Dean Innes, of COFI, of the Association of B.C. Professional Foresters, the Auditor General, the Forest Practices Board and informed writers like Les Leyne and Ben Parfitt, and all of these have presented ideas supporting the search for solutions, which I know is your principal task.
From an outside perspective, which I profess I'm principally speaking to, the foremost issue, of course, is the timber supply shortage related to depletions because of mountain pine beetle and other impacts. The sad reality, I think, is that — given the analyses being done by Dr. Hebda at the Provincial Museum and so on — this is likely to be an enduring risk because of the ongoing impacts of climate change. And there is a task within the ministry, as you know, on future ecosystems.
Related to this, however, there's a serious mill overcapacity issue, in part linked to the accelerated harvesting in recent years, for all good reasons. Added to that are the issues of declining markets and low prices and, with that, the social concerns of the affected communities — the job declines, the impacts on community stability, the industry's own concern about personnel and recruitment, and the long-standing issue of wood access, particularly given log exports and evidence that B.C. wood is being remanufactured and, I think, having value added elsewhere. On top of that, finally, there are the management issues of just the stretched capacities around reliable inventories, forecasting methods and oversight.
The conclusion is, broadly, that if there was ever an age of innocence in forestry, it's over. And despite the efforts — and very inventive ones and thoughtful ones — of reprofiling and reallocating, this does not appear to offer any long-term wood supply solutions.
Mr. Chair, your committee, in the background materials, asked what values and principles might apply. Values, I think, would begin with the accepting of the inherent complexity and the uncertainties, and with that goes the value of adaptiveness. The principles, therefore, would lead to building resilience, largely by growing quality wood; increasing diversity, both in terms of how it's supplied and the products produced from it; value generation in growing it on the stump, capturing it through an improved stumpage system, and creating additional values in the marketplace.

Sustainability is an obvious one, given the importance of non-timber values generation, growing it on the stump, capturing it through an improved stumpage system, and creating additional values in the marketplace.
Sustainability is an obvious one, given the importance of non-timber values. Supporting communities is an obvious important principle. Finally, I think the one of learning from the competition. I think these are all, in the words of your committee's mandate, the keys to orderly transition efforts.
Before advancing my thoughts on what might be possible, a few comments on the adjustment options that were outlined. Accelerating the availability of timber supply simply, I think, is an option that means borrowing against the future. Increasing the harvest of marginal timber is essentially a direct subsidy and risks indirect costs and subsidies because of disturbance regeneration issues, because these forests are marginal for a reason.
Logging in constrained areas — I heard a previous speaker — would certainly go to undermining the all-values-are-considered ethic that's been very much part of the forest sector and the ministry. Of course, that invites objections on trade fronts, certification fronts and risks, frankly, reigniting wars in the woods, which were challenging.
Intensive forest management is identified as an option, with two sub-options: fertilizing and advanced silviculture. Yes to advanced silviculture. Fertilization, I think, has some inherent issues. Certainly, it accelerates the growth in the short term, but it risks producing fast-growing but weak low-grade wood. So I think that's an alternative that would have to be looked at very seriously.
The shift to area-based tenures and associated intensive forest management. That begs the question: what kind of tenure will best deliver intensive management? A starting point might be to ask if the large tenures we've had up to date have actually delivered that. Have they maximized jobs, maximized value recovery and delivered community stability?
We know that many notable companies — the MacMillan Bloedels, the Crown Zellerbachs, the Rayoniers and so on — have come and gone, and so too has the stability of many communities — again, for many good economic reasons and changing technology. The overarching question is simply: which forms of area-based tenure are most promising, especially in terms of delivering intensive forest management?
My conclusions on the way forward are three. Diversify by establishing more community-level area-based tenures. This includes woodlots, community tree farm licences and other similar licences.
The precedents certainly exist. There are over 500 woodlots in the province at the present time. As I understand, all are 400 hectares or more. There is the positive experience of the Revelstoke tree farm licence — and from an earlier era, the Mission tree farm licence.
What are the benefits of this? Connections to the land, connections to the communities, and maintaining local job opportunities.
Of course there are questions of these. What are the costs of establishing them? Where would they be located? How big should they be and how varied? Some of the material I read…. As you move north, you might have to move into 1,500- or 2,000-hectare units.
How to protect the non-timber values and including public access in these new terms. Finally, and importantly, how to assess results, because there may be sub-variations on that, which would include going against the long doctrine of not having a private forest land — or expanding it. There are some issues, as we know, from even tenures that have built in private forest land when it is taken out, at some considerable cost to society.
Are there models? Well, one of our principal competitors, Sweden, probably gives a good example. As I understand, from the post-war situation, World War II, they had a very depleted forest situation and decided that their goal was to increase the growing stock.
From my understanding, not only has their value gone up — their jobs have gone up — but their standing stock has over the years. It is principally based on a forest land base that's about [inaudible recording] 50 percent privately owned. Obviously, tenures, woodlot arrangements and that, could replicate that.

So my recommendation is simply to review the Swedish experience for the transferrable aspects, especially their silvicultural systems, which I understand are based on long rotations and successive thinnings — and with it, the log-marketing arrangements, where they have come up with regional associations that have allowed some equity between the buyers and sellers in terms of actually creating an opportunity to capture value. And successive thinnings — and with it, the log-marketing arrangements, where they have come up with regional associations that have allowed some equity between the buyers and sellers in terms of actually creating an opportunity to capture value.
Secondly, creating one of these regional log markets. The benefits: wood access for new enterprises would be an obvious one, to address an earlier concern; recovery of value for both the government and producers; and knowledge, again related to the stumpage system, about prices and markets.
Questions? Absolutely. How many are required to be viable? Where would these markets be located? What would be the preferred models? All of those bear some research, but certainly the precedents exist, and the starting point is with the experience of the Lumby log sort and auction, which operated successfully in the 1990s, and even this small business forest enterprise program and B.C. Timber Sales, which I'm sure would give some transferrable experience.
Finally, government initiatives in terms of legislation in terms of the tenure modifications and inventiveness around what might be possible there: the policies which would detail the operating provisions; solid information support, as the Auditor General has pointed out; strategic planning and research, particularly on coordinated market intelligence to benefit both producers of wood and producers of product; ensuring a system of cost-recoverable loans is in place to support enterprise — that doesn't necessarily mean government money, but it means making sure that the lenders might be well positioned and knowledgeable — training opportunities in all segments, particularly advanced silviculture and advanced processing; finally, the importance, as the Auditor General's report has pointed out, of audits and the resulting adaptation.
No one I've ever spoken to, and particularly myself, has the answers here, but I think what you're doing is starting a conversation — and to have centres like the Wosk Centre for Dialogue used as an ongoing opportunity to have really intensive discussions among the people that are super knowledgeable, including the people at the universities, to kind of keep reinventing the future, because it's going to keep unfolding in ways that probably we can't predict ecologically and economically.
Thank you for the opportunity for these remarks, Mr. Chairman.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Political ecology and BC's Public Forests

The management of BC's public forests has been a hundred year exercise in human ecology or perhaps political ecology. Interaction between human society and the forest since the arrival of Europeans has been political. The BC Legislature has a special committee on timber supply to examine the problem of declining harvests in the wake of a mountain pine beetle epidemic. Human ecology is not just about human nature, social, political and economic systems imposing their will on the forest. The special committee on timber supply exists because the forest has reacted to the burdens of human use or misuse.

We like to explain the reaction of the forest in terms of climate change. The super-sized, larger than natural, outbreak of mountain pine beetle is blamed on mild winters. We like this simple but incomplete explanation. Another important factor in the super epidemic was the build up of huge areas of old Lodge Pole Pine that are susceptible to beetle attack. The build up of old  pine was caused by forest management. Forest fires were suppressed and sufficient pine was not harvested soon enough, because other species were more profitable. Forest Management in BC has bumped up against an old forestry dictum "Work with nature or you will be defeated". The forest sector is being constrained by nature and not, as they would have us believe, by measures to protect the environment and other forest values. Improvidence has constrained the timber supply.

The workings of nature in a forest are very complex and remain beyond our present level of scientific understanding. Forests can be subject to some rather destructive natural disturbances, but there is also evidence that they operate at least to some extent as an ecological common wealth. Tree roots are usually in a sharing relationship with various micro organisms and fungi in the soil that helps all parties in the forest to survive over the long term. Humans on the other hand are propelled by forces that seek to protect individual or or group interests. Power is closely associated with these forces.  Humans can also moderate their individual or group self interests. Our political, legal, religious and other institutions seek to provide some balance but progress can be interspersed by regression or calcification. Inequity leads to conflict. Forests need some protection from humans. Most jurisdictions have some legal and institutional framework to moderate human exploitation of forests. In most jurisdictions this will mean some regulation on forest owners.

Foresters in BC often complain about political interference in forest management. It is seen as a bad influence that is best ignored, rather than understood. The reality is that in BC forestry is totally political. BC made the decision to retain most of its forests in public ownership. The BC Government is the trustee and the management of forests is political. Forest management in BC has been a great experiment in political ecology. One hundred years ago the institution of public forests was intended to provide independent professional management by a BC Forest Service. The intent was to sustain communities and a healthy forest industry in the long term. It was seen as a better alternative than private ownership by timber companies that could exploit the forest. Control by a few timber companies could restrict the availability of timber and restrict entrepreneurial activity in the development of a diversified wood products industry.

The advocates for public forests of 100 years ago reminded BC Legislators that Public Forests would only work if they ensured the gradual and progressive development of a wise system of forest stewardship. Unfortunately, BC Legislators over the last 100 years have excelled in aiding the development of an unwise system of stewardship that has undermined the original intent of public forests and led to the present sustainability crisis.

Management of public forests in BC revolves around rights to harvest timber that are held for the most part by forest industry corporations. (For more information: )
 The tenure system gives rights to loggers. This is hardly a basis for forest stewardship for the 21st century. Increasing forest management responsibilities have been transferred to timber rights holders.  After the environmental awakening that commenced about 1970, the system has been retrofitted with land use planning and environmental protection measures. The original intention of independent professional forest management has been replaced by the concept of professional reliance in Registered Professional Foresters. However, foresters have to work within a legal and institutional framework that is based on legal rights for loggers. Management of BC's public forests operates within this box. The system is a political arrangement. The rights to harvest public timber  has been a currency for politicians in BC. Only one Minister of Forests went to jail for putting some of the cash into his own pocket. Awarding of timber harvesting rights to forest companies after WWII was a political winner because it brought prosperity as the best of the forest started to be utilized. Politicians scored points with the public and the forest companies as timber wealth started to flow. The forest piggy bank is getting rather low so we may see some new political maneuvers.

A tenure system in public forests based on rights to harvest timber is not a foundation for sustainable forest management. Rather, it is an arrangement destined to exploit the wealth of the forest in the short term. Over the long term, it gives a forest with reduced economic opportunities and forest health problems. This is our present predicament. The only real solution to the timber supply problem is wise arrangements for forest management. This means major overhaul of the present laws, institutions for managing BC's public forests.

A wise system should not be based on rights to harvest, but rather on stewardship responsibilities. Local forest trusts with an elected board and local professional managers is a wise area based option. The trusts would operate under trust documents based on the Montreal Process, the international standard for sustainable forest management. The forests would be managed for timber, non timber and nature based economic activity. The trusts would operate as forest businesses with the transaction with timber corporations being cash for timber offered in an open market. A BC Forest Trust Assembly governed by elected and professional delegates from local forest trusts would audit, support and act as a court of appeal.

BC legislators of the past 100 years have not delivered on a wise system of sustainable forest stewardship. New arrangements for sustainable forest stewardship are a prerequisite for future timber supplies. Will the present Special Committee on Timber Supply make strong recommendations for new arrangements for stewardship of public forests?

Major change usually comes after it is realized that the old bad ways need to be changed. Unfortunately, the transcripts of the hearings of the special committee on timber supply indicate that the penny has not quite dropped. The mountain pine beetle epidemic is being excused on climate change that is outside of our control. Forest management deficiencies that led to the forests in the interior of BC becoming a huge mountain pine beetle habitat of old pine trees has not been acknowledged. Even foresters, biologists and ecologists who have highlighted stewardship problems have not explicitly linked them to the deficiencies in the present legal and institutional infrastructure. It is the box that every one thinks within. Rights to harvest timber as a stewardship arrangement for public forests is a very bad mouthful that everyone is trying to swallow. It is not positive to say it tastes good while you are choking.

If BC Legislators had been good trustees of the public forest over the past 100 years we would not have the present system. The existing system only appears to cater to the public interest. It really caters to the insiders in the system, the corporations holding timber harvesting rights. BC Public Forests have been used support a government created oligopoly of forest corporations that is subject to discriminatory export taxes and tariffs. The present legal and institutional arrangements act in the interests of the forest corporations holding timber rights.

BC has legislation that makes the like of store owners and others with premises that the public may enter liable for unsafe conditions. After forest corporations exercise their rights to harvest public timber and regenerate piecemeal developments in the forests, roads are left without maintenance and deteriorate to the detriment of the environment and any one who wishes to travel on the road. BC legislators just passed legislation to limit the liability of forest companies for these unsafe roads. The public has to go into their own forest at their own risk.

The Public Forest pork barrel is getting low so the old spin of prosperity for forest companies, forest communities and forest workers will no longer work. Voters in forest dependent communities are out numbered by those in BC's major urban centers. Although the recommendations of the present legislative committee will have great significance for the future of BC's forest, environment and communities, it has hardly made into the news media in BC. Impacted voters in forest dependent communities can probably be persuaded on some measures that are not in their long term interests by some short term economic fear tactic.

The timber supply problems in BC's public forest have been caused by legislators that have given legal and institutional leniency to forest corporations. We should hope that the present legislators will be gifted with the wisdom to make changes but their recommendations expected later this summer may try to solve the problem with more leniency for forest corporations. This may take the form of longer term area based tenures that will move the public forests well along the road to total enclosure into the private interest. The committee may call for the removal of "constraints" to timber harvest. "Constraints" is a term used for measures to protect the environment and other forest values. It shows the thinking within the forest sector. Actually the greatest constraint to timber harvest in the interior of BC was forest management activity that produced huge areas of mountain pine beetle habitat. We need to start to look at this major constraint to timber supply that has its roots in a politically lenient tenure system for corporate timber rights holders.