Wednesday, January 25, 2012

USA - Canada Softwood Lumber Agreement

The contentious USA- Canada softwood lumber agreement will be extended to October 2015. Meanwhile USA is claiming damages of $499 million before the London Court of International Arbitration under the agreement. This trade problem will continue until the underlying problem is fixed.

Forests in USA have recovered from previous exploitation and US lumber producers have supplies of timber. Canadian provincial governments allocate timber from Crown or public forests to forest companies at administered prices. A lack of open markets for Crown or public timber, makes Canadian softwood lumber exports vulnerable to claims that timber is sold at below market prices and constitutes a government subsidy. The $499 million claim focuses on BC's salvage prices for pine killed by the mountain pine beetle. BC accounts for approximately 60% of softwood exports to USA, so the lumber agreement is really a USA- BC deal looked after by the federal Canadian government because international trade is the Canadian Government's job under the constitution.

US lumber producers think that the BC system is unfair to them. Actually, the people that get dinged the most under the present system are the public of British Columbia. We paid the bill for decades of fire fighting in the interior of BC to save pine from fire. Meanwhile forest companies did not harvest enough pine so huge areas of pine got old. Mountain pine beetles like old pine and they went through about $100 Billion dollars worth of our timber.  The BC Government reduced prices for dead and dying pine as an incentive to save a small percentage of timber from waste. If USA gets its $499 million, it just adds another half a billion to the waste. Only another one half percent of what has already been wasted.

The BC public, the owners of BC's Crown forest, should view the softwood lumber agreement as an arrangement for discriminatory tariffs on BC lumber exports. The Montreal Process, the international agreement on sustainable forest management points out that the economic framework should promote non discriminatory trade in forest products. BC's economic framework turns our public forests into a non market timber supply barrel for forest companies. Therefore our forest products are vulnerable to discriminatory trade tariffs and taxes.

The real fix for this trade problem is to get forest corporations out of our public forests and return them to independent professional management with timber being sold on an open market. Public forests were intended to encourage a competitive vibrant wood manufacturing industry by ensuring that all entrepreneurs had access to public timber on an open market. Instead public timber is controlled by an oligopoly of forest companies.

Probably the best business model for returning BC public forests to independent professional management is to devolve their stewardship to Local Forest Trusts. These trusts would have a locally elected board and professional forest resource managers. A trust would operate on a large area of local forest landscape as a business and sell wood in the form of manufactured logs on an open market. It would provide independent business like management for the public shareholders. The system is democratic. It would be better for the people of BC and Americans could find no complaint with such a market based democratic system. There would be no need for any softwood lumber agreement.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Large Trees, Small Bushtit

The Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus) is the smallest bird found in the coastal forests on the southwest coast of BC. It is about 2 inches long and it is found in hedges and in ground vegetation in the forest. The Bushtit is found mainly in western USA and Mexico. It is a very active bird with a high metabolic rate. It seldom stands still long enough to get a good photograph. The Bushtits of the BC coast are mostly brown in color rather than the gray bird shown in bird books.

Last week brought freezing temperatures and snow to southwest BC. A small bird should be most disadvantaged in freezing conditions, but the bushtits seemed to be getting enough food. Larger birds were experiencing difficulty.

Bushtits eats insects and spiders. Many were attracted to a newly opened pile of firewood. Occasionally they would get a good sized beetle but most of the time they pecked in the bark dust eating creatures not readily visible to the human eye. In an old growth forest,  bushtits were busy working in ground vegetation that was pushed down by snow.

The secret to the survival of the Bushtit in south west BC seems to be abundant organic matter. The mainstay of their diet are the small almost invisible creatures that break down the organic matter.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The business of forestry in BC

Forestry is a major part of BC's economy.  We are now into the second decade of the 21st Century, but the talk from forest industry leaders, logging associations and the government remains the same as the the 20th Century. Discussions about the health of the forest sector center around markets and demand for lumber and pulp. To some extent these are normal and expected discussions because markets are important to any business endeavor. The peculiar aspect of these forest discussions is that the health and condition of the forest is seldom mentioned. It is as if the forests of BC are not part of the business.

The forests of BC are not seen as part of the forestry business because there is no attempt to operate and run our public forests as a business. The forests are somewhere you go to take timber and turn it into cash when wood product markets are booming. These pages champion BC's public forests, but our present arrangements for managing our public forests manages to combine the worst aspects of public ownership and private enterprise.

Public ownership of BC's forests was intended to be an institution to ensure sustainable forest management as the true foundation and bottom line for a healthy forest industry and communities. We have surely corrupted this basic intent when we see our public forests as a big pork barrel of timber to be turned into cash when markets are good. The non market allocation of timber to forest corporations is not a business like way of selling our public forest resources. Lack of true competition for public timber has restricted the diversification of the wood products manufacturing sector in BC. Most BC residents are against exporting logs. However to keep some communities going, we have to export some logs that cannot be manufactured economically in BC. The simple solution of asking for a log export ban will not work for this complex problem. Rather we need to think about our forests being run like businesses that sell wood freely on an open market. This will permit greater diversity of wood manufacture and higher returns per unit of timber. Fewer logs will be exported.

BC's system of allocating harvesting rights in public forest to forest corporations caters to the predatory aspects of corporate business. Timber can be acquired without competition from other wood manufacturers. There is incentive to get the raw material at lowest possible cost, and opportunity to offload some of the costs or losses onto the public. The BC public paid for decades of forest fire fighting. In fire dominated landscapes in the interior of BC, this meant saving large areas of Lodge pole pine from fire. Meanwhile,  corporations offloaded this expense and were greedily feasting on species more profitable than pine. The net result was large areas of aging pine stands in the interior of BC. Mountain pine beetles like pine that is greater than 80 years old, so they were able to have a feast of timber, in a mega epidemic. We fed mountain pine beetles with a $100 billion worth of public timber. This figure does not include the cost to the public for decades of firefighting to help it happen.  Most BC residents have bought the public relations spin that the epidemic was caused by warm winters and climate change.

Our public forests should be run like businesses with elected public representatives on boards supported by professional forest management staff. Income for the public forest enterprise would come from open market sale of logs, non-timber forest products and nature based enterprises. The business units should be local in scale. A government run Province wide forestry enterprise would end up as an inefficient centralized bureaucratic mess. However, more independent local forest management enterprises in the form of Local Forest Trusts with an elected board and a sufficient area of local forest landscape to permit economic operation could operate efficiently. This local form of organisation will make best use of professional resource managers because they will get to know the local ecosystems in sufficient detail to ensure sustainable productivity an ecological health. A BC Forest Trust Assembly governed by elected and professional delegates from local forest trusts would audit and support the local trusts with collective services. Existing wood manufacturers will be able to continue in a more business like environment. They will be able to buy timber. There will be competition for timber but this will result in a strong diverse wood manufacturing industry.

We, the public should blame ourselves for the present situation. We have sat on the sidelines and allowed successive BC Government administrations turn our public forests into a corporate welfare operation. We just witnessed the Occupy Movement, a global reaction to corporatism, managing to occupy a few downtown city parks in BC for a few weeks. Meanwhile forest corporation have occupied public forests for decades and seek greater hold on them. It is time we exhibited a little initiative and occupy our own public forests. How do we do this? We just need to ask for some new institutional arrangements such as local forest trusts with locally elected boards and professional management.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Not satisfactorily restocked forest land in BC

Click on the link for an interesting article on not satisfactorily restocked forest land:

Crown or Public Forests, Feudalism or Democracy

Technically correct picky types will quickly raise objection if you mention BC's public forests. They will correct you and point out that approx 95% of BC's forests are Crown Forests. Canada's land system is derived from British colonialism and the correct legal definition is Crown land. If you dig a little farther into the technical legalities, you find that the Province of British Columbia actually holds the land on behalf of Her Majesty.

The Province of British Columbia has an elected government. The function of government in a democracy is to ensure that the state acts in the best interests of the people or public. The BC Government is supposed to be the trustee that ensures that the public forests are supplied with sustainable management for the long term benefit of the people.  The intent is to sustain the forest environment and economy of BC for the benefit of the people. Therefore it should be correct and acceptable to refer to our forests as public forests.

We should regard "Crown Forest" as an archaic term derived from a distant age of feudalism. Central to feudalism was a system of land holding that was not defined by a relationship between the owner and the land. Rather, land was held by the Monarch or Crown, and rights to land were defined by a relationship or agreement between a Lord and the Monarch. It was a system of a few big shots with the public being the peasants with little or no influence. Unfortunately, the present legal framework for our public forests bears great resemblance to feudalism. The central feature of the system is not provision for sustainable stewardship of public forests, but tenure rights to harvest timber from public forests. These tenure rights are legal relationships between forest corporations and the government to harvest timber. Instead of feudal lords we have forest corporations. Even a feudal lord within an oppressive feudal system might have been a good enough soul to look after the basic needs of his peasants. A corporation serves profit without a soul.

Management of BC's public forests is largely an affair between government and corporations intent on turning timber into dollars. This focus is far removed from sustainable stewardship, and the BC forest industry is now having problems owning to the dollar hungry improvidence of the last six decades. While the government and forest industry make much of public involvement opportunities, these are little more than a chance for the public or peasants to make a few minor peeps against thunder along the way.

In response to the present problems in the forest industry, forest corporations want stronger and more secure tenure in public forests with less regulation. This means more control and steps toward ownership of public forests by corporations and less say for the public or peasants. They say they need this to attract investment. Investment will come to BC if there is a secure and reliable supply of timber. This, in turn, is dependent on a sound system of sustainable management for our public forests. Our system of corporate feudalism in the public forest is a proven failure in this respect so we need something different.

Rather than doling out timber from our Crown forests to corporate lords we need a business like system of sustainable stewardship that recognizes the public as shareholders. Local forest trusts with professional forest management and a locally elected board charged with sustainable management of all timber, non timber and nature based forest resources is the most promising alternative.  Local forest trusts would be profit making local enterprises. Existing forest industry will be able to buy wood on an open market and continue to operate. Their vulnerability to export tariffs will be reduced by the adoption of a true market for timber.  Local forest trusts would be audited and supported by a BC Forest Trust Assembly controlled by elected and professional forest management delegates from local forest trusts.

In the Crown Forests of BC, a system of corporate feudalism between the BC Government and forest corporations reigns, and it is an economic failure. The public are peasants in their own forests. This is a failure of government and democracy. We will stop being peasants and change the system, when we demand direct professional management of our forests with elected public representation on boards.