Monday, January 9, 2012

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.

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