Sunday, February 19, 2012

BC Auditor's report on Ministry of Forests

This week, the BC Auditor General released Report 11, an audit of the Ministry of Forests management of timber. Read the report at:  The Ministry of Forests celebrates it's one hundredth birthday with a failing grade.

The BC Auditor General has done a commendable job in outlining deficiencies in forest stewardship. His recommendations are about treating symptoms. The report gives some of the key numbers:

  1. BC is 95 million hectares (one and a half times the size of France, the largest country in Europe)
  2. 90 million hectares is publicly owned
  3. 55 million hectares is forested (an area the size of Spain)
  4. 22 million hectares is available for timber production and harvest (an area the size of the UK)
  5. Approximately 2.4 million hectares is under the harvesting and regeneration responsibilities of forest industry
 Forest management in BC has been little more than government facilitated exploitation of public forests by forest corporations. After harvest, areas are regenerated naturally or by planting. This makes for good public relations because the average man on the street will think that good forest stewardship is being done if you plant a tree after you cut one down. The responsibility for replanting the forests has been moved from the Ministry of Forests to forest companies. The BC Auditor General has brought up the issue of regeneration of forests destroyed by fire or the recent mountain pine beetle epidemic. Forest companies only have to regenerate the areas harvested. Only 11% of our timber producing forest is under active stewardship. The problem is more than just regeneration of forest cover. Forest roads are left to deteriorate after companies finish the harvest and regeneration cycle. Forest loose their access infrastructure as road erode and deteriorate, often with the side effects to reduced water quality and fisheries values.

The stewardship problems in BC's public forests cannot be fixed by symptomatic solutions such as giving the Ministry of Forests more money to plant trees on areas affected by fire or disease. The real problem is BC's forest tenure system of harvesting rights that ends up with only 11% of our public forests getting piecemeal stewardship. We need new arrangements that will give our public forests stewardship over 100% of the area.

Even BC parks with responsibilities for 13 million hectares does not provide full stewardship of protected areas. The 13 million hectares includes non timber producing forests and non forested public land. BC Parks provides administration of park facility operators whose responsibilities focus on a relatively small area at the front end of parks, comprising parking lots, picnic and campsites. You can find serious erosion on poorly located and maintained trails in protected areas.

If BC fully embraced sustainable forest management and conservation to the standards and concepts outlined in the Montreal Process, we would start to think differently about our forested landscapes and their opportunities. Most forest landscapes in BC include some of the 22 million hectares of timber producing forest, some of the 33 million hectares of non timber producing forest and some of the remaining 35 million hectares of non forested land. We need to think about some new arrangements that manage all of this land, all of the time for full economic benefit. Management of forest landscapes should be locally based and it should aim to derive economic and social benefits from comprehensive management of timber, non timber and nature based resources. We should not expect timber companies to do this job in public forests. A centralized Government Agency likewise will experience difficulties in trying to manage nearly 90 million hectares. We have already had one hundred years experience of this problem. The Ministry of Forests failed as the central independent professional management institution of BC's forest landscapes.

Local forest landscapes will be best served if they are managed like a business under a charter or institutional arrangements that ensure sustainable forest management and conservation. Revenue from timber, non timber and nature based endeavors can be used directly to cover the expenses for regeneration, stand tending, nature trail building. Professional managers will work from local knowledge to provide stewardship that suits local conditions, rather than being constrained by central rules or regulation. The local public should be involved in management decisions through an elected board. Timber and other forest products should be sold on an open market to encourage wood products manufacturing diversity in BC and freedom from discriminatory export taxes. Local Forest Trusts would be the primary building block in a new stewardship system for public forest landscapes.

The folk that recommended the Ministry of Forests or Forest Service one hundred years ago noted that the institution needed BC political administrations to hold to the first priority of ensuring the gradual development a wise system of forest stewardship. The first priority of BC political administrations has been to extract as much money from BC's public forests. This led to BC's forest policy of facilitated exploitation. We need a new central institution that is controlled by people with a primary interest in sustainable forest stewardship, rather than politicians that see the forest as a barrel of dollars. A system of Local Forest Trusts will have a pool of locally elected board members and experienced professional resource managers. A BC Forest Stewardship Assembly could draw on elected board members and professional staff as delegates. The BC Forest Stewardship Assembly would set policy, audit, provide collective services and provide a court of appeal for forest stewardship matters. Its policy decisions could be sent back to local forest trusts for ratification.

We need a change in the legal and institutional arrangements for managing public forests. We have a system where public forests are being exploited by forest corporations with the facilitation of government. We need a system that provides full stewardship and conservation of forest landscapes for the people by the people. Local Forest Trusts and a BC Forest Stewardship Assembly are the institutions needed to secure a sustainable future for BC's public forests.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Clear cutting in BC: A Silvicultural System?

Strong reactions against clear cutting have been around British Columbia for decades. The subject continues to surface in "letters to the editor". The forest sector and the professional forester community responds by pointing out that clear cutting is an acceptable silvicultural system. It is a situation where a good section of the public has got the sense that something is not quite right. The forestry sector has brushed it off as a lack of understanding.

Is there a problem and can it be solved?
A silvicultural system is the process by which forest stands are tended, removed and replaced by new stands. Three elements of forest stewardship are involved:

  1. Regeneration of the stand of trees
  2. The form and quality of the trees and timber to be produced
  3. Arrangement of stands of various ages in the forest landscape to provide a continuous economic timber supply while ensuring the health and protection of the forest ecosystem
There are four different types of silvicultural systems:
  1. Clear cutting where the stand is removed at one time and replaced by planting seedlings or natural regeneration
  2. Shelterwood where the stand is removed in stages as regeneration takes place underneath
  3. Selection system where mature trees are removed on a gradual basis and regeneration likewise so that there is always a stand of full height containing various ages of trees
  4. Coppice involving sprouting from cut stumps of species such as poplar with the  sprouting habit
Clear cutting is a silvicultural system and it can be used to provide good stewardship. Clear cutting a stand with root rot and replacing it with a resistant species is better than using the other silvicultural systems that would allow the root rot to persist. Clear cutting a species that is susceptible to disease and decline at relatively early age may be best.

Regeneration is a requirement after harvest in the public forests in BC so clear cutting meets the first element of forest stewardship for a silvicultural system. Since BC has a poorly developed secondary wood products manufacturing industry, the form and quality of timber to be produced receives little consideration. Aiming for higher quality timber provides an impetus for mixed stands, thinning and the use of non clear cutting silvicultural systems.

The third element of forest stewardship is the idea that the silvicultural system is being applied by a knowledgeable professional or management system to ensure the sustainability of the timber producing and environmental protective functions of a forest landscape. This element of forest stewardship is barely possible under BC's arrangements for industrial forest management in public forests. The BC Government sets the amount of timber that can be harvested annually from Timber Supply Areas that are regional in size. Forest corporations with allocated timber harvesting rights propose the areas to be harvested. A single forest landscape within a Timber Supply Area can see considerable or complete harvesting within a decade or two so clear cut stripping of a considerable part of a forest landscape can take place in a relatively short space of time. The centralized system of the BC Government and its corporate forest company partners simply does not apply stewardship at the local scale. Non clear cutting silvicutural systems are not a one time effort. The harvesting and regenerating activity is spread out over years or even decades and requires much greater local knowledge and skill. A very minor amount of non clear cutting has been attempted in BC. Provision for constant local stewardship is necessary for advanced stewardship. The centralized system involves the BC Ministry of Forests in flux from constant reorganization and downsizing and forest companies subject to take overs and various forms of reorganization.

Ensuring that the protective functions of the forest landscape are maintained features in the negative. Anything that may interrupt the usual cycle of industrial clear cutting is called a constraint. A battle may ensue over clear cutting of a winter wildlife habitat. Usually it is either clear cut or save, rather than application of a shelterwood or selection silvicultural system that may be better for wildlife and people in the long run.

On the BC coast, continuous clear cutting of old growth has left forest industry with problems in the economic harvest of second growth. While the annual growth of timber in young stands meets the projections made in some centralized bureaucratic penthouse, the total volume of timber in a stand on steep terrain may not be sufficient after 70 or 80 years to cover the high costs of harvest with cable logging machines.  In the interior of BC, leaving huge areas of lodge pole pine to get older than 80 years made $100 Billion worth of timber susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack and there has been a major loss of timber.

Clear cutting in BC does not meet the definition of a silvicultural system. Clear cutting is the low cost harvest method suited to the system of industrial timber management that was implemented after WW II in BC.  The system is an economic and environmental failure. The public picks up visual clues from a landscape that something is amiss with forest stewardship. It is not clear cutting as a silvicultural system that is the problem but clear cut exploitation of their public forests, by a legal and institutional framework that enables corporate rapacity rather than true stewardship.

The solution is to change the legal and institutional framework for managing public forests. Public forests should be managed directly on behalf of the public at the local scale with a professional staff that can develop the local knowledge and skill to implement all forms of silvicultural systems. Local forest trusts should be able to sell logs on an open market to encourage the growth of value added manufacturers. A demand for higher quality timber to generate value will encourage use of non clear cutting silvicultural systems. The environmental and aesthetic qualities of local forests will be maintained and provide a basis for the development of nature based non consumptive economic activity in forest dependent communities.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

BC Parks Volunteer Strategy

BC Parks is developing a volunteer strategy to encourage more volunteer involvement in the care and maintenance of BC Parks. Workshops are being conducted to gather ideas.

This is an opportunity for communities, groups and individuals to get involved in the stewardship of protected areas in the local landscape. A well maintained park with  high standard of hiking trails is an economic asset to a community and helps to draw tourists.

 Contact Becs Hoskins, BC Parks Project Manager (

Please join us at one of the following workshops:
Prince George - February 10, 9 am -12 pm; 
Smithers - February 13, 9 am -12 pm; 
Vancouver - February 16, 1-4 pm; 
Penticton - February 20, 1-4 pm; 
Williams Lake - February 24, 9 am - 12 pm; 
Miracle Beach - February 28, 1-4 pm; 
Nelson - March 5, 1-4 pm; 
Cranbrook - March 7, 9 am – 12 pm; 
Kamloops - March 12, 9 am – 12 pm.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Healthy Forests Healthy Communities Consensus

In 2011, the Healthy Forests Healthy Communities initiative held meetings in many communities throughout BC seeking consensus. Canadians are polite and seeking consensus is the right and polite way to approach questions. Ask everyone and try and come up with a consensus that offends no one. (Why does it take 101 Canadians to change a light bulb? One to change the bulb and another 100 to reach consensus.)

The following are the conclusions  from 2011

The 2011 HFHC activities generated six (6) conclusions:
1) The concern over the future of BC forest lands is shared by a wide range of BC residents (professional foresters and biologists, academics, First Nations, youth and communities), including a move away from a short-term forest Healthy Forests-Healthy industry economic focus to a long-term stewardship focus while addressing current economic challenges
2) There is a need for a Government approved vision for BC forest lands to guide legislation, regulation, policies and practices
3) Experts in the fields of forest management are of the view more needs to be done regarding forest management to achieve the draft BC forest lands vision and deliver on the needs of communities over the long-term
4) The concerns of communities are consistent throughout the Province with key issues related to communities needs
5) Decision-makers and communities are confronted with a number of challenges due to the current and foreseeable future  provincial economic situation, thereby necessitating innovation and transformative change in the long-term management of BC forest lands
6) More specific suggested actions are required to give guidance to decision makers

There is nothing wrong with these conclusions, but they are rather limp in giving direction. Something that outlines the present problems and gives some concrete solutions is needed. This whole initiative seems to be needing a large testosterone injection to go anywhere.

If there is a large group of concerned citizens, communities, First Nations and professionals, then they should supply a vision for Government. The Government of Canada has already signed on to the Montreal Process, a comprehensive international agreement and definition of sustainable forest management and conservation. It provides an excellent and practical vision for progress toward sustainable forest management.

The Government of BC owns about 95% of BC's forests. It can easily institute a new legal and institutional framework to achieve sustainable forest management and the outcomes of healthy communities and forest manufacturing sector. The main stumbling block is the BC Government's partnership with forest corporations in a non market oligopoly arrangement to reap short term dollars from the forest. We have had more than 60 years of this arrangement and there is no short term left only a bleak long term. This set of legal and institutional arrangements is a failure.

If the people and communities leave it to Government to come up with a vision, they will go to their corporate partners and we will get more of the same, probably in the form of some arrangements that put our forests under greater private control.

Conclusion 6 is correct. The Healthy Forests Healthy Communities needs to come up with some specific solutions to replace the present failed system. They need to be delivered to Government as something pretty scratchy backed by lots of citizens ready to give politicians the order of the boot. Warm fuzzy amorphous suggestions will not ring the Government's bell.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Not Restocked forest Debate continues

Norm Macdonald is MLA for Columbia River-Revelstoke and Opposition critic for Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations wrote the following article on Not Satisfactorily Restocked forests: