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: http://www.bcauditor.com/pubs  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.


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