Thursday, March 29, 2012

Best Practices in the Forest

The Montreal Process, the international standard on sustainable forest management says that the legal and institutional framework for forest management should encourage "best practices codes".  Best forest practices codes are not a recent idea. There has been a long history of forest practices codes. Guides or codes that give information on good forest stewardship are beneficial. Unfortunately, best practices codes are often poorly implemented.

Forest stewardship, especially on mountainous terrain in BC, is complex. At every site, a whole array of biophysical factors comes into play and have to be considered. "Complex problems have simple, easy to understand, wrong answers."  If forests are being poorly managed and degraded, the simple solution is to develop a forest practices code that regulates everything in detail. Modern forestry started in Europe in an attempt to restore exploited forests. The Germans are established forestry schools in the late 1700s and are usually credited with starting modern forest management. The French tried to establish modern forest management, in the 1600s using a strict detailed forest code. The code was the brain child of a famous administrator called Colbert. The code did stop forest exploitation but it did little to advance forest management because it was too restrictive.

Best forest practices have to be encouraged by a whole infrastructure. Universities or schools to train foresters gave the Germans the early start. Most industries that produce quality products will also have technical training and trades certification for technicians and other workers. Extension services to give advice is another common means of improving stewardship of land in agriculture and forestry. Forest stewardship also needs the motivation to care for the forest. The motivation needs a broad perspective. A forest landscape is an environment with an internal population of plants and animals, that interacts with surrounding land and communities through water supply, fisheries, and economic activity. The forest may contain special scenery and be a place of recreation.  If those looking after the forest are just there for timber and the money it brings, little attention will be paid to other values. The attention has to be forced by parties who are interested in other values having to complain and make noises. Other interests may also propose restrictive practices codes are a solution.

British Columbia tried a regulated Forest Practices Code in the 1990s. Timber harvesting rights in most of BC's public forests had been allocated to forest corporations engaged in softwood lumber and paper pulp manufacture. The public and parties interested in other values were making noises that were called a "war in the woods". The solutions to end the "war in the woods" was more parks and protected areas and a detailed regulated forest practices code. The code proved cumbersome and restrictive and has been replaced with "results based system" in the last decade. Forest policy vacillated from strict to lax in the space of a few years.  The forest sector remains unhealthy because the BC Government will not deal with the heart of the problem.

The steward of BC's forest has been the logger. The BC logger is a hardened character that fights timber off of mountains. In the back of his mind is that there is an in-exhaustable supply of timber and enough wealth to avoid the "waste not, want not" concept.   If you look at the photo above you will see used steel wire rope dumped on this forest road after being pulled off a cable logging machine. Hundreds of meters of wire rope, about one inch diameter, can amount to tons of steel that could be recycled. Dumping used steel cable has been the practice for decades. The wire rope in the photo would have been dumped when the Forest Practices Code was in effect. Although the Code had enough details to fill a library, dumping wire rope was not covered. It demonstrates lack of care. The value of the steel in the rope is enough to cover cost of its recovery. The dumped cable often ends up in the road surface after it has been pulled from the logging machine by a vehicle. Over time the cable rusts and becomes stiff and nearly impossible to remove. Grading of the road in future, will rip and break strands of wire in the cable and vehicle tires will get ruined and deflated. The original logger exited with what he cared about; money.

The heart of the problem in BC's legal and institutional framework for forest management is the tenure system of timber harvesting rights. This is the legal facilitation of today's logger, the forest corporation. Forest stewardship in public forests covers piecemeal areas that forest corporations are harvesting and replanting. Timber interests are king and other values take the back seat. Since timber interests do not look ahead for the long term, the entire BC forest sector is presently on the side of the road fixing flat tires of its own making.

To encourage best forest practices BC's system of forest management should be founded on provision for stewardship of the forest rather than logging in the forest. The system of stewardship should be local and involve local people with a long term interest in their communities. The Local Forest Trust with professional managers and an elected board will provide a better base for good forest practices. A BC Forest Trust Assembly governed by delegates from local forest trusts could make available extension services and forest worker trades training and certification to help improve forest practices. Forest workers and contractors would be supervised by local forest trust professional with a broad stewardship perspective rather than by staff of corporate timber interests.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Public Involvement in BC Forest Management

Public involvement in forest management in BC seems to be progressive.  The Montreal Process, the international standard on sustainable forest management asks the legal and institutional framework for forest management to "provide opportunities for public participation in public policy and decision-making related to forests and public access to information".

The cosmetics of public involvement in forest management have been applied with a trowel. The public have considerable opportunity to participate in land use plans and comment on forest stewardship plans. Some of the sustainable forest management wood products certification schemes require public advisory groups. The public is invited to participate by the corporate and government managers of BC's public forests. It is a very successful public relations exercise because it satisfies the public.

The public of BC are the owners of the public forests and are being patronized by by these public relations efforts of their managers. Do we want an oligopoly of government and forest corporations managing our forests primarily for commodity wood products? Do we need to suffer discriminatory export taxes on our forest products because our forest managers have a non market administered system of timber allocation that excludes value added wood manufacturers? Are we naive enough to think that timber interests will manage our forest landscapes for values other than timber?

These are the forest managers that stripped the best timber from the BC coast without enough thought of the transition to second growth growth harvest. Coastal communities are now suffering. These are the forest managers that have convinced us that the loss of $100 Billion worth of timber in the interior of BC to an unnatural super epidemic of mountain pine beetle was due to climate change. They neglected to tell us that their own efforts in fire fighting in lodge pole pine while at the same time failing to harvest sufficient pine, made huge areas susceptible to attack and loss.

The Montreal Process encourages public involvement to promote progress toward sustainable forest management. An involved and interested public and a relationship between communities and local forests is a force for improvement. In BC, public involvement is being used to give legitimacy to forest management arrangements are not achieving sustainability. Public involvement is being employed to impede progress toward sustainable forest management.

The public in BC are owners of the public forests. Owners should not be on the sidelines with only the ability to give comments. Rather, owners should be giving direction. Change is required to our system of forest management. The public and especially forest dependent communities should first ask for a new system of forest management and new institutions. If we want things done to a better standard we need different managers.  This means that forest corporations and the central BC Government should not have control in the new system. Democratic representation of the public or owners and independent professional managers should be hallmarks of the new system. The professional forest managers work for the public or owners. This sets the whole notion of public involvement in a public forest straight.

The local forest trust with a locally elected board and professional forest managers is the most promising building block in a new system. Forest dependent communities will be directly involved in the management of the local forest. The local forest would be a relatively large area of local forest landscapes sufficient to permit economic forest operations. Forest managers would be local. They will be focused on economic operation of the forest. Managers will develop sufficient understanding of local ecosystems to be effective in ecosystem management. Timber would be sold on an open market and the forest managers would also plan and develop non timber and nature based economic enterprises. The local forest trust would operate under trust documents that incorporate the sustainable forest management requirements of the Montreal Process.

The wider Provincial interest in the forest would be looked after by a forest trust assembly governed by elected board and professional delegates from local forest trusts. The forest trust assembly would audit and support local forest trusts by providing collective extension services and fire fighting. New policies developed by the forest trust assembly would go back to local forest trusts for ratification. The forest trust assembly would also provide a court of appeal.

New institutions to give democratic control of public forests back to the public will also re-assert that the public owns and controls the forests. Under the present and existing system, the public, cap in hand, has only the right to comment on the workings of a government and corporate forest management oligopoly. This sets the stage for enclosure of public land into the private domain. The BC public needs to get involved in management of public forests before they are lost for ever.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

BC Forest Planning and the Montreal Process

Does BC's legal and institutional framework for forest management shape up against the Montreal Process? The Montreal Process is an international standard on sustainable forest management.  In the last blog, we started to look at BC's forest management system to see if it measures up. The Montreal Process asks the following about forest planning:

7.1.b Provides for periodic forest-related planning, assessment, and policy review that recognizes the range of forest values, including coordination with relevant sectors

BC appears to have a considerable suite of forest plans, assessments and policy reviews that appear to be quite robust on the surface. There are higher level land use plans that involve the public, users and other sectors. Given that BC's forests are public for the most part, these would appear to give the public owners a good say in the objectives for forest management. Other forest values are considered. These plans often involve large regional or sub-regional areas of forest and higher level objectives have not been completed for all BC's public forests. Where they are complete, the objectives may be too vague for effective implementation.
The Ministry of Forests plans the allowable harvest in public forests. A good process, but forest inventories may not be up to date and there is little geographic regulation of the areas to be harvested within large regional timber supply areas.
Forest Stewardship Plans are done by forest companies with rights to harvest timber for the areas that they plan to harvest and regenerate, usually in the next 5 years. Although these plans consider other values and public comments, their title is a public relations effort because they only consider piecemeal areas within a forest landscape that will be harvested and regenerated within the next few years.

BC seems to have forest planning, but is it effective. Why do we plan?  If you are planning a building or a machine or anything else, it is usually an exercise of collecting information, doing some design, possibly looking at alternatives, so that the end product or outcome is economic and functions well into the future. Problems can be avoided or mitigated. It is the integrity and connectivity of the process coupled with some design to give the desired outcome that makes planning effective.

The classic forest plan is the European Forest Management and Working plan that addressed the whole forest or ownership holding. It is at the local forest management unit scale. It was central to the job of the professional forester. The forester would first assemble comprehensive biophysical information about the particular forest. The forester was then in a position to explain and represent the forest to the owners and ensure that their objectives were within the capacity of the forest ecosystem. The plan would examine alternatives and provide a short term plan nested within a longer term plan that ensured sustainable outputs.

BC's system of forest management involves centrally directed higher level planning by Government with corporate timber harvesting rights holders having considerable freedom to select piecemeal areas of forest they wish to harvest and regenerate. Although other resource values are considered, timber dollars are king in the process. Most of the planning that brings change to the forest is done by timber interests that are not about to undertake any effective planning for sustaining a non timber forest resource or nature based enterprise. It is a kind of assembly line planning with different people in government and industry involved in a piecemeal way over time. The Government folks with figures showing rapid growth of regenerated coastal forest, allowed rapid liquidation of coastal BC forests. They were right. The young forest did grow quickly.  However, the young forests after 60 or 70 years may need to add some more years of growth to make harvesting by cable in mountainous terrain an economic proposition. The forester number crunchers sitting in a Victoria were not in contact with forest engineers on the ground in the hinterland that could have red flagged this future problems.

Lack of connection and control between plans is exemplified by the leniency provided to corporate timber rights holders to select the areas they wished to harvest. In the interior of BC, timber rights holders avoided lodge pole pine in favor of other species. The Government fought forest fires that tended to save lodge pole pine. The net result was huge areas of old lodge pole pine that became susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack. An super epidemic of mountain pine beetle has wasted about $100 Billion worth of timber. This ultra expensive forest planning failure has been covered up by public relations efforts to blame the unnatural epidemic entirely on climate change.

If our forest planning system results in a $100 Billion loss, it is time we got a new one that operates effectively at the local scale and sustains communities.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Forest Tenure and sustainable forest management

A considerable amount of forest in BC has been certified under sustainable forest management certification schemes for wood products. This gives comfort to most. It makes good fodder for the public relation machines of government and the forest industry.

Unfortunately, most of these wood products certification schemes do not meet the more objective scientific standard for sustainable forest management outlined in the Montreal Process. It is a international standard on sustainable forest management and conservation for temperate and boreal forests.

Most of the certification schemes try to ensure forest practices comply with forest laws and regulations. Criterion 7 of Montreal Process asks if the laws, regulations and institutions support sustainable forest management.  Criterion 7 starts with questions about tenure.

7.1 Extent to which the legal framework (laws, regulations, guidelines) supports the conservation and sustainable management of forests, including the extent to which it: 

7.1.a Clarifies property rights, provides for appropriate land tenure arrangements, recognizes customary and traditional rights of indigenous people, and provides means of resolving property disputes by due process;  

Why are clear property rights so important? A land registry is a necessary part of government regulation. We have grown accustomed to calls for deregulation from neoconservatives, but the most ardent supporters of deregulation would want a land registry and police to protect their property and valuables. Without clear registered property rights, everything would be a shambles and there would be no basis for planning, management, or investment.

On the face of things, BC seems to meet the requirements of 7.1.a above. Most of BC's forests are in Crown ownership, meaning that they are held by the Government of BC for the benefit of the citizens. There is a established tenure system of timber harvesting rights held by forest companies. BC and the courts have made some attempt to consider indigenous rights.

The tardiness of First Nation's land claims processes is perhaps the first indication that all is not quite as it seems around forest tenure issues in BC. Can a forest tenure system of harvesting rights form the basis for sustainable forest management? The logic appears flawed. Some of the harvesting rights, such as tree farm licences apply to the management a defined area of forest. However, most harvesting rights give the right to harvest volumes of timber from regional sized areas of forest called timber supply areas. It is a right to go and pick a piece of forest to harvest. The area to be harvested has to be planned and approved and the forest has to be regenerated after harvest. The arrangement seems to provide for some forest stewardship.  It only provides for a kind of floating stewardship for piecemeal parts of a forest landscape. Timber harvesting rights holders only provide stewardship coverage of 10% to 15% of a forest landscape at any time. Most of the forest and infrastructure such as roads receives no tending or maintenance. Areas deforested by natural disturbances such as fires or insect attacks, are not regenerated by timber rights holders. Timber harvesting rights give first place to timber interests. Integrated management of other forest resources cannot progress much further than a little public relations talk.

The tenure system of harvesting rights results in a muddled system of forest stewardship. There is a kind of floating stewardship provided by timber rights holders on piecemeal parts of the forest landscape over time. The BC Government provides fire suppression but little in the way of forest stewardship. Government has transferred forest management responsibilities to forest companies. Forest corporations seek enhanced forest tenures and there is a slow gradual default movement from Crown or public ownership to corporate control. There is no clarity in forest stewardship.

We need to get some clarity back into forest stewardship, if we wish to have a prosperous forest economy in BC in this century. Clarity means keeping it simple.

The forests are owned by the people of BC, including First Nations. The forests should be managed by and for the people of BC. Local forest landscapes should be managed as Local Forest Trusts by professional managers accountable to local elected board. Timber should be sold by Local Forest Trusts on a open market to encourage wood product diversity. A BC Forest Trust Assembly governed by professional and elected board delegates from local forest trusts would provide auditing, supports and a place of appeal.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Deer from forest to the city

Deer have found that they can make a better living in the city than in the forest. Many communities in BC are experiencing a considerable increase in sub-urban deer populations. This problem is not restricted to BC, but occurs throughout North America. Even Britain, with more dense urban environments is experiencing the urban deer phenomenon.

Foresters have known that openings in a forest with lush growth of ground vegetation provides browse and improvement in habitat for many deer species. If the deer population gets too high, deer can do considerable damage to tree seedlings or prevent regeneration of forests. In Scotland, high populations of Red deer prevented regeneration of natural Scots pine forests. Control of deer populations in recent years has enabled regeneration of Scots pine. Some deer species have a scent gland on their heads. They mark their territory by rubbing their antlers on the bark of trees to leave the scent. Unfortunately, the rubbing often damages the bark and leads to disease or death of the tree. Urban fruit trees are often a target.

Cities in BC follow the North American pattern of urban sprawl.  These sub-urban areas attract residents because they have a forest and rural environment and flavor. They are a patchwork forest, fields, gardens with almost no predators or hunting.  Deer find this habitat ideal and their populations have soared near cities. High populations of deer bring intrusion of deer further into the urban core of cities. Deer exhibit less fear of people,become aggressive and collisions with vehicles increase considerably and farms in the vicinity of cities suffer unacceptable levels of crop damage or loss.

Controlling deer populations in urban environments poses a political problem. Farmers and gardeners want to see some control of deer populations. Every city has a large percentage of Bambi lovers who oppose deer control. Provincial and municipal politicians try passing the buck (and the doe) between levels of government, so any action is delayed. Editorial pages of newspapers are filled with days of letters pleading for reduction of deer populations along with letters with passionate pleas for leaving the deer alone to multiply. Others suggest using tranquilizer guns on the deer, and transporting them to some remote forest.  (The remote forest may not have sufficient habitat especially for deer used to a fancy and exotic diet of fertilized urban pickings) The occasional mountain lion has moved into the urban environment for a deer dinner, but is soon spotted by humans and quick action is taken to kill or remove the cougar. There is an element of fear involved with cougars so humans are less tolerant. (A Bambi loving mother who writes letters to the editor on species cleansing of poor urban deer has second thoughts about a mountain lion having her Johnny for lunch.)

Deer become wise to deer repellents, such as scents, motion controlled water sprinklers, or electric fence wires. Deer fencing needs to be 7 or 8 feet high and tends to be prohibitive in terms of cost or aesthetics. Collisions with vehicles cannot be relied upon as a means of deer population control. Collisions increase with rising deer populations but it is not effective in reducing deer populations. It just helps to raise automotive insurance costs and risk of injury.

 At the end of the day, the only solution to rising urban deer populations, is active population reduction measures such as trapping and use of bolt guns.