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.

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