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.

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