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.

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