Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sustainable hiking trail surveys

Hiking trails in forests and Parks may have developed haphazardly over the years leaving a trail system that may not be sustainable.  Existing trails can be surveyed to determine their sustainability and the need for improvements, re-locations or completely new route corridors.

A survey of the existing trails requires necessary equipment as illustrated in the photo.

A surveyor's or cruiser's vest is a handy way of carrying the measuring chain, a compass and clinometer, a waterproof paper notebook, flagging tape and a GPS unit. GPS units with maps can do a good job of positioning the horizontal alignment of a trail as you traverse the trail. The gradient or vertical alignment of the trail is best recorded the old fashioned way. The trail is traversed measuring sections of the same grade. The distance, the gradient of the trail, the gradient of the side slope is recorded. Two people are required, a surveyor or recorder and the chain man who pulls the chain ahead to the next change in trail gradient. Additional data on rock and soil conditions, viewpoints, junctions and other points of interests are recorded and referenced to the GPS track.

Once the gradient and other measurements are recorded for each section, a judgement of the sustainability of each section can be noted. Some sections with gradients under 10% may be unsustainable owing to soil and moisture conditions such as a swamp or a bog. If you are on a side hill a pattern or a relationship between gradient and sustainability usually becomes evident. Provided that there are no soil or water problems, trail sections with gradients of 10% or less usually demonstrate little erosion from foot traffic. The hiker walks with a flowing motion on these gradients. On gradients above approximately 10% the hiker switches into a climbing step or a braking step if going downhill. Depending on the amount of clay or cohesive material on the trail tread some foot erosion becomes evident and is almost always present when the gradient gets to 20% unless the trail surface is solid rock. In addition to foot erosion, steep trails are more susceptible to erosion from water flow. Look for rocks larger than 4 inches or 10 centimeters wearing out of the trail surface to become tripping hazards.

Data from the survey notebook can be reviewed later. It may be possible to relocate a section that is unsustainable. However, if a trail has many sections that are unsustainable owing to excessive gradient, a whole new route corridor is indicated.

Trails may be unsustainable for reasons other than poor physical condition, erosion etc. A trail route that does not take hikers to points of interest in the landscape, or takes an indirect location to the final objective such as a mountain top encourages pioneering of shortcuts and more people disturbance especially if the area is protected. A trail that goes to the summit of a distant mountain should climb there with a minimum of avoidable downhill stretches on the way up. Poor route corridors encourage shortcuts and confusing networks that contribute to people getting lost and requiring search and rescue efforts.

A sustainable trail survey that takes notes and measurements provides a data narrative for each trail segment. It supports the larger picture task of assessing the suitability of the existing trail system in the landscape and planning necessary changes, de-activation, improvements and new routes.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Converting to area based forest management in BC

The recent BC Legislative Special Committee on Timber Supply made the following recommendations to move from timber volume based forest tenures to area based forest tenures in BC's public forests:

"Expanding area‐based tenures
Approximately 80% of the Crown forest resource is currently under “volume-based” tenure, where a tenure holder is typically one of many having rights to a specific volume of timber within a timber
supply area. The remaining 20% of the resource is under area-based tenure, in First Nations
woodland licences, tree farm licences, community forest agreements or woodlot licences.
During the consultations, interest was expressed in expanding the amount of area-based tenure in the Province, or any other future form of area-based tenure."

Volume based tenures are an invitation for picking the best timber out of public forests, and are not a sensible basis for sustainable forest management in the 21st century. This poor institutional arrangement was mostly responsible for the recent loss of $100 Billion in timber to the larger than natural mountain pine beetle epidemic. Lodge pole pine did not comprise the best pickings, and the species got left to get old and susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack. In the period up to the 1980's, the BC Government was responsible for reforestation on volume based tenures. The Government fell down on the job because the money was employed on more politically desirable activities such as building roads, schools and hospitals. In the 1980's, the BC Government required the companies harvesting in volume based tenures to reforest. This worked reasonably well to ensure that harvested areas would be reforested.  The BC Government now has a major reforestation problem on its hands because mountain pine beetles have no contractual obligation to reforest.

Reforestation did occur on area based Tree Farm Licences, mainly on the BC coast, over the same period that the BC Government was falling down on the job in volume based tenures. Reforestation was a contractual obligation of the Tree farm Licence and the fact that the corporate license holder could look forward to renewing the licence for the long term provided an incentive to invest in future harvests. Within the concept of BC's existing legal and institutional infrastructure for tenure in public forests, area based tenures are better.

Unfortunately every public examination into the management of BC's public forests in the past half a century has been done by accepting the legal and institutional arrangements for managing our public forests as a given fact that cannot be changed. Sometimes the terms of reference restricted any examination of the arrangements. If not, the hearings around the Province would hear from foresters and other forest sector interests that assumed that BC should continue to operate with a framework of timber harvesting rights tenures. Recommendations are restricted to some monkey wrenching of the existing system to keep it going. Everyone wants to continue cooking with the same old recipe. We need to change the recipe.

The existing arrangements involving harvesting rights tenures evolved after WW II and previous trying times involving a great depression and WW I. They were established to attract forest corporations to harvest BC's abundant forests and generate economic activity and development. By 1970, an environmental awakening started throughout the world, and there was pressure for a change in forest management. Instead of making some fundamental change in the tenure arrangements to ensure comprehensive stewardship of all forest values, the existing system was retrofitted to make it appear to supply sustainable forest management. While some of these facades have appeased environmentalists, the proof is in the pudding of the major decline in timber supply expected in the interior of BC and in the difficult transition from old growth harvest that is being experienced on the coast of BC. It is time to trade in the old arrangements for something new, because the problems are beyond monkey wrenching and symptomatic fixes.

If area based forest management is better, then we should seek the best institutional arrangements that support this type of stewardship. Area based management will work best at the local scale. The area of forest landscape should be of sufficient size to support  economic operation and forest management staff. The forest managers should be resident in the area and familiar in detail with the local forest environment. They should be free to manage all the natural capital of the forest and plan integrated timber, non timber, and nature based economic activities. The forest should be operated like a local business with the income covering the expenses of stewardship. Timber should be sold on an open market to encourage open access to wood supply and diversity in wood utilization. The owners should be represented on a board.

Can BC's public forests be managed on a local area based forest business model?  Yes, the arrangement to do it is the Local Forest Trust, where elected local representatives would form a board of directors assisted by local professional forest managers. It makes locals the represented shareholder in the local forest trust.  Given that the shareholders of BC public forests are all BC residents or citizens, another level of representation is required to ensure that local forest trusts are managed for the benefit of all. Since the BC Government or trustee of the public forests and its agency the Forest Service or Ministry of Forests has demonstrated its failure to ensure forest sustainability or a period of one century, there is a need to seek an alternative institution. A BC Forest Trust Assembly comprised of an elected board delegate and a professional forest management delegate from each Local Forest Trust could provide audit, extension and support services and a court of appeal for public forest matters.

Local Forest Trusts and a BC Forest Trust Assembly is a progressive option for stewardship of BC's public forests. It provides a free enterprise footing and democratic representation of the local and more distant shareholder public. It provides for the stewardship and development of economic activity from all forest resources. It will encourage diversification in wood products manufacture and an open free market in public timber will reduce vulnerability of wood exports to discriminatory tariffs and taxes. Progress towards this direction will require forest dependent communities and the public to ask for their shareholder representation in public forests. The Local Forest Trust solution is a new recipe, and if the public and communities do not ask for new innovative management arrangements, the public will get old cooking.

The innovative Local Forest Trust and BC Forest Trust Assembly are new institutions that will give the public and communities a sense of ownership and foster stewardship of local forest landscapes. The default, old cooking, area based forest management solution will work on the same principle of increasing the sense of ownership, but it will be forest corporations that will get greater ownership.
The existing area based tenure is called a Tree Farm Licence, and an even longer term lease arrangement in public forests could surface under some new title crafted by public relations people to disguise the next step in the enclosure of public forests into the private interest.

Some will maintain that it is better for private interests to exercise ownership than the public interest to exercise ownership. They will tend to quote the paper entitled "Tragedy of the commons" by Garrett Hardin. It is a paper that rests on a conservative political hypothesis that multiple users of a common will tend to extract too much from the land or ecosystem and cause its decline. The concept has been used by spokesmen for BC forest corporations to push for privatization or greater private control of BC's public forests. It fits well with neo-conservative trends of recent decades. The argument is severely flawed. BC's forests were never treated as a common with many users. The use of BC's public forests was allocated to a few forest corporations and if there is a tragedy it is a tragedy of oligarchic use and therefore a good reason to seek management arrangements rather than timber tenures for stewardship..

Elinor Ostrom set out to examine Hardin's hypothesis in real life situations and found that community based arrangements for managing local resources do not necessarily lead to overuse and decline but have been successful in maintaining sustainability. She was awarded the economics prize in memory of  Nobel in 2009 for this work. The Local Forest Trust and BC Forest Trust Assembly are institutions that can provide sustainable management of local forest resources.

The report of the Special Legislative Committee on Timber Supply has had little favorable press. However, the recommendation that BC should give away its public forests for management under private area based leases has garnered no criticism. The public of BC and forest dependent communities should not accept this scheme of increasing enclosure of our public forests into the private interest as the only area based management solution available. Local Forest Trusts are a viable alternative that places the ownership of public forests where it belongs.