Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Association of British Columbia Forest Professionals

The primary duty of the Association of British Columbia Forest Professionals is to serve and protect the public interest. This responsibility is particularly important because the public owns most of the forests in BC.
BC has experienced a massive mountain pine beetle epidemic of long term consequence for forest dependent communities in interior of the Province. Foresters know that there are usually several factors involved in an epidemic of this nature. The public on the other hand will find the weighing of several factors a bit fuzzy and rather complex. "Complex problems have simple, easy to understand, wrong answers."
Professional spokespersons for the BC forest sector have provided the public a simple easy to understand answer for the massive epidemic to the extent that it has become accepted wisdom. The narrative of global warming or climate change causing increased over winter survival of mountain pine beetles has now become politically correct and unassailable conventional wisdom. A senior spokesperson for the Association of BC Forest Professionals recently reinforced this accepted view in a letter to a major Vancouver newspaper.
Increased survival of mountain pine beetle in mild winters is correct science. However, there is other compelling science that has never entered the public discourse. Lodge Pole Pine, the main species under beetle attack, becomes susceptible to attack by mountain pine beetle when it gets to about 80 years old.  The forests of interior BC had become filled with large areas of old and susceptible pine. Fire fighting by the BC Forest Service was so effective that it almost removed fire as an agent in natural recycling of aging pine. The forest industry did not harvest sufficient pine so aging and susceptible pine became a feature of forest landscapes.
Mild winters may have lit the fuse, but there were large areas of old susceptible pine stands ready to fuel the epidemic. Since BC is situated on the Pacific Ocean and we get mild winters, even without global warming.
The recent special BC Legislative Committee on timber supply heard much comment on the BC brand of sustainable forest management.  The public relations narrative of sustainable forest management rests on the fact that many forest operations in BC have achieved certification under a market based sustainable forest management certification scheme. Market based sustainable forest management certification schemes have developed under various agendas. Most of these schemes do not measure up to the international scientific standard for forest conservation and sustainable forest management, the Montreal Process.
The present mountain pine beetle epidemic is much larger than previous outbreaks. It is a forest management indicator under the Montreal Process provisions for maintaining forest ecosystem health and vitality. The warm winter narrative puts the cause outside the control of BC forest management. However, the accumulation of large areas of aging pine stands was under the control of forest management.
Market based certification schemes accept a country's or jurisdiction's legal and institutional arrangements for forest management as a given.  The Montreal Process asks if these support forest conservation and sustainable forest management.  It is evident that the arrangements for managing public forests in BC contributed to the accumulation of pine forests that were susceptible to attack by mountain pine beetle.   A tenure system of timber harvesting rights, established to meet short term economic imperatives, contributed to reduced harvest of pine. Lenient government administration did not require the harvest of sufficient pine. Government fire fighting aimed at saving timber for the regime of industrial forest management also helped to compromise the health of forest landscapes. Non market allocation of timber, under government administered prices, has made BC forest product exports vulnerable to discriminatory taxes or tariffs and contributed to a lack of diversity in value added wood products manufacture.
BC Forest Professionals operate within the prevailing legal and institutional framework. It is the existing paradigm and it is easy to think within the established box, support the status quo and proclaim that "all is well".  The recent special legislative committee examination of timber supply was more of a collective delusion than an investigation. It was formed because there is a real sustainability crisis, but it seemed more concerned with protecting  public relations branding of sustainable forest management in BC. The Association of BC Forest Professionals needs to be an independent voice and give the public more insight than the accepted conventional wisdom. 

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