Sunday, January 13, 2013

Everyone's Land Claim: Freedom from Colonialism

First Nation's were in the news again recently, meeting with Canada's prime Minister seeking redress from more than a century of colonial treatment. A land claims process has been underway in BC for many years, but it appears to be an expensive run around that benefits lawyers rather than advancing the lot of First Nation's people.

The business of colonialism is about taking over land, subjugating the people to take advantage of  resources. It is the ultimate "Taker Mentality".  To enable their colonial business, the Romans developed a type of land lease called a "Usufruct" that enables the holder to take the crops or resources from some one else's land. Taking from the land without putting back some stewardship is not a recipe for sustainability. The "taker mentality" eventually hurts the taker.

First Nation's people want to retain a separate identity and equal opportunity with others in Canadian society. A society also needs to rub everyone with the same brush or animosities or disparities will develop. The colonial brush has not been good for First Nation's people, but most of the rest of us do not understand that our public lands have also suffered. Most of BC remains in public ownership. This land was not taken, but rather it was given to everyone for everyone's benefit. This is the essential nature of public land. It is a public trust for everyone's benefit.

BC Government administrations have betrayed this trust in several ways. First Nation's people are keenly aware because they did not get their share of the wealth that was generated. The rest of us, who live mostly in cities removed from the land, are also getting shafted, but we have failed to recognize the fact. Our public forests were given over in the form of timber harvesting rights to forest corporations. The rights are usufructs that provide for the taking of timber, usually the best timber first. Taking of the best timber from public forests ran the coastal forest industry into problems and in the interior of BC helped to develop a huge reservoir of old lodge pole pine stands that were susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack. $100 Billion in timber went to feeding beetles rather than the BC economy. After more than half a century of taking too much of the best timber out of BC's public forests, forest corporations are being rewarded for their rapacity by gaining more management control and responsibilities over public forests. It is really a form of stealth privatization. Public forests are also at risk of being carved up and alienated as reparations for the social injustice suffered by First Nation's people.

Our perspective on our public forests remains colonial. We still think of a new land with virgin forests with timber for the taking. Our legal and institutional framework for managing public forests reflects a colonial perspective. Last year in response to a sustainability crisis in timber supply, a Special Legislative Committee was formed to look at squeezing more timber supply from depleted forests. Even leaders in forest dependent communities were on board, seeking economic benefits from scraping up short term timber supply. Most of these folk do not seem to realize that they and their families are probably going to be dependent on well managed forests in the long term. Real effective leadership would aim for new laws and institutions that will ensure sustainable forest management and a sustainable future for their communities.

Public forests are about a higher ideal than mere ownership. Management of forests is a long term affair. Public forests were first advanced because governments as an enduring trustee could see to continued stewardship, as compared to individual owners that could change in short periods or be motivated to exploit their forests for short term gain. The government's job is to ensure enduring stewardship. Carving up public forests for forest corporations or First Nation's is not in everyone's best interest. Central BC Government administrations have viewed the public forests as a barrel of goodies to be handed out for political purposes.  This habitual misuse of a public trust needs to be constrained in some new institutions.

Colonialism usually involves the central management of land from some distant large city.
Everyone's Land Claim involves devolving the public forests to Local Forest Trusts. Local Forest Trusts would comprise a relatively large area of forest exceeding 100,000 hectares that can be operated as a profitable business. The Local Forest Trust would have an elected board and a professional forest management staff. It would operate under a charter that would require sustainable forest management as defined by the Montreal Process, an international agreement. The business of the forest would not just be timber, but would include non- timber forest resources and nature based and recreational economic activity. Local Forest Trusts would be supported and audited by a BC Forest Trust Assembly governed by elected and professional delegates from local forest trusts. First Nation's could also have local forest trusts. The same deal for everyone. This arrangement would take the forests out of the hands of Provincial politicians in Victoria. The existing centralist arrangement has been a bad deal for everyone. The colonial gold rush mentality has to stop.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

BC Parks: A Land Warehouse

BC Parks protects 13.7 million hectares and a summary of BC protected areas can be found on the following site:

13.7 million hectares is just a number but what sort of size is it on the ground in the real world. If you took Denmark, Netherlands and Switzerland together the total area adds up to a bit less than the above figure.

The amount of area under protected designation in BC is impressive. The main objective in managing a protected area is to ensure that natural conditions and processes are able to proceed without human intervention or interference. Since some of BC's larger protected areas are remote and relatively inaccessible, they are managed mainly by omission or doing nothing. It is one of the few human endeavors where virtue can be achieved by doing nothing or as little as possible. Land is placed in the protected area warehouse and we sit and do nothing. This makes the perfect low budget solution for governments in a neoconservative age.

The remote location of many BC parks makes the above low budget management strategy successful. However, the management approach starts to come undone if there is people pressure on a park. Sometimes it does not take much people pressure to cause problems. The Kutzeymateen Park in a remote coastal drainage, north of Prince Rupert was protected as a grizzly bear sanctuary. A key feature of the life of grizzly bears in the drainage are the sedge grasses on the estuary. The sprouting sedge grasses have a high content of protein in the spring. The grizzly bears head for this needed source of food, so there is always a collection of grizzly bears available for viewing by visitors arriving in boats. Owing to the high profile of this grizzly bear sanctuary, BC Parks has put a park ranger on site to prevent visitors disrupting bears on the estuary.

BC Parks tries to give some parks near population centers a low profile. Parking and trail access may be limited with a view to reducing use. While this approach may be partly successful population pressure wins out, and the result is pioneering of un-designated trail access within the park. Random and uncontrolled visitation can have negative impacts on sensitive ecosystems.

The history of management of BC Parks has been marked by an emphasis on development of recreation facilities such as parking, camping grounds and washroom facilities. Some parks have ski developments. Little emphasis was placed on the location and engineering of hiking and nature trails.

While the low budget, low maintenance management strategy for BC Parks does provide a kind of default protection for remote protected areas, it comes undone if there is population pressure on a park. Accommodation of the public through the location and construction of well designed trail systems can reduce the impacts of random visitation. Also, interesting maintained trails through many BC Park landscapes could be a magnet for visitors and tourists. Increased government funding of BC Parks seems unlikely, but many forest dependent communities could improve the tourism potential of their local economies by local volunteer initiatives that would build and maintain hiking and nature trails in local BC Parks and the even greater area of wilderness that lies within mountain landscapes that also accommodate timber production.