Friday, March 15, 2013

Public Forests Reprieved from Privatization

A sneak attempt by the BC Liberal Government to put our public forests on the slipway toward privatization was averted this week.  A house keeping bill to tidy up parts of several statutes contained provisions enabling the Minister of Forests to grant Tree Farm Licenses or area based leases of Public Forests to forest corporations. The media did little to draw this to the attention of the public. However, a few individuals and groups started to bring the issue to the attention of the public. Fortunately the Liberal Government, that uses the name Liberal as a cover for neo-conservatism has outlived its welcome with the public. An election will occur in May 2012, so they decided that it was not in their interests to pursue the legislation.

We should not rejoice. The whole attempt to start the enclosure of most of BC into the private interest only managed to make it into small columns in the back pages of newspapers. Meanwhile, a minor scandal involving use of a small amount of public funds by the Liberals to attract the ethnic vote made major headlines on the front page.  We should  recognize that a government on its last legs almost got off with an attempt to give away most of our forest and British Columbia. A future government in a stronger position could and will get away with it.

After a binge on old growth forest resources over the last century, BC's forests are not such an attractive goldmine. They are in need of stewardship investment. BC politicians have already got their sights on our huge natural gas deposits as the next goldmine. Forests will be of little interest to politicians. The BC Legislative Assembly is the highest court and the trustee of our public forests. To stop the gradual trend toward enclosure of our forests, we need some new institutions to act as the trustee.

My letter published in the March-April of the BC Forest professional considers the question of trusteeship:

"A comprehensive definition of good forest stewardship can be found in the Montreal Process. The 1909 Fulton Commission advised the legislature that the public interest is served by ensuring a wise system of forest stewardship. The public interest and sustainable forest stewardship are almost one and the same.
BC politicians worked with the short term public interest, essentially viewing the public forests as a gold mine. Our tenure system of timber harvesting rights was an expedient vehicle to make cash flow to the coffers of government and corporations.  Adding on a few forest management requirements to this questionable foundation does not make good forest stewardship.
 The Montreal Process red flags forest stewardship issues with a view to making improvements. Criterion 7 looks at the legal and institutional framework to see if it supports conservation and sustainable forest management. BC has significant stewardship and economic issues that can be traced to legal and institutional deficiencies.
Our sovereign legislature has achieved a milestone of over 100 years of failure as the trustee of our public forests.  How will the short term public interest be exercised over the next 100 years? Will our public forests be sold for a song, or continue toward gradual enclosure into the private interest through long term leases?
Advocating improvement to our legal and institutional framework for good stewardship is most important.  New institutional arrangements for trusteeship of public forests is the place to start. Local forest trusts with elected boards and professional forest management staff could operate forests under trust documents modeled on the Montreal Process. A BC Forest Trust Assembly governed by elected and professional delegates from local forest trusts could audit and provide collective services to local forest trusts. First Nation's could have local forest trusts, so that there will be no need to alienate public forest land from the covenant of sustainable stewardship."

We need to make trusteeship of public forests an issue in the upcoming BC election.

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