Saturday, April 20, 2013

Local Forest Trusts and Community Forest Licenses; the difference

Recent advocacy for devolved trusteeship of public forests in BC to local communities has raised the comment " but British Columbia already has a Community Forest License program".  What is the difference?

BC's existing community forest licence program is little more than a public relations facade. It accounts for under 2% of the timber harvest from public forests. They are just a different type of timber harvesting license or right and are not an attempt to devolve forest management responsibilities to local communities. BC's complete landscapes of public forests should enable un-fragmented management of forest landscapes. Community forest licenses usually involve fragments of landscapes. The focus is on timber harvest just like the industrial forest management by forest corporations.

Local Forest Trusts envision the devolution of sustainable forest management trusteeship to local communities. The reason they are called local forest trusts rather than community forest trusts is that the stewardship of the forest should take priority. Large areas of local forest landscape with a minimum size of 100,000 ha would be identified and assessed to ensure that they could be a viable economic forest operation. They would have to support a local forest management staff. The forest has the entitlement to good local stewardship. In some cases this will mean that more than one community or rural area will share an interest in the management of the local forest landscapes in the area. Communities and rural areas would be represented on the elected board of the local forest trust under a ward system.

Local Forest Trusts will focus on more than just timber harvest. Another public relations facade in BC forestry is sustainable forest management certification. Many forest company forest operations are certified under these schemes. However, most of these schemes do not question the existing legal and institutional framework in a jurisdiction. In BC, the legal and institutional arrangements are built around timber harvesting rights in public forests. We see our forests as timber dollars and other forest values as a constraint or nuisance. We focus on the single economic benefit of timber. The Montreal Process, an international definition of sustainable forest management encourages a different view. It encourages multiple economic and social benefits from forest management. This does not mean that timber dollars take the back seat but that you add to them by encouraging economic activity in non timber forest resources and in non consumptive nature based recreational activities. The average forest landscape in BC has less than half its area in timber that can be harvested. The remainder is in most cases undisturbed natural area or wilderness. Although BC has a large area of protected area or parks, the un-designated wilderness areas within timber producing forest landscapes is larger in area. The local forest trusts would be business entities charged with the stewardship of all resources in the landscape. Money would not be siphoned off to central government or government coffers but used for the upkeep of the forest and infrastructure including recreational facilities. BC Parks in contrast is underfunded and has difficulty in providing the essential stewardship of our Parks. The local forest trust would have the autonomy to ensure that its wilderness trail and recreational infrastructure were top notch are a major visitor and tourist attraction for the local economy.  You would go to the local forest trust office to get a hunting licence.

The community forest licence lies in the timber harvesting rights box. The Local Forest Trust represents thinking outside of the old box. The old box is not working because the forest sector and forest dependent communities are suffering. The old box's solution to its problems will be some more progress toward the enclosure of public forests into the private interest of forest corporations.

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