Saturday, July 20, 2013

British Columbia Truck Loggers cannot get out of bad marriage

Two magazines appeared in the mail box this week. One was from a Christian denomination and the other was from the Truck Loggers Association of BC. Both magazines had articles that outlined the problems faced by each organization and identified the need for some significant changes. Change is always difficult and it often requires thinking outside of the box or present paradigm.  Both magazines also had articles from some leadership figure advocating the conservative course of more of the same diet responsible for the problems in the first place.

The BC Truck Loggers represent the independent forest contracting sector that does most of the work in the forests and are an important component of the economy in forest dependent communities. In the economic hierarchy of BC forest sector, they fall at the bottom, at the whim of what they call the "majors" or forest corporations. In the tough economic times of recent years, the greatest cost squeeze goes to the bottom. Logging contractors are complaining about not making enough to reinvest and maintain their equipment.

Loggers are aware of the bigger picture and the magazine questions why one forest corporation holds 37% of the coastal BC harvest. The Truck Loggers even conducted polls that confirmed that a majority believed that it is in the "community's best interest, if forest workers harvesting timber and growing trees in the surrounding area, are locally based".

The Truck Loggers see themselves as key players in the economy of forest dependent communities and stewards of the local forest landscape. They feel the effects of the corporate oligopoly that controls the harvest from BC's public forests.

Given this background, the Truck Loggers Association President's message entitled " Scare tactics and misrepresentation: Area based licences deserve a second look" comes as a non-sequitur or conclusion that does not align. More area based tenures will increase the controlling position of the forest corporations. Truck loggers will get squeezed further in future.

The Truck Logger's President's message was not written without thought.  He gives good and convincing arguments for area based forest management. Area based management is almost the only way, if you intend sustainable stewardship. The problem is that in BC area based forest management is equated with area based forest tenure. It is area based tenures that are being resisted because these are seen as gradual enclosure of the public forest into the public interest. Enclosure of public or common land into the private interest has been achieved by such gradualism throughout history. It is like gradually heating up the frog's water environment in the hope that the frog will not notice before it dies. Those that have raised alarms about area based tenures are correct to do so and are not alarmists. Independent forest contractors should fear area based tenures more than anyone.

BC independent forest contractors will be best served by area based forest management without the problems of area based forest tenures. When we talk about forest tenure in BC, we think of rights of forest corporations to harvest our public forests. We have forgotten who really holds the tenure. Public forest land in BC is technically Crown Land held in the right of the Province of British Columbia. This means that the BC Government holds it for the people of BC, not forest corporations. The decision to retain the forest is public ownership was to ensure sustainability of forest dependent communities and their economies. The BC Government should be seeing to the interests of forest dependent communities and forest contractors before it sees to the interests of forest corporations. The public, communities and their forestry contractors already hold tenure and just need a local area based forest management institution. Public forests were intended to provide timber to a variety of wood manufacturing industries and prevent control of timber resources by a few. We are already so conditioned to the enclosure of our public forests into the private interest that we cannot think out of that box.

BC Truck Loggers need to realize that they own the forests along with the rest of us, and seek some form of area based arrangements for forest management that are community based and supportive of forest contractors. Area based Tree Farm Licence tenures are likely to be conglomerated by a few large forest corporations. The local forest contractor will get squeezed. Area based forest management under the auspices of local forest trusts are better suited to the interests of forest dependent communities and their local forest contractors. The local forest trust would have devolved control of a large area of forest landscape sufficient to enable economic operation. They would operate as forest businesses with professional forest management staff and an elected board. Timber would be sold  in manufactured log form in an open market. Forest contractors would get their contracts from the local forest trust.

A change to a system of local forest trusts is less radical than it first appears. It is mainly a more efficient deployment of forest management professionals. They become locally based and accountable to the local public. The local trust will provide an open market for timber. This will reduce vulnerability of BC wood products to export tariffs and taxes. The open market will encourage diversification of wood products manufacture and improve forest income that can flow to contractors. Forest stewardship will be covered as the cost of business to ensure sustainability of the local economy. This is a vast improvement on the present where forest stewardship is a grudging effort that removes dollars from greedy central government and corporations. First Nations could participate in local forest trusts through a ward system for local trust elections or by having their own local forest trust.

A BC Forest Trust Assembly governed by elected and professional delegates from local forest trusts will provide supports and audit local forest trusts. It will also act as a court of appeal for the public or any contractor unfairly treated by a local forest trust.

If BC Truck Loggers are going to champion area based forest management they should look to look at the option of local forest trusts. It is surely a better option for the forest contractor and his or her community than the option of area based forest tenures held by forest corporations. The present forest tenure system is a bad marriage that they can end.


  1. The provincial government is using area-based management as a red herring to push through their agenda of near-privatization of public forestland by creating more Tree Farm Licences (TFL).

    The main beneficiaries of this agenda will be a monopoly of a few large corporations all of whom ponied up large sums of money in an effort to see the BC Liberals re-elected. Now it is pay-back time with public assets at the expense of the public interest.

    Tree Farm Licences are a failed form of tenure with an unsavoury history that have served corporate interests at the expense of the public interest. We need less TFLs not more.

  2. Andrew combines two different issues — transition to more area-based tenures and oligopolistic control of the working forest — into one issue which I think confuses the situation.

    The issues faced by logging contractors, as discussed in the summer issue of Truck LoggerBC, are not related to area-based tenures. They are related to the conglomeration of tenures under one tenure holder and that could happen with area- or volume-based tenures.

    Bill Markvoort’s article simply said area-based tenures deserve a second look. The devil is in the details and one of those details is diversifying the percentage of cut in a region so that no single licensee has too much control — no matter what type of tenure it is. And there are lots of existing area-based tenures to choose from — community forests, woodlots, tree farm licences or First Nations woodland licences.

    The suggestions from Andrew for “local forest trusts” sounds a lot like community forest tenures, a successful area-based tenure introduced in 1998. There’s a good history about community forests here:

    However, the initiative under discussion now is aimed more at forest licences which are currently volume-based tenures held by medium-sized licensees, not large licensees such as Western Forest Products. Transitioning these volume-based tenures to area-based tenures would result in better long-term forest management and infrastructure maintenance.

    This transition can be done in such a way that we avoid the oligopolistic kind of control being experienced on the coast. It can even include an increase in diversification of tenure, if government wants that, whereby volume is given up by current volume-based licensees in exchange for an area-based tenure. This would allow government to create smaller community-based licences as well.

    I think Green BC Communities and the TLA are actually on the same page here. We both want a diversified working forest where all stakeholders have fair access to BC’s working forest — a sustainable and renewable public resource.

    Dwight Yochim, RPF
    Executive Director
    The Truck Loggers Association

    1. Forest oligopolies in British Columbia are directly related to the tenure system because the BC Government allocated most of the timber harvesting rights to a few forest companies.

      Local Forest Trusts are totally unlike community forest tenures. They are trusts not tenures and there is a world of difference.

      Diversification of tenures means fragmentation of stewardship. We have too much fragmentation of stewardship responsibilities already.

      I agree that BC Green Communities and the TLA are on the same page. However Local, Forest Trusts are not in the outdated forest tenure box. They are in a new forest stewardship box and are completely different.

      Find out the differences by reading the next upcoming blog

  3. Dwight Yochim anecdotally claims, "Transitioning these volume-based tenures to area-based tenures would result in better long-term forest management and infrastructure maintenance."

    The provincial government has made the same claim about better forest management on Tree Farm Licences (TFL) without a shred of evidence. When the NDP forest critic, Norm Macdonald, asked forests minister Steve Thomson in the House to produce independent evidence in support of this claim, he did not. Why? Because the evidence does not exist.

    Besides, the Allowable Annual Cut for TFLs is determined on a volume basis in the same way as it is on TSAs.


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