Monday, July 29, 2013

Democratic area based forest trusts or neo-feudal area based forest tenures

Dwight Yochim, RPF, Executive Director of the Truck Loggers Association notes:
"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."

We agree, but the train that we are on, will not get us to that destination. 

We need to think about the entire legal and institutional framework for sustainable forest management:

How will a political jurisdiction handle its forests?  What system will it use? In British Columbia in the early Twenty First Century, our thoughts turn to the "forest tenure system".  Even those that want to change the system talk about "forest tenure reform".  We do not need to think about a "tenure system" but a "legal and institutional framework that supports sustainable forest management and forest conservation".  This is the description of the "system" in the Montreal Process.  It is an international agreement on forest conservation and sustainable forest management.

The idea that you need a legal and institutional framework that supports sustainable forest management emerged at the end of the Twentieth century. British Columbia  instituted a progressive framework to support sustainable forest management at the start of the Twentieth Century.  BC decided to retain its forests in public ownership and have them managed by an independent professional forest service. Public ownership was intended to support sustainable stewardship:

  • A single enduring owner could protect the forest from ownership changes or fragmentation
  • Government as trustee could ensure independent forest management
  • Public timber would be available to all to encourage a diverse forest economy and ensure that forests did not get controlled or used improvidently by big timber interests.               

If BC had followed through on the above concepts, we would have already achieved what the Truck Loggers Association desires. 

Tenure in Public Forests?

We added a second piece to our legal and institutional framework.  The forest tenure system, whether volume or area based, is a system of private timber harvesting rights in public forests. How do you get to sustainable forest stewardship by as system of harvesting rights? The right to take crops from someone else's land is known as a usufruct. The Romans first tried it, and it is a good method for reducing productivity of the land.

Where does a public forest managed under at tenure system end up? A system of private rights in a public forest will arrive at the destination of complete enclosure of our forest into private corporate interests. The BC Government has been transferring forest management responsibilities to forest corporations or decades. Harvesting rights will morph into greater control of forest areas. Some form of long-term leases will be used initially with politicians telling us that we still own the land.

 Occasionally, Green BC Communities is advised that use of the term "public forests" is not correct and that our forests are really "Crown Forests".  Crown Forest is the correct technical term. If you delve further into the technicalities, you find that they are Crown Forests held by the Government of British Columbia. We tend to equate government with the state. However a democratic government actually represents the people against the power of state or Crown. If the Government is exercising its proper role for the people, then public forests or Crown forests should be the same thing.  

It seems that successive British Columbia government administrations have taken a literal meaning of Crown Forests.  Instead of acting as trustees for the people and their forests, they have acted as a king and handed out big chunks of timber harvesting rights to the lords that would help them extract money from the woods. These are the major forest corporations. The serfs, the ones that do the work out on the land, that stay with the land even if owners change, are the forest contractorsSerfs got barely enough. Serfs were also expected fight for the lords in any dispute.  The progressive vision for Public Forests in British Columbia has been corrupted into a regressive exercise in neo-feudalism.
Tenure is at the root of many problems in the forest and forest economy: Do we want this approach for the future?

The management of BC's public forests by the king and the majors is an intriguing dance of hypocrisy and facade worthy of any feudal royal court. Both stewards are in it for the money. The king has to be lenient on the majors while convincing the public that the forest environment is protected against exploitation. A facade of ever changing process consumes forest management effort in attempt to disguise the core conflict. Leniency exercised by the king toward his majors is a prime factor in forest problems faced on the BC coast. The king's allocation of most timber harvesting rights to a few majors reduced diversification in wood manufacture. It also created a non-market oligopoly in timber supply that is censured by the imposition of tariffs or taxes on our exported wood products

Facades developed to prop the tenure system have shown little regard for the stewardship of forest landscapes. Fragmentation of stewardship to BC Timber sales to create the appearance of a market, or to communities to create a semblance of community forests, or for reparations for past social injustice may not be in the best long term interests of the local forest landscape. There are better approaches to addressing these issues than tinkering with an already outdated tenure system.

In the interior of BC, the leniency and mutual support between the king and the majors got a kick in the pants from Mother Nature. The king assisted the majors by fighting fires in fire-dominated ecosystems. This was intended to save lodge pole pine from the fire for the sawmill. The majors were more interested in sawing other more profitable species. The efforts of the king and majors combined to create huge areas of old lodge pole pine susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack. A mountain pine beetle epidemic was an explosion waiting to happen. A huge mountain pine beetle epidemic ensued. The public, eager for a simple easy-to-understand answer, were satisfied that the epidemic was caused by climate change that enabled the beetles to survive the winter. While overwinter beetle survival was a factor it was not the whole story. Some losses to mountain pine beetle attack are probably unavoidable, but there were avoidable losses in the recent epidemic. Leniency between the king and his majors caused losses valued in several tens of billions of dollars. This is value and dollars that would have flowed to forest contractors and communities. While the average member of the public should be excused for accepting the mild winter story as the only unavoidable factor, the entire forest management community also likes to accept the story. A neo-feudal system runs our public forests and it does not want to acknowledge its errors. It will repeat these errors to the detriment of forest communities and contractors.

Responsibility for forest stewardship needs to replace rights to harvest timber.

British Columbia needs to revise its legal and institutional framework for conservation and sustainable forest management. We need to move from a system of private timber harvesting rights to a system that is based on stewardship responsibilities. Our public forests involve a huge area and we need to develop a system that provides local autonomy and avoids all the potential pitfalls of a centrally controlled large government bureaucracy. It needs to deliver the outcome specified by the Executive Director of the TLA above. It needs checks and balances to avoid the problems experienced over the past century.

Trusteeship of our public forests is the first issue that needs to be addressed. Have successive BC Government administrations over the last century exercised effective trusteeship to ensure forest sustainability?  Our politicians operated without guidance of any trust documents. How much weight was given to forest stewardship as they considered wealth, revenue economic development that would result from forest development?  How much interest will politicians give to forests in future? A size-able part of the virgin timber wealth has been extracted and the electorate will be predominately urban.

Devolved Trusteeship: the area based sustainable forest management alternative.Trusteeship can be improved by devolving it from the central BC Government into the hands of local public in forest dependent areas. Devolved trusteeship would operate under trust documents that ensure sustainable stewardship. This provides more security than a central government operating without constraint of trust documents. The provisions of the Montreal Process are comprehensive and could provide the basis for the trust documents.  Under the Montreal Process definition the term "diversified working forest" would mean that the managers of the Local Forest Trust would be responsible for open market supply of timber to a variety of wood using industries to ensure maximum economic and value return to communities. The managers would also be responsible for creating economy and social benefit out of non-timber resources and nature based activities. Local Forest Trust managers would work the non timber harvesting portions of forest landscapes.

A Local Forest Trust would not be a right, but a responsibility for stewardship of a large forest landscape. The area within the trust should be sufficient to permit economic forest operations and support a forest management staff. The public in the communities and rural areas in the vicinity of the Local Forest Trust would be represented on an elected board through a ward system. The elected board represents the public and community interests. The professional forest staff represent the interests of the forest. They also plan and conduct forest operations and manage the forest like a business. Forest regeneration and infrastructure maintenance would be a direct expense of business. Forest revenues will be directed to forest renewal rather than being scalped off by central government or corporations.

A BC Forest Trust Assembly governed by elected and professional representatives from local forest trusts would audit, provide collective services such as fire fighting, insurance, research and extension. It would also act as a court of appeal for boards, professional staff, contractors and the public.
Under a new local forest trust system, the public forests do not get fragmented into a variety of private timber harvesting rights tenures or made vulnerable to enclosure into the private interest. The local forest trust system divides public forests into large manageable economic units that have an accountable steward.  Professional forest managers represent the forest and are accountable to the public through an elected board. The Local Forest Trust is accountable to the wider public and British Columbia through a Forest Trust Assembly.

Local Forest Trusts: an accountable democratic and free enterprise solution
A change in the legal and institutional framework for ensuring sustainable management of public forests is long overdue. The move from a tenure system to a trust system is not so great a change as it first appears. The Government will not need to maintain a forest service.  Forest industry will buy logs. Timber supply and forest health will improve with local independent and autonomous stewardship.  Public forests will be managed and maintained as businesses. Open markets for timber will encourage diversification in wood products manufacture and higher revenue for the forest.  Local forest contractors will be encouraged and developed in the pursuit of good stewardship.  The managers of public forests will be accountable to the local public, their peers and the wider public through the Forest Trust Assembly.  The change should be viewed as a better and more efficient deployment of forest management personnel to serve the needs of sustainable forest management in BC.   Existing tenures would not be expropriated but continue to their normal expiry date or other arrangement with the Local Forest Trust. This will enable a gradual transition.

First Nations will either be entrusted with a local forest trust or be represented on the board of a local forest trust depending on geography and situation. The Forest Trust Assembly and local forest trusts could also make special effort and provision for the training and employment of First Nation people. Some forest areas of British Columbia have no local populations, or no one to take advantage of the democratic representation provisions of a local forest trust. These areas would be managed by professional staff like local trusts but would be accountable to the Forest Trust Assembly. 

So, a local forest trust is not another form of forest tenure or timber harvesting right. It is a trust or a responsibility that is exercised democratically by citizens of forest dependent areas. It provides a new institutional framework for the stewardship of public forests in British Columbia. It will also give forest dependent communities and forest contractors a direct sense of ownership and control of their local forest landscapes.  This will stop existing progress toward enclosure of public forests and prevent any future attempts. It will be strongly resisted by the interests that wish to enclose public forests through fear tactics about economic downfall. The Local Forest Trust is a much stronger economic model that the existing one and it will revitalize the forest economy of BC. It solves potential pitfalls on the public side by not having a central government controlling bureaucracy. The autonomous local forest management units will engage in open market supply of timber and additional free enterprise from forest values. It will replace a cumbersome central government bureaucracy and put an end to the government created non-competitive forest oligopoly that is being censured by discriminatory tariffs.

Truck Loggers Association needs to consider the progressive area based local forest trust solution

Green BC Communities calls on Truck Loggers Association to rethink its trickle-down obedience to the neo-feudal forest tenure system of British Columbia. In early 2013, the previous Liberal Government administration was foiled in its attempts to include provisions for more area based tenures. The Truck Loggers Association has been first to put it back on the table. 

Legislated provisions for more area based forest tenures will mark a watershed in the gradual enclosure of British Columbia's public forests into the private interest. Does the Truck Loggers Association want to give our public forests away?  
Devolved local forest trusts, take our forests back and places them within the control of local democratic institutions that operate them under a free enterprise business framework.


  1. Anthony Britneff, RPF (ret)July 30, 2013 at 6:08 PM

    Premier Christy Clark has instructed forests minister Steve Thomson to near-privatize public forests by allowing corporations to rollover of forest licences into more Tree Farm Licences (TFL).

    This political agenda is being sold to the public and the government's loyal opposition using a red herring about area-based forest management. The issue is not about the type of forest management on public land but about the type of tenure being proposed. We need an alternative form of governance of publicly-owned forests.

    In this blog posting, Andrew Mitchell proposes an imaginative solution worthy of serious consideration by government, forest industry associations such as the Truck Loggers Association, and the general public.

  2. Local Forest Trusts as proposed above is a most interesting and appealing concept and is totally relevant to the BC circumstance.

    My background in urban design and land planning, and I see much potential for forest trusts to be owned and managed at the municipal or regional district level with, as proposed, long-term forest sustainability and high-level stewardship. Metro Vancouver, for example, manages the planning for over 2,800 square km of land, of which only ~810 km2 consists of urban development. The remaining land is largely forested watersheds for the city drinking water supply.

    I am currently researching the E&N railway on Vancouver Island, specifically for its potential to provide a viable alternative to the Island Highway as fossil fuel prices increase and climate change adaptation measures kick in. In my opinion, there is a huge economic stimulus and sustainable urbanism benefit to developing the ENR corridor for a full electrified commuter and freight rail service. It's ability to shape growth and benefit First Nations is enormous, in my view.

    How this relates to forestry stems from the historic act to remove 8,000 km2 from First Nation's traditional territories and place it in the control of private corporate interests as payment for building the railway. To my knowledge there is no record of remuneration -- or even adequate legal representation -- for lost aboriginal interests in the 1860s when this mass privatization occurred.

    My interest peaks when one looks at the logging activity that took place within 10-15 km of the ENR corridor and branch lines, the towns that evolved since then, and the pressures and challenges imposed in this new century. The timber companies with large private land holdings are now controversially selling off large chunks of logged over land to developers for what is proving to be unsustainable and remote large lot subdivisions.

    I intend to explore the issues orbiting around the ENR with respect to the notion that government could rebuild the railway and buy back significant portions of the old ENR land grant near Vancouver Island towns and cities, in part to address native land claims, to transfer ownership and management to local public control, notably for transit oriented development within existing town boundaries and possibly for transit-linked satellite towns built in nearby cutblocks (i.e. only on previously damaged land), for new upland agricultural uses (also in cutblocks) and for long-term forestry (this component would occupy the largest share of the newly purchased land). First Nations would be full participants in all of these initiatives and would be entitled to a share.

    I think you can see where your Local Forest Trusts would dovetail well with the above ideas.

    I intend to compose a series of essays on the above issues and post them ni a blog or possibly a web site early in 2014. In that regard, I am certainly interested in an exchange of ideas and advice on forestry. I just discovered your blog but it does not contain your contact information. However, I can be reached at canadensis[dot]vancouver[at]gmail[dot]com.

    Great ideas!




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