Saturday, November 9, 2013

British Columbia's great forest heist

President Abraham Lincoln said:
"It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time;
you can even fool some of the people all of the time;
but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time."

This famous quote about political calculation was probably the answer to the question: What can we get off with? It is probably the priority question of the criminal pondering the next "job".

In British Columbia, Government and forest corporations are pondering a future of long term area based leases of public forests to forest companies. Can they sell this idea to the public without raising suspicions that the long term intention is to move the public forests into the private interest?  Successful implementation of this next step will be the threshold toward enclosure of public forests into the private interest. Selling points are as follows:

  • The public can be told that the Public Forests will remain in Crown or public ownership
  • A few scraps of public forest will be retained to appease communities, First Nations and others
  • Forest management will rely on forest professionals (the fact that most will be employed by forest companies can be downplayed)
  • Area based forest management has advantages
The majority of BC's population lives in cities and their forests are not a priority for them. The environmental movement, with its tendency to be uni-focused is attendant on the issues of oil or bitumen pipelines and the potential for oil spills on the BC coast. Residents of forest dependent communities have generally supported government forest policy and the forest corporations in their communities. This may change as sustainability issues start to affect the economies of these communities. Interior BC communities will soon see the end of the saw-milling binge caused by the mountain pine beetle epidemic. They face a long term headache of reduced timber supply and may not be so well disposed to the status quo in future.

Can the British Columbia Government pull of the job of delivering most of BC's public forests into the private interest? Circumstances are in favor of a successful heist. Can you steal most of British Columbia without anyone noticing?  Probably not! Canadians are a quiet subdued and peaceful people with little history of major and especially violent "dust-ups". However, the treatment of BC's public forests have been the subject of one of the greatest outbreaks of civil disobedience in the history of Canada. BC's "War in the Woods" boiled over in the 1990's. The problem simmers on the back burner. Greater control of public forests by timber corporations will mean lesser control of the quality of the environment. This will probably erode the limited "social licence" enjoyed by forest corporations. Social Licence is a term coined by corporate public relations and it is also public relations speak for "What can we get off with?".

The British Columbia Government and forest corporations can pull off job of placing most of BC's public forests into long term private timber leases. However this will erode the social licence and create a host of future problems that are likely to cost the Government and forest corporations in the pocket. The present short term grab for control is likely to result in long term weakness rather than strength.

The alternative of Democratic area based forest trusts (click on sidebar) gives area based forest management that is accountable to the public. The trusts would be operated as businesses and timber sold on an open market. British Columbia's wood exports could be freed of present discriminatory export taxes. The timber allocation arrangements between the BC Government and forest companies tend to restrict free enterprise and make wood exports vulnerable to tariffs. The BC Government and BC forest corporations should discuss and assess other alternatives for area based management of public forests.

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