Monday, December 23, 2013

Open letter to British Columbia Government

Congratulations to the nine British Columbia British Columbia organisations for the following open letter:  (See Comments below letter)

Open letter calling for public consultation on changes to Tree Farm Licences

DECEMBER 18, 2013
This open letter was sent to Premier Christy Clark and Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Minister Steve Thomson on December 9, 2013, and released to the public on December 19.
Dear Premier Clark and Minister Thomson,
We are a diverse group of organizations, representing many British Columbians. We share a common desire to see our forests nurtured and sustained as resilient ecosystems that can provide economic, social and environmental benefits for present and future generations.
Near the end of your government’s previous mandate, you introduced an omnibus Amendments Act that included provisions that would have enabled an increase in the number of Tree Farm Licences or TFLs. Such licences grant their recipients exclusive, long-term, compensable rights to log trees on defined areas of public forestland. As a result of concerns raised by many British Columbians, your government voted to remove the TFL clauses from that omnibus bill.
During and after the provincial election campaign you indicated your government intends to reintroduce legislation that could result in the awarding of more TFLs. The promise was also made that before doing so you would consult with the citizens of British Columbia.
We write you today to urge you to carefully consider whether the changes your government proposes to make to provincial forest tenure policy are in the public interest, and to request you conduct the promised public consultations on these proposed changes well in advance of introducing any legislation.
We believe that consulting widely with the public is an essential prerequisite before any substantive changes are made to tenure policies. Changes that will have long-term implications for the health of our forests, First Nations rights and title, the stability of forest-dependent communities, the economic futures of dependent businesses and contractors, and forest workers’ jobs.
Before embarking on a consultation process, we believe the public would benefit from your government publicly addressing some key questions:
  • What is the government’s vision for our forests? (particularly in light of climate change)
  • What public benefits and forest management objectives is the government attempting to achieve by enabling more TFLs?
  • How will the proposed changes to the tenure system provide additional benefits to the owners of the resource: the citizens of British Columbia?
Answering these questions will provide a vitally important context for any public consultation process. Our hope is that consultation will be province-wide, open and transparent, be completed in a timely manner prior to any legislation being introduced, and that a clear question or questions are asked in advance so the public can provide informed responses.
The forests of British Columbia are our single, largest, publicly owned, renewable asset and the public has the right to a province-wide consultation process during which they will have the opportunity to respond to clear, unambiguous proposals from their government. Rural communities and First Nations must also have the opportunity to be fully involved in the process and have adequate time and funding, as needed, to participate.
Lastly, we urge you not to rush any consultation process in order to simply justify re-introducing your proposed “rollover” legislation this spring. This is such an important area of pubic policy that we believe it is vital for government to be very clear about what it wants to do and why and a clear mandate is obtained from the public before changes to the tenure system are made.
Otherwise, your government risks re-igniting the significant resistance that caused the failure of its last attempt to make these changes.
Thank you in advance for considering our requests and we look forward to engaging with you in an informed dialogue about the future of our forests.
Ancient Forest Alliance
BC Government and Service Employees Union
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives' BC Office
ForestEthics Solutions
Independent Wood Processors Association of BC
Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada
Sierra Club of BC
Union of BC Indian Chiefs
Comments: It is good and diplomatic letter that may enable discussions between these organisations and the British Columbia Government. It is also quintessentially Canadian in its expectation that a general discussion and public consultation will arrive at a consensus that is favorable to everyone.
This open letter is unlikely to effect major change. British Columbia Government administrations have been on the same trajectory in forest policy for the last seventy years. That trajectory is about handing over more and more responsibilities for managing public forests to forest corporations. Essentially it is a form of creeping privatization or public land enclosure into the private interest. This is not the first attempt to move to long term area based leases. British Columbia Governments will keep trying to do this and will be successful, if not this time, in another future attempt. 
The only thing that will stop the inevitable is some new and better ideas for the stewardship of BC's public forests. These organisations should select or develop a better alternative and use their resources to sell it to the public. A travelling road show through BC's forest dependent communities will help sell the better ideas and create a social movement for change. Show the BC Government some ingenuity, rather than wait for them to dish up the same old stuff from a seventy year old menu.
Stewardship of a public forest should be a trust rather than a tenure. Click on "Democratic area based forest trusts" in the side bar to learn more. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Forest Bathing Shinrin-Yoku

Shinrin-Yoku or forest bathing is a Japanese concept about the health benefits of a walk in the woods. A forester from the coastal rain forests of British Columbia might picture forest bathing as an inadvertent bath resulting from walking through wet forest undergrowth on a rainy day. Pouring water out of your boots at the end of the day gives a rather literal interpretation to "forest bathing".

Shinrin-Yoku or forest bathing is about getting out to the woods to experience a forest environment. Forest bathing is not just about the exercise, recreation and the more natural and aesthetic environment of the forest. There are therapeutic and health benefits and the Japanese have been conducting scientific studies to measure and understand them. Studies are being conducted in other countries and the effects of forest environments on human health are expected to be verified. Improvement in the immune system and lowered bio-markers associated with stress have been identified. Psychological studies show reduction in scores for anxiety, depression and anger. While the benefits are probably a composite response from exercise and a natural environment, studies also show that volatile organic compounds from the trees may also help to boost the immune system.

Japanese culture has always placed emphasis on the natural and aesthetic, and that may have influenced the shinrin-yoku concept. Forests often occupy hilly terrain because flat-lands tend to be used for agriculture. The forest hiking trail is likely to climb uphill and that provides additional exercise along with addition work by the core body muscles in maintaining balance on a trail versus a sidewalk. Exercise has health benefits and improves mood and the immune system. Exercise is good for you and at least according to the Japanese, probably even better if you get your exercise in a forest.

My daughter has an autism spectrum disorder. Autism is not well understood, but increased sensitivity to sensory stimulation is combined with anxiety and hyper-activity. The best solution has been a daily hike in the forest. We walk about eight kilometers, up and around a hill that is a forested Provincial Park. We do this everyday, because nothing else works as well.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Parks and Forests in natural condition in British Columbia

Western Red Cedar in a virgin protected forest in coastal British Columbia

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has a system of categories for classifying Parks or protected areas. The top or number 1 category are parks that protect areas in natural or virgin condition. Some countries have little or no areas in truly natural condition to include within their Parks or Protected areas.

British Columbia has 14.1 million hectares or 14.8% of its area protected in Parks. These Parks contain 7.6 million hectares of forest, mostly in natural condition.  These statistics on area protected look good, even by international standards. Even the environmental organizations that campaigned to increase the area of BC Parks seem to be unaware that there is another 30 million hectares of forest and wilderness in BC that is in natural or virgin condition.

Timber producing forest landscapes contain 55 million hectares of which only 22 million hectares can be harvested. The remainder is the 33 million hectares of forest and wilderness that is likely to remain in natural or virgin condition.  That is an area the size of Norway or Poland or Italy. If you add the 14 million hectares protected in Parks you come up with an area greater than Sweden. What stewardship is afforded these 40 million hectares of forest and wild land in natural condition?

Parks or protected areas hold a place in the public or political consciousness that is a little problematic. Environmental groups campaign to save forests in parks. If and area gets designated as a park the goal is accomplished. A protected area is also seen as a sacrifice to nature. If humans are going to leave these areas alone it seems to follow that little or no human input or expenditure will be required. Politicians get these factors on their radar screen and the result is often lack of funds or provision for protecting Parks. USA was one of the first countries to designate National Parks in the 1800's. The US Army acted as the protectors of Parks for some years until it was realized that a Park Service was required. BC Parks is likewise underfunded and lacks the capacity to provide full stewardship and protection to 14 million hectares. The additional 30 million hectares of forest and wilderness in natural condition within timber producing landscapes exists as a homeless orphan. Timber production is king in these landscapes. Oil, gas and mineral exploration is also a factor in some forest landscapes. The BC Government is giving the forest corporations that manage these landscapes for timber production increasing management responsibilities. The legal and institutional framework is set up to manage timber in these landscapes, so the remaining area gets little attention.
Even BC Parks, a government agency has been scaled down and most of the maintenance in protected areas is carried out by private management companies. Expenditures are focused on park entrances, parking lots, camping and picnic grounds. The back country within protected areas gets little attention. BC Parks have insufficient staff to inspect back country trails and only direct the park management company to remove a fallen tree across a trail if a member of the public reports the problem.

Almost half of British Columbia remains in natural virgin condition. This area is unrecognized and under valued. It is not scarce and it seems to have limited economic value. Sustainability requires patience. Canada and especially BC has built an economy on resource extraction. An attitude of "take it now" prevails. Time has not moderated this perspective and it is perhaps being enhanced by Canada's intent to become a major energy supplier. A non-renewable mindset goes with the rapid exploitation of tar sands, oil and gas resources and the need for pipelines and to transport these energy resources to as many markets as quickly as possible. Although the forests of BC were probably exploited too quickly, some effort was made to plant trees and think of the future.

Long term sustainability and protection of the large area of land in virgin condition in British Columbia is likely to be enhanced if maintaining its virgin condition is seen as having economic value. Its value is best realized by nature based economic enterprises that would rely on very basic development such as hiking trails and mountain cabins. These are small scale economic activities suited to local communities that may also wish to volunteer some of the effort to develop trails etc.for local recreation and amenity. Although this type of development could add significant economic activity and tourist dollars to a forest dependent communities, it barely registers as economic activity in the minds of politicians and corporate executives. These folk reside in the penthouses of corporate towers in major cities with intent to raid the wealth of the hinterland and small communities usually with willing assistance of politicians.

Devolution of control of public land to local communities will enhance the diversity of local economies. Nature based economic activity that relies on the long term integrity of areas in virgin condition is more likely to be fostered under local control. Central control brings a lack of diversity as major corporations focus on the extraction of a single resource commodity. Local Forest Trusts operating as a business under a charter to manage and sustain all resource values in the local landscape would have the freedom to take some of the proceeds of timber extraction from the local forest and apply it to recreational trail development. The local tourism economy will be enhanced. While British Columbia residents seems to be satisfied with the considerable area of BC protected in Parks, few seem to be aware that their stewardship is underfunded and undertaken by management companies rather than directly by the British Columbia Parks Service. Local Forest Trusts that develop the capacity to provide stewardship to their areas in virgin condition would be well placed to manage local Parks.