Monday, December 29, 2014

Are Forests good places for Pilgrimages?

The owl is nature's silent observer, the original stealth bird. Most birds make wing noise as they fly through the air, but the owl flies silently. Owls watch humans more than humans watch owls. 
Last spring within the space of a few days, two separate people were walking on the trails in the local park with loaded backpacks. Seeing someone on a trail with a backpack is not unusual in most cases. However, this local park is only big enough for day hikes, so the person with a back pack is almost always practicing for some major hike some where else. I asked both practicing back packers where they were headed. Both were headed to the Camino, a famous pilgrimage route or routes in northern Spain with extensions into Portugal and France. This gave me images of the Camino trail congested with pilgrims. It seems to be the pilgrimage destination, because books on pilgrimages listed at the library consist mainly of different accounts of the Camino. It is not an idyllic trail route through natural vegetation. Much of the route goes through bare pastoral landscape and often follows noisy highways.

The word pilgrimage means a long hike with a spiritual quest and it derives from a word that means alien, foreigner or stranger. They were popular in the Middle ages as a form of penance. Outcasts such as lepers were seen by the church as being granted a special penance. Maybe, this was a way to rationalize their exclusion. When the incidence of leprosy declined about 1300 in Europe, the mentally ill took their place. All religions have their devotions and pilgrimages crop up in most of them. The Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca is perhaps the most notable.

Forests do not seem to have a major attraction for pilgrims except in Japan where some pilgrimage routes go through tall forest. In the west, the separation of the divine from the creation led to suspicion that appreciation of nature is nature worship. The Biblical wilderness was a desert rather than a forest. Hard, dry and hot pilgrimages were works of penance perhaps were up there on the scale with self flagellation.

What is a pilgrimage? If it is a spiritual quest what do we mean by spiritual? It means lots of things. A religious pilgrimage might be an effort to amass some brownie points; a work of religion or religiosity depending on your point of view. Open religious observances and works can be associated with dogmatic theology. In some parts of the world, these morph into theocratic ideologies that are used to control people. Some people have a religious and spiritual depth that is not expressed in pious observance but in a life that is not driven by self interest but is an expression of care and compassion as well as a robust and selfless resistance to all forms of social and economic injustice. These folk are on a different path than most of the human world. They choose to be aliens from normal human or biologically driven behavior. They are pilgrims through life; essential humans that are to some extent aliens from the normal human path.

A good pilgrimage route is one that separates us from the normal human world. The normal human world is a built and altered world. We have access to most of the earth's land surface by various means of transport. We control a considerable portion of the earth's surface quite rigorously in growing food. Cain the farmer, killed his brother Abel the herdsman. While hunter gatherers did have wars, agriculture provided a motive to acquire land and go to war to acquire land. Environmentalists have had a negative field day over man having "dominion over the earth" in the Book of Genesis. There are no other intelligent or perhaps creatures that think that they are intelligent on earth, so we can take our dominion over the earth as a fact. Cain killed Abel because the Lord had greater regard for Abel's work. Cain the murderer was very human in his desire to alter the earth. We now recognize that this trait may be the ultimate survival issue for our species.  

Forests that are in parks or protected areas will remain in natural condition and provide places where the hand of man has not overwhelmed the landscape. Even forests that are used for timber production, despite the rantings of environmental groups, are low on the scale of human alteration of the land. A timber crop may only be removed once every 80 or 100 years. Forest tending has to be minimal because of the long periods required to reap returns on investment. In agriculture, crops are harvested just weeks after treatments, so investments on tilling, weeding, spacing, fertilizers and pesticides can be recouped in short order. 

Protected forests and timber producing forests are good places for pilgrimages because they are places where humans have little impact on the landscape. They are places where we can reflect about what we are doing here on this earth and perhaps find something to our individual or collective benefit. A different path than most of the human world is on, and that is a pilgrimage.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Forest hikes, and Shinrin Yoku or the medicine of being in the forest

Coastal rain forests and Provincial Parks see an increase in hikers at the Christmas season. Every day of the year, I take my daughter who is on the autism spectrum for an eight to ten kilometer hike up and around the hill. It is a Provincial Park with a little remaining old growth in one area. Our regular journey enables us to observe the habits of the most invasive species on the planet-humans.

The first hiking type, the regulars, are on the hill at least two or three days a week. They are generally above 50 years old and differ from others of that age because they are rarely over-weight and their skin is tight on their faces. Sometimes a hefty person will join the regulars for a while, loose some weight and disappear from the hiking trails. Occasionally a very hefty person barely able to walk will join the regulars and hike with much puffing initially and manage to persist as a regular. They usually loose much weight and although they may not get as slim as they wish, their speed and mobility and probably their health much improves.

Mid winter brings new hikers trying to burn off excess calories from feasts. Early January and New Year's resolutions brings a whole bunch of potential new regulars.  Sometime they are out more than the regulars in the first week, but the staying power is not there, and by week four they have disappeared.

Days of extreme heat, cold or rain will reduce the number of hikers. Hiking groups that visit different parks may descend like a tribe in the park on a day that they have arranged. Then there is the extreme mountain trail running group that visits different parks on Sunday mornings. Of all the tribes, this one is the most serious. They wear what appears to be a uniform of spandex with water bladders on their backs with a drinking tube that runs to the face. The route is pre-marked with wheat flour arrows that are intended to biodegrade. Other fanatic groups that engage in radio or global positioning geo-caching or some other nonsense sufficient to spoil a good hike also show up on occasion.

Perhaps the most interesting days are the lemming days. Throughout the year perhaps once every couple of months and always in the spring there are these lemming days when all kinds of people, families, and other assorted collections show up in the park for a hike. Usually there is nothing different in the weather, holidays that would give an explanation. The only rational explanation is that lots of different people for many different reasons have decided to go for a hike on that day. However, these lemming days bring out such an unusual pulse of increased human use that one is convinced that some unexplained force has got folk out from under their flat rocks. Lemming days remain a mystery.

There are some joggers on the trails. A few of the middle-aged ones are airline pilots hoping to keep up their health to pass strict medical tests.

Going for a hike in the forest, especially if you have to climb a hill is probably good for you because it gives you exercise. The Japanese have a tradition of Shinrin Yoku or the medicine of being in the forest. They think that the environment of the forest adds to your health on top of the exercise. It is known that exercise boosts the immune system, but the Japanese have done science to show that stress hormone levels and other physiological markers improve by being in the forest.

Do we feel more comfortable or at home in the forest? I grew up hiking on raised beaches or sand dunes on the North Sea. The sand dunes were stabilized by Marram grass and the environment was a natural ecosystem or plant community. It had much less bio-diversity than the temperate coniferous rain forests of British Columbia. The Marram grass did its ecological function of binding blown sand. It was in a sense an environment on an extreme edge. The North Sea and wind was there. Even on a calm day there would be waves. In a storm or gale the sea would boil, the wind would howl sometimes driving sleet horizontally at your face and forcing freezing cold through layers of clothing to your skin. It was a penetrating cooling that the Canadian prairie in winter cannot match. Blown sand would sting the face, eyes and hands to add to a feeling that nothing was intended to survive there. One of my earliest memories was a night when a gale screamed with a horrendous noise that lasted all night. I can pin the date to January 31, 1953 because it was the night that the dykes on the North Sea in Holland failed causing considerable loss of life. The first golf courses in Scotland were established on raised beaches because the Scots would not waste good land on a game otherwise described as a "good walk spoiled". The bunker or sand trap was not just a tricky feature designed for the game but a natural hole in the sand blown out by the wind. This feature has been artificially created all over the world to satisfy golfers.

While the Pacific Coast of British Columbia is not free of the hazards of nature, the coastal rain forests enclose the hiker and act as a buffer against the elements. On a hot summer day the forest will retain its early morning cool much later that the open and it will be warmer at night. Winter rains are often mild because the moisture has come from some where south on the Pacific Ocean. The rain is wet and heavy but it falls on and through the forest canopy as a peaceful white noise. There is a sense of being enveloped in a comfortable environment. Forests withstand earthquakes but may suffer from the secondary effects of tsunami or landslide. Dating from tree rings put the last major subduction earthquake on the Pacific Northwest after the growing season of 1699. Precise dating of the earthquake to January 26th 1700 was achieved from Japanese records of the tsunami that hit Japan from the earthquake.

Our lives are a fragile circumstance but they are probably helped by regular physical exercise and a forest is an interesting and peaceful natural environment to get the exercise of a good hike.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Diversity in forest tenure and aboriginal title in British Columbia

In the recent discussions about Tree Farm Licences or longer term leases in public forests in British Columbia, the concept of diversity of forest tenures was used as a selling point. Some forest land would be withheld from large corporate forest tenure holders for a diversity of smaller tenure holders. This was supposed to make long term leases of public forests to private corporate forest companies more acceptable. Like most public relations efforts the notion of diversity of tenure is a little disingenuous. 

There is really no diversity of forest tenure in British Columbia because all forest tenures fall within one type. They are all rights to harvest timber in public forests. Diversity is a good word that is used in a variety of public relations contexts. The diversity of forest tenure proposed, is little more than the fragmentation of the management of local forest landscapes between large forest tenure holders and a few smaller tenure holders. Do we really want to fragment the management or stewardship of local public forest landscapes? Rights to harvest timber are hardly a sound legal and institutional basis for sustainable forest stewardship. These institutional arrangements facilitated the big binge of virgin timber in BC over the past century. The forest sector is no longer in the pink, so it is perhaps a good time to think about some different institutional arrangements.

Forest stewardship or tenure arrangements met a big bump in the road recently in the form of the Canadian Supreme Court ruling on aboriginal title. Aboriginal title is not an individual ownership title but an aboriginal group entitlement and responsibility to sustain the natural resource and other values of the land and forest for present and future generations. Aboriginal title is little more than a devolution of the trust and responsibility that the BC Government is supposed to exercise through sustainable stewardship of our public lands and forests. A century worth of BC Government administrations have failed to exercise their responsibilities for public lands and forests. They have concentrated on the dough or moolah that can be derived from public forests. Will aboriginal title holders follow this example and just want to squeeze a share of the cash or will they be interested in the responsibility of sustainable stewardship that comes with the title. BC does not need more reprobate trustees of its lands and forests.

The solution is some form of devolved local sustainable trusteeship of public lands and forests. Aboriginal title needs some institutional arrangements for effective sustainable stewardship. If it is good for aboriginals, it should also be good for other resource dependent communities and rural areas. Local forest trusts with elected boards and professional resource management staff would suffice aa a good arrangement.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Hiking boots and shoes

Annual hiking amounting to 3 500 kilometers has provided some insight into footwear. There are back-packing boots specifically designed for hiking with a heavy pack.  These boots are stiffened for the purpose and are not sufficiently flexible for day hiking or walking. Footwear for day hiking or walking is covered in this article.

Some prefer boots and others prefer shoes for hiking. Boots are better in snow and mud and they offer additional ankle support, if you need it. Hiking shoes permit freer ankle movement and enable the hiker to be more nimble. Hiking subjects footwear to rugged use and you need something that will stand up to wear and tear, especially if you are an avid hiker.

Modern hiking footwear has been influenced by the ubiquitous running shoe that has emerged in the last three decades. Most hiking shoes are often little more than slightly beefed up running shoes. The basic construction of the running shoe consists of the tread or wearing surface of the sole, a mid-sole of spongy shock absorbing foam and the upper part of the shoe.

The spongy shock absorbing mid sole of most running shoes is a material called EVA or ethylene vinyl acetate. It gives the shoe a comfortable feel and absorbs shock well when new. Unfortunately, the material tends to compress permanently and loose its bounce. This can happen after 500 kilometers of use. Most hiking shoes also use this material in the mid sole. Wear and compression of the mid sole puts strain on the upper part of shoe and it can deteriorate. Further, compression of the mid sole exposes the foot to poking from sharp rocks and stones if the tread or out sole is thin.

Vibram is a leading maker of sloes for hiking footwear. Their thick compressed rubber soles were and still are the standard on quality hiking footwear. However Vibram also makes a variety of thinner soles for hiking shoes and boots. A thin Vibram sole on a EVA mid sole can have a limited life expectancy of about 1000 kilometers.

The secret to durable hiking footwear is the use of polyurethane in the mid sole as opposed to EVA. The material feels slightly harder to the foot when you first put the shoe on and may not feel as comfortable as the softer EVA. However, if you walk 10 kilometers or more on the polyurethane mid sole, your feet will feel much better than on EVA. Polyurethane  mid soles and thick Vibram out soles or tread are the hallmarks of durable hiking shoes or boots. Shoes or boots of this type of sole construction and a good leather upper can last for 6 000 kilometers of hiking. They may even give some further service in the garden after the cleats on the tread are worn down. While hiking boots or shoes of this quality are more expensive initially, their cost per kilometer of hiking can be substantially less than poorer quality footwear.

Vibram or other rubber soles provide good grip on dry rock. Thread patterns with more smaller cleats provide better grip or traction. Traction of Vibram or other compressed rubber soles is much reduced on wet rock especially if it has algae, moss, or a scattering of leaf litter on top. These soles offer almost no grip on wet wood or roots. Foresters and loggers often wear caulk or spiked boots to provide sufficient grip in the forest. However, these are not necessary if you are on trails. Some hikers prefer hobnail boots for traction, but these are almost a thing of the past. Thick leather soles required to take the hob nails or caulks usually make for a heavy boot. Viberg is a manufacturer of these specialty boots.

Most of the hiking shoes that look like running shoes are little more than glorified running shoes with EVA mid-soles. These only suffice for occasional use and are good for about 1 000 kilometers of hiking. A notable exception are Vasque Mantra hiking shoes with a polyurethane mid sole with a life of approximately 3 000 kilometers.

If you want durable hiking boots or shoes, the European hiking and mountaineering footwear manufacturers are the best bet. Quality leather uppers will outlast synthetic materials if you take care of the leather. Make sure that it is a hiking boot rather than a backpacking boot and look for polyurethane mid soles. We have two pairs of Scarpa leather hiking boots with 7 000 kilometers of use. The soles are worn but the leather uppers are intact. Scarpa is an Italian make but some of the other well known European hiking footwear manufacturers make good quality.  The German footwear manufacturer Lowa is less well known in North America but makes excellent hiking boots and shoes. The polyurethane mid soles of Lowa boots and shoes are lightweight and more advanced in construction. Lowa uses good quality leather and you can get boots and shoes lined with glove leather. Leather linings absorb moisture and do not become wet with sweat like most of the synthetic liners. Leather linings protect against blisters. Some Lowa models come in a boot or shoe. The shoes have the durability of the boots. I am currently hiking in a pair of Lowa Renegade shoes. They look like new although they have 2 100 kilometers of use to date.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Truck Loggers: afraid of Goliath?

The Truck Loggers Association of British Columbia publishes a well produced magazine that covers issues relevant to coastal logging contractors and other logging associations throughout BC. Coastal loggers are an independent innovative group of people that tend to stand up for themselves. They have the characteristics of hill and mountain people and genes of the Vikings, from Sweden, Norway, Baltic countries. Other forested countries such as Austria, Germany and even cranky Scots are represented in their heritage.

Canadians tend to be conservative, not in a narrow political sense but in the expectation that our institutions and structures are basically all right and may only need a little tweaking from time to time. Conservatism is generally a good course until such time as major change is needed. In these circumstances conservatism is a recipe for extinction.

The BC forest sector had up and down periods owing to economic cycles. The financial and mortgage crisis of 2008 in USA caused a serious and lasting downturn, but their are other factors affecting the forest industry. Rapid harvesting of virgin old growth timber on the coast caused a hard landing both in logging and in manufacturing plants as lower timber volume second growth started to become the feed for the industry. In the interior of BC, a massive mountain pine beetle epidemic made a binge of wood available for a few years and left a hole in the timber supply in the long term.

The fall 2014 Truck Logger BC magazine tries to paint a rosy picture of sustainability. It says that we are into our second century of forest harvesting and that forests are growing back. This is true but are we truly sustainable? While there has been logging in BC for a long time, the system we work under really dates from WWII. BC wanted money from its forests to fund development that helped to reelect politicians.. We broke our trust to ensure that our mainly public forests would be managed under sustainable arrangements. Most of the timber harvesting rights in public forests were allocated to forest corporations to promote development.

Truck loggers have contracts with the big boys or large forest corporations. They do not want to bite the hand that feeds them, so they support the system. Truck loggers have advocated giving forest corporations long term area leases of public forests. However, their magazine has a constant trickle of complaints arising from the structure of the forest industry. The complaints usually avoid going to the root cause of the issue because that would mean criticizing the system and tackling big corporations.

Logging contractors have been going out of business in the last few years because of low or reduced rates for their work. The big boys or large forest corporations have expected their contractors to shoulder a greater share of the austerity burden of the downturn. Bankrupt contractors often leave unpaid creditors or small business in forest dependent communities, so the problem spreads at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Forest corporations literally get licenses to privateer in public forests and take the profits while passing the losses on to the little guys. Logging contractors could instead be working for a local forest trust chartered to ensure the sustainable well-being of local communities. They would be less likely to go bankrupt under this progressive arrangement.

Truck loggers have their communities at heart and they often advocate for protecting the "working forest" and its timber supply. The "working forest" is public forest allocated for sustainable timber production. More Parks or protected areas were designated in public forests in the 1990's and there is often resistance to visible logging near towns, cities, or traveled routes. This issue is a social one and the inroads to timber production are mainly due to resistance to rapid logging of virgin timber that occurred since WWII. Rather than pushing for some legal designation of a working forest, truck loggers could be advocating for a new system based on forest stewardship responsibilities rather than the present harvesting rights. Such a new system would bring improved social license and less resistance to timber production.

Truck Loggers advocate for log exports. BC has tried to restrict log exports to keep manufacturing jobs in BC. The issue polarizes communities. Pressure for log exports has increased on the coast of BC. Second growth timber was supposed to be ready for harvest at about 70 or 80 years old. However there may not be sufficient volume in a forest stand at this age to cover harvesting costs if it is on a distant steep mountain. Higher export prices can make harvesting economic and give the forest contractor work. Truck loggers are probably justified in advocating for more log exports to alleviate present circumstances. However, the problem is systemic. Logs are expensive to handle and transport long distances. There is considerable waste in manufacture in the form of bark and sawdust so even with no restriction on export, it would make sense to manufacture logs close to home. The fact that others can take our logs half way around the world and manufacture them indicates that we have problems in wood utilization. Coastal sawmills were unready for the major changes and capital costs of retooling for second growth logs. The need to export indicates structural problems. If government and the forest corporations had pursued a more gradual rate of removal of the virgin old growth, the transition period would have been longer and allowed for adaptation of plant and technology. The forest bank would have had a supply of older more valuable second growth.

An aphorism in the latest edition of Truck Logger BC States:  "Utilization of public natural resources to create economic opportunities for the people of BC should not be limited to those who achieve control of the resource". They know the root cause of their problems. The statement comes in an article entitled: "Logging Rate Negotiation: When David meets Goliath". Truck loggers are starting to look like Mr Goebbels in the WWII parody of the Colonel Bogey March.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Coniferous temperate rain forest

The coniferous forests of coastal British Columbia are rain forests. Summer usually brings a drought on the south coast of British Columbia. However, late October brings rain, and fog from the Pacific Ocean. The true sense of the rain forest returns in the fall. The rain forests turns dark, wet and misty.

The flow of wet Pacific moisture moves toward the Pacific Northwest, and there is a monsoon like period that goes from October till January. A half to two thirds of the annual rainfall comes in this period.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Questioning Forest management in British Columbia

Imagine a country filled with forests of large trees like these:
If you had to come up with a wise system of forest management, would you give loggers rights to harvest the trees and expect them to do enough forest management to sustain the forests in a similar condition?

British Columbia is larger than many countries and it was once filled with abundant forests. Most of BC's forests were retained in public ownership. The BC Government would act as the enduring trustee and ensure a wise system of forest management would be applied to sustain the forests. The wise system of forest management developed over the past century is the British Columbia forest tenure system. It operates as described above. Forest manufacturing corporations hold harvesting rights. Their main interest is timber and they are there primarily to harvest wood. Forest management is an add-on responsibility that is often exercised with reluctance. Most of the efforts of the BC Forest Service or Ministry of Forests is taken up with policing the activities of corporate timber rights holders. The plans and procedures needed to deal with the inherent conflict of interest results in inefficient use of trained forest managers. It is a system of timber exploitation with tree planting responsibilities attached.

The forest tenure system is a hypocritical arrangement. The BC Government as trustee of our public forests and forest corporations have made considerable public relations efforts. Cynics say that public relations is just a form of lying, but good public relations usually relies on just enough of the truth to confuse people.  Before the environmental awakening that started about 1970, the BC public was satisfied with figures of all the millions of trees that were being planted. After 1970 good public relations on BC's forests needed some other bells and whistles. One of the largest screw-ups in the history of forest management was successfully ducked. A huge mountain pine beetle epidemic was successfully blamed on climate change or global warming. This was done with the truth that the beetles survive better in mild winters.  However there were other factors. Old pine forests are more susceptible to beetle attack. The timber exploiters had been less partial to pine because it brought lower profits and the BC Government had suppressed fires in pine forests. The net result was an abundance of old pine forests. To put it in public relations terms it was a very successful mountain pine beetle habitat enhancement project with great statistics: 18 million hectares of forest affected and $100 Billion of timber lost.

After 100 years of timber exploitation with tree planting, our forests assets are not quite sustained. The forest industry and forest dependent communities have been battered.  We need to realize that the BC forest tenure system is unwise. However, in face of obvious forest sustainability issues and problems, we remain content to deceive ourselves with the help of public relations from the Government and forest corporations. Sustainable forest management certification schemes are the main prop in this effort. These schemes provide a green or environmental stamping or approval of forest products. They do attempt to promote good forest management and practices. However, the public and consumers do not realize that these certification schemes do not question the adequacy of the legal and institutional arrangements of a forest country or jurisdiction. BC'c forest tenure system does not get questioned. Timber exploitation with tree planting will then earn the green stamp of approval. We can convince ourselves that our  forests are under sustainable management. However our forests, forest dependent communities and forest industry faces sustainability issues.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Reconciling Aboriginal Title in public forests in British Columbia

The recent Supreme Court of Canada decision defines Aboriginal title:
"The nature of Aboriginal title is that it confers on the group that holds it the exclusive right to decide how the land is used and the right to benefit from those uses, subject to the restriction that the uses must be consistent with the group nature of the interest and the enjoyment of the land by future generations."
We usually think of land title in terms of individual ownership of a piece of land. Aboriginal title is more like a trust that requires sustainable use of the land for present or future generations. It is an advanced concept of inter-generational equity in land and forest.
One century ago, British Columbia decided to retain its forests in Crown or public ownership. The BC Government would be the enduring trustee that would ensure sustainable management of our forests. Generations of BC residents would reap the benefits of a healthy forest industry and stable forest dependent communities.
The Supreme Court of Canada decision should be seen as a devolution of sustainable trusteeship from the central BC Government to aboriginal groups or First Nations. Given the diversity of environment in different regions of BC, devolution of the sustainable trusteeship of lands and forests is a concept with merit and potential benefits.
Sustainable trusteeship is an advanced concept and it needs adequate institutions to realize the inter-generational benefits. Our legal and institutional arrangements for sustainable management of our public forests developed by successive BC Government administrations over the past century have left our forest assets somewhat depleted.  Our forest industry and dependent communities are less robust than experienced by previous generations.
Wise stewardship arrangements are needed to ensure sustainability of land and forests. Our public forests were intended to be managed by an independent professional forest service. The BC Government became more interested in realizing revenue from our public forests and devised a forest tenure system of private timber harvesting rights in public forests. Forest company tenure holders shared forest management responsibilities. Loggers managing public forests with the Government more interested in its share of the cash than ensuring stewardship is something that a grade 2 class would see as a deficient arrangement. The entrenched conservatism that surrounds the forest tenure system leaves few options for reconciling aboriginal title other than revenue sharing .

Aboriginal revenue sharing is no solution because it will just provide another drain on a system that is not providing sustainability or inter-generational equity. Aboriginal title should be exercised through a devolved local trust with trust documents and adequate institutions. An elected board and professional forest and resource managers could manage the local trust on a business basis.

Devolved sustainable trusteeship should not just be restricted to aboriginal communities. Other forest dependent communities and mixed communities could have similar local public forest trusts. A British Columbia forest trust assembly with elected and professional delegates from local trusts could audit local trusts and supply aerial fire-fighting and extension services. Forest companies would purchase logs from local trusts and would not be involved in forest management. Forest companies would benefit from the improved social license of a system of devolved local forest trusts.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Area Based Forest Tenures report released

The Area Based Forest Tenures report  has been released, a little late and without any fanfare. British Columbia's Minister of Forests has put area based tenures on hold given the recent the recent Supreme Court of Canada's decision on aboriginal title.

The report is tendentious in its support for the conversion of forest tenures to long term area based leases. It provides the usual tired arguments that the move to area based tenures is not another step in the gradual enclosure of public forests into the private interest. The Province of BC will own the land and the Government will remain the landlord. The BC Government was intended to be more than a landlord of the land that supports our forests. The Government was intended to be the enduring trustee and ensure sustainable benefits of our forests for the beneficiaries, being present and future generations of British Columbia's residents.

After 100 years and after one forest cycle or rotation our public' forest assets have been somewhat depleted and have not produced the robust sustainability of our forest dependent communities and forest sector that was intended. Successive Government administrations were supposed to develop a wise system of forest stewardship. The system that was developed was a forest tenure system of private timber harvesting rights in public forests that enabled the Government to share in the cash from the exploitation of valuable virgin timber while off loading forest management responsibilities to its tenure holding forest corporations. Was it wise to let logging companies harvest the timber and expect them to provide the stewardship to sustain the forest and its dependent industries and communities over the long term? A grade 2 class would probably think this idea to be unwise. Are we so stuck in conservatism combined with a total lack of imagination and ingenuity that we only see solutions in fix up repairs to a system that is fundamentally flawed.

Aboriginal title comes as an interesting bump in the road to the tenure system and a challenge to its stodgy unimaginative supporters. Land title is a bundle of rights to property, and we tend to think of it as ownership or possession. However aboriginal title is not ownership in a simple sense. The Supreme Court definition: "The nature of Aboriginal title is that it confers on the group that holds it the exclusive right to decide how the land is used and the right to benefit from those uses, subject to the restriction that the uses must be consistent with the group nature of the interest and the enjoyment of the land by future generations." It is a kind of communal trust that ensures sustainability for future generations. It is actually very similar to the trust that the BC Government has not fully exercised toward our public forests. The BC Government is the trustee that is supposed to ensure the sustainability of public land and forests. Aboriginal title occurs mainly on public forests and lands so it can be viewed as a devolution of responsibilities from the central BC Government trustee to the local First Nation or aboriginal group. The sustainable trust concept provides an avenue for solution of the aboriginal title issue. A sustainable trust exercised over an area of land or forests requires some institutional arrangements to bring results on the ground. A forest tenure system giving private harvesting rights to loggers with a few forest management responsibilities thrown into the mix will not achieve the sustainability requirements of aboriginal title. It has not achieved the sustainability requirements of public forests. We need new institutions on the ground. If aboriginal title devolves forest and land stewardship responsibilities to local aboriginal groups, then we should look at similar devolution to non aboriginal and mixed communities.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Forest management can learn from aboriginal cultures

Sixty percent of Canada's aboriginal languages are found in BC.  Terrain, climate and environment led to the development of differing aboriginal cultures and languages. Michael Blackstock a forester of part aboriginal descent has proposed a Biocultural Zonation of British Columbia based on bio-geography and aboriginal culture.  See: Biocultural Diversity Zonation article in BC Forest Professional Magazine

Since the arrival of Europeans, British Columbia has pursued a centralist, one size fits, all model for managing its forests. Most of the forest in BC are public forests and they are managed under a system of private timber harvesting tenure rights held by forest corporations. A recent complication is a Supreme Court of Canada decision that confirms the concept of aboriginal title. It is not a title of ownership but a title that is a communal trust to sustain the land and its values for future generations. The title is similar to the BC Government's trustee or stewardship responsibilities over public forests. The title implies devolved responsibilities to First Nations. Michael Blackstock suggests development of a caretaker strategy for each biocultural diversity zone. This is a good idea and there is the need for an independent local steward or caretaker with the freedom to manage according to the environment of each zone.

However, the caretaker strategy or caretaker will need some institutional foundation or it will just float around as a bit of an amorphous concept in the present institutional framework of public forests with private timber harvesting tenure rights. Private timber harvesting rights was a convenient way for the BC Government to share forest management and timber revenues with the private sector. It represents a conflict of interest in the Government's trustee responsibilities to ensure that forest values are sustained for future generations. We have almost completed one forest rotation where revenue sharing was a boon to the forest industry and Government coffers, but the inter-generational asset base of the public forest has been eroded. It is not a good long term economic model to ensure the sustainability of forest dependent and aboriginal communities. We do not need to extend the inadequacy of the existing institutional arrangements by corrupting the sustainability requirements of aboriginal title with more revenue sharing.

The proposed biocultural diversity zones are very large areas and most will need several caretakers. If local forest trusts were the caretaker areas within the biocultural diversity zone and local forest trusts were audited and supported by a Provincial Forest Trust Assembly, the diversity zones could become boundaries for regional meetings of the Assembly. This would enable the local forest trust managers develop the caretaker strategies appropriate to each zone.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Aboriginal Title may be corrupted by the BC Government and First Nations

Old growth tree near a summit considered sacred by aboriginal people

A Supreme Court decision in June 2014 granted Aboriginal title to the Tsilqot'in Nation. Since that time there has been much comment suggesting that the decision gives aboriginals increased power over resource development and land use.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has stated that the ruling can't be ignored signaling a need to make accommodations for aboriginal title.  What will become of aboriginal title when the BC Government and First Nations come to some accommodation?

Aboriginal title is being discussed frequently in the media without clarification that it is a very different kind of land title. When most of us think of land title, we think about a piece of land owned by an individual. It is a legal provision to protect ownership of land first developed by the Romans to prevent the big guy from taking land from the little guy. Aboriginal title has a different purpose. It is a communal title, not an individual title, designed to protect and sustain the use and benefits of the land for future generations of the community. It is a more advanced concept than individual ownership. It is a communal trust to sustain the land and its values for future generations.

Since technological prowess is now available, aboriginal title will require some institutional arrangements to sustain the land, its forests and values. This will require some forest and other professionals to manage the land to ensure sustainability for future generations.

The Assembly of First Nations are seeking recognition of aboriginal title and there seems to be little thought about the arrangements to ensure sustainability of the land for future generations. Revenue sharing from resource development seems to be the priority. Premier Christy Clark wants to use the supreme court ruling to work together with First Nations. Both parties seem to think that the ruling will take matters out of the courtrooms into new relationships through negotiations. The negotiations, it seems will be about the size of the cheque for revenue sharing.

Revenue sharing has already been a big corrupter of sustainability intentions in BC. Aboriginal title is a progressive communal sustainability title or trust concept. BC public forests were also intended as a societal trust for sustainable stewardship of most of the forest land in BC. The BC Government was supposed to be the trustee and would manage the forests for inter-generational economic and social benefits. The Forest Service was originally intended as the independent professional forest management institution for public forests. The BC Government decided to share forest management responsibilities with forest companies. Private rights to harvest timber were granted and the Government shared revenue from forest harvesting. This revenue sharing effort worked well for all concerned as forest companies gorged on BC's virgin timber. It has hit a few major bumps in the road now that the best virgin timber is long depleted. Revenue sharing from resource exploitation has not proved to be a good vehicle for sustainability.

First Nations want to join the BC Government is becoming bad trustees of BC's forests through the mechanism of revenue sharing. Most BC residents would like to see the prospects of First Nations people much improved. Unearned income revenue sharing from BC forests is not the best way to employ forests to service the needs of First Nations. First Nations and the rest of us will be best served if we have institutions that ensure sustainable stewardship of our forests. The BC Government and First Nations need to think about what kind of institution will ensure sustainable use of land and forests for the long term benefit of communities. This is an issue for all BC communities.

Aboriginal title is a communal trust to ensure the sustainability of a local area of land and forest. The BC Government already has this trust for all public forests but has not exercised its responsibilities to ensure sustainability. Aboriginal title is therefore little more than a devolution of responsibility. If responsibility for forests and land are devolved we need to ensure that there are good local or communal institutions to ensure sustainability. Local forest trusts with an elected board and professional forest management staff are an ideal institution. These could be applied to all communities, not just First Nations.

Local forest trusts would exercise sustainable stewardship responsibilities of local landscapes for benefit of communities. They would operate as businesses and promote sustainable economic use of timber and non timber products as well as nature based opportunities. Earned income will be the main economic benefit to communities. Depending on geography and population some local forest trusts would be entirely aboriginal, while others could involve a mix of aboriginal and other communities represented on a ward system. All forest trusts could promote forest employment for aboriginal people and provide for greater economic improvement of aboriginals than just aboriginal title areas alone.

A British Columbia Forest Trust Assembly governed by delegates from local forest trusts would audit and support local forest trusts to ensure that the ideals of inter-generational sustainability for the benefit of communities can be realized. This outcome is necessary for all communities. In British Columbia we can all benefit from the progressive concept of aboriginal title. We should not allow the BC Government and First Nations to corrupt this progressive opportunity with a backward concept of revenue sharing.  

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Penthouse Forestry in British Columbia

Penthouse forestry is the notion of forests being run by accountants, lawyers and foresters from the top of some skyscraper office tower. These illustrious folk being far from the dirt of a real forest would inevitably screw up the forest. The man that first coined the negative notion of centralized and bureaucratic forestry was a forester who was central to the establishment of centralized industrial forest management in the public forests of British Columbia. The individual forester in BC only serves a system that permits little flexibility. Harvey Reginald  (HR) MacMillan was appointed the first Chief Forester of the British Columbia Forest Service in 1912. After WW1, he established a timber export company that helped to expand timber exports and the timber industry. After WW11, his company merged with another forest company to form MacMillan Bloedel Limited. The company acquired Tree farm Licence timber tenures and became the premier large blue chip coastal forest company.

Although he was one of the key authors, H R MacMillan felt powerless against the system of forest management in British Columbia. In his later years, when his company was still a major force in the BC economy, HR would go out to the forest and cry because forests with old growth trees in the first picture would be replaced by a succession of forest crops with wee young trees in the second picture below:

Note the relative size of the old growth stump in the second picture. It is less than half the diameter of the old growth Douglas Fir in the first picture.

One of the ideas from the corporate and bureaucratic penthouse of half a century ago, was short rotations of young trees slated for harvest at fifty to eighty years old. The average annual growth to wood is at its maximum on these short rotations so the idea was a winner in the penthouse. Half a century later, the blue chip forest company giant MacMillan Bloedel is no more, and a straggling coastal forest industry is faced with harvesting relatively small trees. Harvesting trees and hauling them off the hills and mountains of coastal British Columbia is a costly affair. Many of the young forests that were supposed to be ready for harvest cannot be harvested because there is not sufficient volume and value of timber to pay the bills. Perhaps it could be said of the situation that nature is exerting a little common sense into the previous penthouse forestry ideas. The trees will remain growing and gain additional timber volume. Their value may increase even more because the later growth gives wood of better quality.

This is a Douglas Fir forest about 95 years old and the forest is approaching old growth characteristics. The stems or trunks of the trees are upwards of two feet in diameter and they will contain quality wood. Although the average annual growth may be slightly less than the seventy year old forest, the improved wood quality will more than make up. There will be enough volume to make harvest profitable. 

If the penthouse forestry of half a century ago was less greedy and a little more sensible, there would have been a little less rush of harvest all the old growth. Harvest of the second growth would have been delayed a few decades and the resulting harvests would have been more economic. Mills and other wood processing plants wood not have had a major transition from large old growth trees to small second growth logs. The second growth logs from a 100 year old stand are much larger and more valuable and would require less retooling of manufacturing plants. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Area based forest licenses

By Ben Parfit
British Columbia’s forests represent the single-largest renewable asset that we have, a public resource shared with First Nations across the province.
Whatever the fate may be of our non-renewable natural gas resources, our forests can and should be there for generations to come.
Healthy forests ensure that we have clean water to drink and clean air to breathe; a diversity of animal and plant species that is found in few places on earth; a vital tool to assist us in addressing climate change; and a source of wood and other forest products that for decades has delivered economic, social and cultural benefits. For these reasons and many more, decisions about how our forests are managed are of vital public policy importance.
In the lead-up to the last provincial election, the government proposed changes in an omnibus bill that would have opened the door for a significant increase in the number of Tree Farm Licences or TFLs.
Such licences grant their recipients long-term, compensable rights to log trees on defined areas of public forestland. Due to concerns raised by numerous British Columbians, the government chose to remove the TFL clauses from the omnibus bill.
During and after the provincial election campaign, however, the government indicated that it intended to reintroduce legislation that could once again result in more TFLs being awarded. However, before doing so the government said it would consult with the citizens of British Columbia.
It has been more than six months since that consultation commitment was made, but the government has yet to reveal what British Columbians will be asked to comment on, or what opportunities they will have to voice their concerns.
Disputes over the management and conservation of British Columbia’s forests are legendary and have often pitted one or more groups against one another. Clayoquot Sound, Haida Gwaii, the Nemiah and Stein valleys, and the Great Bear Rainforest are among many examples.
Far less common is when groups that sometimes oppose one another find common ground. The government’s proposed TFL policy is one such exception to the general rule. And history tells us that it is an area where government should proceed with extreme caution.
In the late 1980s, the then Social Credit government enacted a similar proposal into law and subsequently had to rescind the legislation after hundreds of British Columbians turned out at public meetings and voiced their concerns.
Eight organizations representing a wide array of British Columbians signed a letter calling on the government to honor its public consultation promise. The groups represent a significant cross section of the provincial population and include public sector and forest industry workers, First Nations, environmental organizations and the forest industry.
The signatories to the letter may have different ideas about what changes to forest policy are needed to make for a more socially, environmentally and economically just world. But what they and others want is to be part of a conversation — a conversation that government has promised and would be wise to deliver.
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Uphill and downhill of forest management in British Columbia

On the west of Vancouver Island facing the Pacific Ocean lies a slope that extends from the sea to a ridge line of about 3000 feet in elevation. Over the past sixty years loggers have worked their way through the virgin forest leaving behind well stocked young forest. Some old growth remains near some parts of the ridge line. It is the last to go because it is at the top of the hill and was much smaller in stature than the previous old growth that once existed downhill.

The human footprint on the slope bears witness to the supremacy of industrial forest management in the landscape. It was supported by a tenure system of harvesting rights held by forest corporations in public forests. There was a strategic vision of replacing decadent old growth with vigorous young stands. The system of taking virgin timber from the forest has worked its way up the hill and is now looking at its future.

At the top of the slope there is another footprint, a little testimony to the notion that public forests should not just be about growing timber. A long trail was located and developed by volunteers along the ridge line. Parts of the trail go through the remaining old growth. Although the trees are smaller than the now vanished lower elevation old growth, a moist environment of Mountain Hemlock and Yellow Cedar gives a rich interesting ecosystem. The remaining old growth is not protected. Its previous protection lay in the fact that it was the least desirable timber in the landscape. Now the Yellow Cedar and Mountain Hemlock make acceptable pickings in comparison to the young trees downhill.

The trail takes the visitor through an interesting old growth environment as shown in the picture:
The trail is adequate for the low volume of foot traffic it presently receives, but since it was located by amateurs there is little control of gradients along the route. Note the rope in the picture supplied as an aid on a steep section. If the trail gets a higher level of traffic it would become gouged, eroded and unsustainable. Even the loggers have seen the light on the need for gradient control on forest roads for at least half a century, but steep eroding foot trails are a feature in BC landscapes. Some protect areas in BC Parks have steep eroding foot trails.

Meanwhile the loggers have been improving the road up the hill. Ditches have been cleaned out and new culverts have been installed. It is a 30 kilometer log haul from the top of the hill to the water, so it pays to improve the road. Improved ditches and culverts make the roads sustainable and reduce erosion. Forest practices codes and guidelines have brought some improvement in practice, but there is a strong hint that old attitudes prevail. The sign marking the trail at the road was totally obscured by a big pile of rocks and soil cleaned out of the roadside ditch.

The road downhill from the ridge goes through second growth that gets progressively taller and older as you work your way down the hill. Near the bottom of the hill, the harvest of the brave future is underway. Parked beside the road near the bottom is this thing:

The tree falling machine is quite a technological achievement with considerable hydraulic prowess and probably some computer assisted stabilization. The old time tree faller of half a century ago would probably describe it as "A bean pole snips that looks like a vulture's ass in a power dive".
Using these machines on the steep slopes of coastal BC will be more costly than in other areas where these machines can be used on flat or gentle terrain.

A little farther down the hill is an area of young forest that has been harvested with bean pole snips:

The machine did not harvest the trees from the big stumps. It would be too small to grab the tree and if it could the mass of the tree would over-topple the big machine. The big stumps remain from previous virgin forest harvest, sixty or seventy years ago. They are like rotting wooden markers in a graveyard, a reminder of the once majestic forests that stood here. They will probably be gone in another sixty or seventy years after the next harvest of relatively small young trees.

"Work with nature or you will be defeated" is an old forestry notion. On the hills and mountains of coastal BC, nature grew big valuable trees over time periods of 200 or more years. We are trying to grow smaller less valuable trees in sixty or seventy years in service to one notion of economics. Science knows that it takes about 100 years for all the biological components of an old growth forest ecosystem to re-establish. Other than some minor root rot problems, there is little experience of negative effects with short rotations. We do not know if short rotation industrial forest management in these landscapes is sustainable over the long term. By quickly harvesting our old growth in favor of short rotations, we have put most of our eggs in one basket.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Aboriginal Title offers a progressive solution for all forest dependent communities.

Aboriginal title provides the right to occupy and use land. It differs from other titles because it is a collective title held by a group or community. Uses of the land have to be sustainable. The present generation cannot use the land in a manner that will degrade the land and deprive future generations of its benefits. The land cannot be sold and can only be alienated to the Crown.

Aboriginal title is a progressive and sustainable concept. The recent Canada Supreme Court decision has been reported in the press mainly through the lens of how it will affect other rights and development. There is concern about private timber harvesting rights on Crown land, rights of way for pipelines and other developments.

Aboriginal land claims have been ongoing for 130 years, and the supposedly accelerated process of the last two decades has hardly made it out of first gear. Lawyers rather than First Nations seem to be the main beneficiaries. While the Supreme court has given a progressive definition of aboriginal title, it differs from other private land titles and private tenures and entitlements on Crown land. The discontinuity or gulf between the various titles and the realities will provide fertile ground for more high priced lawyers and little hope for solutions that will benefit aboriginals and the wider Canadian society. We need to solve the problem with some new legal and institutional arrangements. Wise progressive political solutions are needed now.

Aboriginal title is a progressive concept and it is actually very similar to the progressive concept of public forests that developed at the start of last century. Public forests were to be held in Crown ownership with the British Columbia Government acting as the trustee to ensure that the forests would be managed by a professional forest service. The intended outcomes were sustainable forests, communities and a diverse wood manufacturing industry. The original intent of independent professional management by a forest service got a little corrupted through the granting of private timber harvesting rights and sharing forest management responsibilities with forest corporations. Aboriginal title is really a form of sustainable trust and very similar to the original intent of public forests. Public forests are also a trust with the BC Government acting as the trustee. Successive government administrations acted as poor trustees of public forests by developing a tenure system of private timber rights in public forests. It is these private rights that clash with aboriginal title. The main outcomes of the tenure system are forests of degraded value, a struggling forest industry and forest dependent communities coupled with discriminatory tariffs on wood exports. The BC Government is presently thinking about strengthening these private timber rights in public forests.

Aboriginal title is a sustainable trust over land and forest. What sort of legal and institutional arrangements can be developed to ensure that the trusteeship will be exercised in a sustainable fashion for present and future generations? The BC Government should be asking itself the same question regarding its trusteeship of Crown Land. Crown land comprises over 90% of BC land and forest. Trusteeship of BC's Crown land and public forests by the central trustee of the BC Government has been far from exemplary in the past century. It is time to seek some new and more sustainable institutional arrangements for trusteeship. Some devolved form of trusteeship would work for aboriginal communities as well as other or mixed communities. The legal and institutional arrangements for devolved trusteeship need to be sufficiently robust to ensure that the sustainable trust is truly exercised with inter-generational equity. This is a right or entitlement of all communities dependent on the surrounding landscapes and it has to be achieved by exercise of responsibility. Sustainable trusts are more about responsibilities than rights. Aboriginal communities need to exercise these responsibilities and so do mixed or non aboriginal communities.

British Columbia needs devolved sustainable trusteeship of its lands and forests. We need a system that enables all land dependent communities to participate in true sustainable trusteeship. Aboriginal title could be exercised through a local forest trust. In other situations where there has been long term occupation by aboriginal and others a local forest trust with board members elected under a ward system will also suffice. Since the concept of a sustainable local trust is progressive it will also service non aboriginal communities and rural areas. In other words, everyone gets the same brush. However it needs to be a good brush of adequate legal and institutional structure.

How should local sustainable land and forest trusts be organized and operated? What checks and balances are needed to ensure that they will operate with regard to the needs of present and future generations?  The area of land in the local devolved trust should be of sufficient size to an enable economic operation that supports a professional forest and environmental management staff. The staff would be accountable to an elected board. A ward system would be required where there are several communities or rural areas in the vicinity. Local trusts would operate under trust documents or a charter modeled on scientific sustainable land and forest management criteria. The Montreal Process, an international sustainable forest management agreement provides robust standards. There is considerable freedom for local trusts to develop their own local approach given their ecosystem conditions. The lands and forests would be managed and planned comprehensively for timber, non timber, and nature based economic activity while maintaining the spiritual and recreational qualities of the landscape.

Local forest trusts would be audited and supported by a British Columbia Forest Trust Assembly governed by one elected and professional delegate from each local trust. It would audit, provide collective services such a fire fighting, insurance and extension services.

A system of local forest trusts and a BC forest trust assembly will work to ensure the sustainability of aboriginal title and provide a similar system of sustainable trusteeship for other communities and their landscapes in British Columbia. While it will enable a different flavor to the management of each local trust, it will ensure sustainability for all.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A designed solution for area based forest management in British Columbia

This article was published in the July -August 2014 edition of the BC Forest Professional

Over the span of a generation, our public forests have gone from a state of abundant timber supply to a situation of scarcity.  A biotic agent, has affected a large area of forest beyond reference conditions. We need to improve the diversity of wood manufacture and increase non-timber and natured based economic activity. Expenditure on the fabric of the forest is required to sustain economic and social benefits. We are vulnerable to discriminatory wood export tariffs.
We need to clarify entitlements in our public forests to keep the peace between timber rights holders, First Nation's title, the right to a healthy environment, and the needs of various interests. Our forest disputes have been some of Canada's largest incidents of civil disobedience. Social license for forest management walks on a thin crust.
The above sustainability issues feature in the Montreal Process, an international agreement intended to help forest jurisdictions make progress in sustainable forest management.   Criterion 7, The legal, institutional and economic framework for forest conservation and sustainable management is what we should be considering, rather than  "tenure reform".  The comprehensive indicators in the process can help to design an area based forest management vehicle that will not be a lemon.
Public ownership has been out of vogue for a generation. It is easy to blame our present predicament on Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons": the hypothesis that free unrestrained use of a common will result in overuse and decline. Our forests were never managed in that way, so it does not fit. Elinor Ostrom's research found that common pool resources can be sustainable if there are adequate institutional arrangements. Public Forests can be sustainable.
Our public forest is not about some ideology of nationalization or government ownership. The basic principle is that stewardship of the forest is more important than ownership. Government would act as the enduring trustee and ensure a wise system of independent professional management. Public forests were seen as a means to encourage diversity and enterprise in wood manufacture. Public timber would be available on an open market and  would not be controlled by a few timber corporations. Sustainable communities and a healthy wood manufacturing sector were the intended outcomes.
Successive government administrations made arrangements contrary to the original intentions resulting in poor outcomes. The trustee operated without any trust documents. Sufficient proceeds from harvesting virgin forest capital were not directed to maintenance of the fabric of the public forest. The trustee now intends to solve this problem by relying on private investment, an instrument of ownership. We need new nested institutions with trust documents and some checks and balances. Otherwise, our public forests will not endure in this century.
A new framework  that embeds independent professional reliance and is accountable to the public can be achieved through nested institutions of Local Forests Trusts and a British Columbia Forest Trust Assembly. A local trust would have a charter to manage a large contiguous area of local forest landscape of sufficient size to permit economic operation.  The trust documents or charter would require comprehensive management of all forest resources to Montreal Process standards. The local trust will have an board elected on a ward system from local communities and rural areas. First Nation's can have their own local forest trust or be represented on the board of a trust on a ward system depending on geography and local population. The local trust will be managed by forest and associated professionals as a business drawing income from all forest resources. It would have a fiduciary duty to use sufficient proceeds to maintain the fabric of the forest. It would be responsible for the full natural capital of the forest and would manage fish, wildlife and develop sustainable trails etc. Only minor stewardship licenses would be permitted. Timber would be sold on an open market.
Local forest trusts would be audited and supported by a British Columbia Forest Trust Assembly governed by one elected and one professional delegate from each forest trust. The assembly would handle collective services such as fire fighting, insurance, extension and act as a court of appeal.  This new framework is an area based forest management alternative designed to enable progress toward sustainable management under the Montreal Process. It meets Ostrom's design principles for common pool resource institutions. It renews our public forest institutions and is mainly a more efficient deployment of professional forest management capacity. It embeds professional reliance that is accountable to the public. It will provide social license symbolized initially by the separation of central government and wood processing corporations from the management of our public forests. While it is probably counterintuitive for both parties to relinquish control, they will both benefit from the new democratic framework.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Aboriginal Title and Local Forest Trusts

We should all celebrate the Supreme Court of Canada decision in the case Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia. The First Nation won their case and have aboriginal title over an area of the Chilcotin west of Williams lake. First Nations in BC have been fighting court cases on land claims for years and hopefully this decision will take things out of the courts and move things forward toward equitable solutions on the ground. Those benefiting to date seem to be lawyers with the case reportedly costing $ 30 million.

The Supreme court definition of aboriginal title is really a long term trust to ensure sustainable collective benefits to communities:

"Aboriginal title confers ownership rights similar to those associated with fee simple, including:  the right to decide how the land will be used; the right of enjoyment and occupancy of the land;  the right to possess the land; the right to the economic benefits of the land; and the right to pro-actively use and manage the land.

 Aboriginal title, however, comes with an important restriction — it is collective title held not only for the present generation but for all succeeding generations.  This means it cannot be alienated except to the Crown or encumbered in ways that would prevent future generations of the group from using and enjoying it.  Nor can the land be developed or misused in a way that would substantially deprive future generations of the benefit of the land.  Some changes — even permanent changes – to the land may be possible.  Whether a particular use is irreconcilable with the ability of succeeding generations to benefit from the land will be a matter to be determined when the issue arises."

Aboriginal title is an innovative collective trust concept well suited to sustainable forest management and the support of communities. It is less a concept of ownership but a definition of sustained inter-generational stewardship responsibility.  All public forests should be managed in this manner. The same trust concept should apply to all the public forests in BC. Innovation should be for everyone, for aboriginal and other communities alike.

Democratic local forest trusts are an ideal legal and institutional framework to implement the collective sustainable management requirements of aboriginal title over forest land. A local forest trust would have an elected board and professional forest and resource managers that would manage all forest resources and values.  First nation's could lead the way in asking for local forest trusts as the best mechanism for implementing aboriginal title.

What is good for the Goose is good for the gander. Other communities should have similar sustainable title to forest land and local forest trusts. Local forest trusts for all communities would give everyone the same responsibilities and deal with areas of public forest occupied by a mix of First Nation's and other folk. A ward system for different communities and rural areas would enable representation of First Nations and other communities on the elected board of the local forest trust. The board of the local trust will be the forum to work things out.

First Nations should think about local forest trusts as a way to gain speedy implementation of aboriginal title. Other communities could and should follow their example and claim similar institutional advances to exercise similar sustainable stewardship responsibilities in their forest landscapes.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Comments from the area based forest tenures consultation

 The following comments are from the area based tenures consultation.
DENIS O'GORMAN from Thompson / Okanagan provides well balanced comments that are not encumbered by technical forestry details:
The current proposal is, as I understand, to enable conversion of existing replaceable volume based licenses to replaceable area based licenses (known as tree farm licenses). The primary benefit I also understand is that it creates an incentive for intensive forest management because it enables those investing effort and other resources to benefit from anticipated increases in harvestable volumes. In concept, it is increasing the commercial value of the timber rights.
On the other hand, disbenefits with area-based licenses are:
It has proven difficult and costly to make land use adjustments that are in the public interest, and
It capitalizes the harvesting rights into shareholder value but gives no assurance of either permanent commitment to BC or its communities or proportionate “rent” to the Crown.
Many companies have had area-based licenses (TFLs) in BC. We have been witness to the departure of many: BC Forest Products, Can Cel, Columbia Cellulose, Crown Zellerbach, Eurocan, Fletcher Challenge, McMillan-Bloedel, Rayonier, and Weldwood to list a few. Long term investment decisions including forest management and intensive forestry were not delivered, nor was long term community stability. High value old growth forests were largely liquidated along with their ecosystems. The “thrifty” forests that replaced them have in many cases underperformed in both volume and quality. It is necessary to ask why some form of reserve account to deliver greater ongoing stand management can’t be put in place.
One way Street
The founding promise of TFLs was to package public timber lands along with adjacent private timberlands to help make more viable and sustainable management units capable of ensuring sustainable log supply to mills. Reductions to these TFLs, beyond a low threshold, would require compensation. Yet we witnessed no compensation when Western Forest Products private lands were removed from TFL status even without compensation for foregone taxes. It proved to be a great holding property with no commitments to manage land for forest values or due process evident.
All Values Considered
Forests have many non-timber values and these have tended to obtain greater but still insufficient recognition over time. Nominally the Forests Ministry represents all these values and some progress has been made in this. That said, the principal mind-set remains that of timber supply. Any “net downs” of a harvestable timber base are resisted. Concessions to recognition of non-timber values typically come at public cost such as offset payments against stumpage charges or direct compensation. To society, non timber values including recreation, tourism, visual protection, watershed integrity and ecosystem/species protection have and continue to rise.
Further locking in of timber as a property right would make any harvest level/land use adjustments more costly even, on a land base that is nominally Crown.
Some will recall roads paid for as through stumpage, not being open to public access. I’m also aware of and deplore vandalism of machinery, recreation sites and forest stands. But I am apprehensive about potential new access barriers. Ministry enforcement capacity needs serious re-examination.
Access to what
One answer is access to special places often made scarce by past harvesting. As an example, some may recall that one of the last mountain- top hikes on Vancouver Island, Heather Mountain, was reduced to a short stroll. Were all values seriously considered? In the words of Marion Clarison from Resources for the Future, Forests for Whom and for What?, this is a question with enduring validity.
Consider for example the fragility of even designated parks now being made available for development through “research permits”. Where’s the reverse compensation to the public there?
License Conversion where it makes sense
A business case for conversion can readily be made. Security as a hedge, growth and yield “lifts” and timber value capitalization put into a saleable asset base. When would it not make sense? Perhaps where society’s land use values are changing or are not adequately resolved? Perhaps where long term commitment to a community or Province is not assured? Perhaps where access to timber supply by value-added operators is restricted? These and other questions need to be considered as part of valid timber tenure reform.
Other Tenure holders
A stated benefit of area-based tenure is that it will provide non-timber operators a land manager “so they know who to talk to about their non-timber tenures”. The question is what if anything is their leverage in such discussions? Strong tenures with concentrated economic values (e.g. mineral claims) presumably have significant leverage, heli-ski companies perhaps less, backcountry recreation tenures still less and local communities any? What if any fair process for consideration of non-timber values would be provided? This needs serious examination as part of tenure review.
The proposal to convert existing replaceable volume based licenses with area-based licenses does not presently address many important concerns related to ensuring the public interest in use of Crown land.
Rather than presume this proposed conversion from volume to area-based tenures is the only way to produce prospective benefits of more intensive forest management, a more comprehensive evaluation of tenure and management options should be considered including opportunities for tenure diversification and the respective enabling conditions for each.
This entails considered comparative assessment of a range of options against outcomes such as:
ability to respond to new land use demands, needs and desires (i.e. flexibility);
ability to achieve more intensive forest management;
support for greater areas of wood supply for non-timber licensees;
contribution to community stability to reinvestment; and
contribution to Crown revenue
One starting point could be identification of a full range of tenure options by an expert panel coupled with a comparative assessment of those options. The question of appropriate tenure options and their appropriate mix and either respective enabling conditions warrants in depth examination including an adequate opportunity for open public review.
Thanks for the opportunity to comment.
Denis O’Gorman
May 29, 2014