Sunday, March 16, 2014

Forests and Colonialism in Canada

Aboriginal people certainly identify with the notion of colonialism, and probably see it extending into present day life in Canada. Colonialism is a thing of the past for most of us, or so we think. Canada derives much of its wealth from natural resources, some renewable and others non renewable. Forests should be a renewable resource, but much of forest management in Canada has been economic exploitation of forests with a dash of public relations sustainability. Trees have been planted after forest harvest in British Columbia for some decades, but that has not prevented timber supply problems.

Sustainable forest management is not just about technical forestry treatments. Forests are most affected by the attitudes of a society that get reflected in the laws, institutions and policies for forest management. The attitude that most supports sustainable thinking is patience. Forest management is a long term affair and it requires patience.

Colonialism is a word that comes from the Roman Latin and it relates to the subjection of conquered peoples and the expansion of territory. Subjection yields pictures of guards with whips making slaves work in a salt mine. However we can subject ourselves either individually or collectively to some rather limited ideas or vision. When Provincial or Federal elections take place in Canada the average Joe usually hears that "this election is about the economy and jobs, jobs, jobs". The economy is not entirely under the control of any government and there are other aspects to government than the economy. The economy becomes the total issue and we vote for the politician that we think has the best and most believable offering of the "most jobs".

What does this collective fixation on the economy, or inverted totalitarianism mean for the land and resources of Canada? The average Canadian has forgotten his or her country. Canada is a land of forest, prairie, rivers, lakes, distance and vast space. Yet most of us live in cities, and our immediate experience relates to these human constructed environments. Children may be too busy playing with electronic devices and never be introduced to the nature of their country. News focuses on cities.

How does a city centered population view the land and resources of Canada. Most of Canada becomes a vast hinterland of resources that can be exploited to support the city. This is the mentality of colonialism. The city is Vancouver or Toronto instead of Rome, but otherwise there is little difference. Where is the sustainable attitude of patience? It is nowhere to be found. Exploit any resource as fast a possible, make money and jobs. Even dissent against forest or other resource exploitation in Canada reflects the sensibilities of the city dweller, rather than fundamental questions about the sustainable management of  resources.

Control of public forest resources in British Columbia by industrial forest corporations has resulted in some of the largest incidents of civil disobedience in the history of Canada. These should have prompted considerable public debate about the role of forest corporations in our public forests and new institutions to ensure sustainable forest management. Rather than deal with the core problem, public debate and probably a city centered debate focused on the symptomatic solution of saving some forests in Parks or protected areas.

Public debate on Canada's large hydrocarbon resources in natural gas and tar sands has not focused on the inter-generational stewardship of these valuable resources. Making the most quick dollars now, seems to be the basic assumption that is not open to challenge. The dissent is about pipelines and the possibility of icky lumps of oil fouling the waters of the Pacific Coastline.

Large Government office complexes and corporate office tower castles in Canada's major cities control the hinterland and its resources. Large numbers of voters also reside in the cities so democracy in Canada could become a tyranny of the city majority over the hinterland minority.

Canada's land, resources and all people will probably fare better in the long term if our democratic institutions included provisions for giving more autonomy to the hinterland. A start could be made in Ottawa. The House of Commons is roughly representative of the population which in turn means that it will have bias toward city interests. Reform of the Senate is needed to provide a functional elected chamber to replace the present collection of appointees. The Senate could represent Geography in Canada with some being elected to represent major cities and the balance being elected to represent large rural areas and their interests. An elected Senate should have some teeth such as the power to veto or send back legislation to the Commons.

Under Canada's constitution the Provinces have control over land and resources and there is also a need to devolve some control from city capitals to resource communities and rural areas. The local interest and perspective is more likely to align itself with the patience and sustainability than distant control from government or corporate penthouses located in the city.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Forest Trusts protect the public interest

For thousands of years, residents of British Columbia have had the freedom to roam our lands and forests. Public ownership of most of our forests has maintained this freedom. Unlike other countries, we can go on millions of hectares of forest without the barriers of fences, gates and no-trespassing signs.
Our pioneer's kept our forests and lands in public ownership for economic reasons. They were afraid that private timber interests would misuse the forests, control the timber supply, and restrict enterprise in wood manufacture. Public ownership of our forests was seen as a means to ensure sustainable management. Public timber would be available on an open market to encourage a diversified wood products industry.
The first priority of the Ministry of Forests in the upcoming year is to "begin public consultation on legislation that would allow the conversion of volume based licenses to area based licenses".  The BC Government and forest corporations will sell the benefits of area based forest management. Area based forest management is a better system. Responsibility for all aspects of forest management in an area is superior to requirements for re-foresting piecemeal areas that have been logged.
While area based forest management is a better approach, the public needs to realize that there are serious problems with area based forest licenses. The licenses will be long term leases of public forests held by forest corporations. Politicians will try to persuade us that this is not a form of privatization because the public will retain ownership of the land. However, it will really represent a point of no return in enclosure of our public forests into the private interest. A gradual process of giving timber corporations control of public forests has been underway for more than half a century. A few forest corporations control most of the public timber supply under a non-market administrative pricing system. This has restricted enterprise in value added wood products and made our exports vulnerable to discriminatory tariffs or taxes. Many forest dependent communities face timber supply problems in the next few decades. The intended economic outcomes of public forests have not been realized.
Previous attempts to move toward area based forest licenses have been rejected by the public. History tells us that gradual and persistent efforts to enclose public or common land into the private interest are usually successful.  If we want to preserve or public lands and forests and our special freedom over this vast area, we need a better area based forest management solution.
The most promising institution for area based forest management is the Local Forest Trust. Local trusts would involve a relatively large area of forest landscape that would be managed as a sustainable business by an elected board and a staff of forest managers. It would have a charter for comprehensive management of timber and other forest resources and economic opportunities. Timber would be sold on an open market.  First Nation's will have their own local forest trust or be represented on the board of a local trust. A BC Forest Trust Assembly would audit, support and provide a court of public appeal. It would be governed by elected and professional delegates from local forest trusts. The BC Forest Trust Assembly would report to the BC Legislature.
A new devolved system of local forest trusts for managing public forests provides area based sustainable forest management that is democratic and accountable to the public. Free enterprise will replace the present system of restricted enterprise. Diversity in wood products manufacture will be encouraged and our vulnerability to export tariffs and taxes will be removed. Forest corporations will be able to purchase logs and maintain operations. This new system of devolved, democratic free enterprise forest management institutions will be sufficiently robust to prevent future enclosure of our forests into the private interest. We will maintain the freedom of our lands and forests.

We need not surrender our birthright for area based forest management. Rather, area based forest management under local forest trusts can protect our birthright, revitalize our forest economy and build strong social license for comprehensive sustainable forest management.

Published by the Victoria Times Colonist as an opinion editorial on Friday, April 4, 2014

Saturday, March 1, 2014

British Columbia Parks in Jeopardy?

Bill 4, the Park Amendment Act 2014 is presently being considered at the BC Legislature. It contains some legal weasel words that should raise a few red flags about our Parks and Protected areas in British Columbia.

An amendment to enable film production in BC Parks makes it clear that this activity can only occur if its is not "detrimental to the recreational values of the park involved". Filming of a film celebrity hiding in the bushes of a BC park is hardly an activity likely to cause too many problems and we know that a permit will be denied if the filming will be detrimental.

In contrast to the provisions to enable film production, the remainder of Bill 4  is written in obfuscatory language. It provides for research and the issuance of permits for activities related to research. Sections of the Park Act normally intended to protect recreational values cannot be employed to prevent the issuance of permits for activities related to research. The research means a broad range of feasibility studies, environmental assessments related to highway, pipe or transmission lines, telecommunications and "a prescribed project or projects in a prescribed class of projects". The research may also inform the BC Government and Legislature "in relation to the boundaries of the protected area".

The BC Government is giving itself the power to diddle with our parks and their boundaries. Park legislation should be clear rather than obscure.