Sunday, April 27, 2014

British Columbia forest stewardship needs a change of concept

Clarity in forest ownership and tenure is a cornerstone of the legal and institutional framework for sustainable forest management. Sustainable forest management is a long term affair and those involved in forest management need security of ownership or tenure to make the necessary commitments. It is an indicator (7.3a) in the Montreal Process for forest conservation and sustainable forest management.

The British Columbia Government is currently looking at increasing area based timber right tenures in it's public forests. Long term area based leases or tenures are seen as a means to give forest corporations a greater sense of ownership and therefore the encouragement to invest in silviculture and other tending of the forest. It is seen as a way to encourage the growing of timber and sustain the timber supply. There is validity in the perspective. Unfortunately it is a small picture perspective about growing trees.

In British Columbia, we need to be able to see the forest and not just the trees. In the average forest landscape, only about half of the forest is suitable for timber production. Timber producing forest landscapes contain an area of land in virgin natural condition that is double the size of the present area of designated Parks or protected areas. This land needs stewardship and in many forest landscapes it could be a source of significant nature based economic activity.

Forest management is not just about growing trees. It is not just about clarity of forest tenure for forest corporations. Most of the forests of British Columbia are Crown Forests in the right of the Province of British Columbia. This makes the Government of BC the trustee of the Crown or public forests. The public needs clarity of ownership and the right to clean water and a healthy environment. The Montreal Process expects the the traditional and legal rights of aboriginal people to be included. Courts have recognized aboriginal title in BC and there has been a long running land claims process that has provided First Nation's people with little more than frustration. Employment for the legal profession seems to be the main benefit to date.

The problems of entitlements in BC's public forests are rather intractable. The BC Government seems to think that the solution is to provide forest corporations stronger tenure in the form of area based leases. In return for increased tenure, forest corporations will be expected to give up a little forest that will be used for various peace offering small tenures to First Nation's, communities and others. Some forest will be retained by the Government for its BC Timber Sales program that attempts to give a semblance of a timber market. It will not be sufficient to remove BC's present vulnerability to discriminatory export duties. The small tenure holders may not be satisfied with their peace offerings. The thin social license for corporate timber rights holders in public forests may puncture and BC could see significant civil disobedience and "wars in the woods".

BC's forest sector and forest dependent communities are too important to the economy to be exposed to a policy direction that is uncertain and that may undermine social and economic stability. There are also significant sustainability issues in coastal and interior forests that require some major adjustments. We need to look for another way forward that gives all parties the security and confidence to proceed under some legal and institutional arrangements that will truly support sustainable forest management. This will mean an improving future for the forest industry, First Nation's and forest dependent communities.

The BC Government is presently using area based forest management and area based tenures interchangeably. Area based management in our contiguous public forests should be about placing a large area of forest landscape under the care of a single responsible steward. Area based tenure is about fragmenting the forests between forest corporations and other holders entitled to peace offerings. We are fragmenting our public forests between different interests. It is an entitlement grab being orchestrated by the Trustee of our public forests.
It is an undoing of our public forests.

The present BC Government follows a long line of government administrations stretching back over 100 years that does understand its proper role in BC's primary institution in its legal and institutional framework for forest management. That institution is not the tenure system of the Forest Act but the public forest itself. The public forests are not there so that various parties can have rights and entitlements. Public forests are there as an institution so that the BC Government can act as the enduring trustee and see that they are supplied with sustainable stewardship. This will sustain healthy forests, a competitive forest industry and forest dependent communities. Unfortunately, a century of BC Government administrations have viewed the public forests a a giant timber pot that can be handed out to timber rights holders. Public Forests are not about rights and entitlements. Public Forests are an institution intended to ensure stewardship. Public forests are about responsibilities rather than rights. We have forest sustainability problems today because we operated our public forests on a system of rights rather than responsibilities. The BC Government, has excelled at being an enduring poor trustee.

BC does not need a tenure system in its public forest. We need a stewardship system that sustains the health of the forest environment. It needs to be a system of responsibilities rather than rights. The first item on the agenda is some improved institutional arrangements for the Trustee of BC's Public Forests. We need something better than a Minister of Forests operating without trust documents from the short term political and economic perspectives of a politician as the conductor of an orchestra of forest grabbers with some rights to the timber in our forests.  The next blog will look at improved legal and institutional arrangements for the Trusteeship of our public forests.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Trustee of BC's Public Forests

Residents of British Columbia are beneficiaries of our public forests. The BC Government is supposed to act as the enduring trustee and ensure that public forests are managed under a wise system of sustainable forest management. The intended outcomes were healthy forests, environmental and recreational benefits, a strong diverse forest industry and sustainable communities. Public forests were also intended to ensure that timber supplies would not be controlled by timber interests. We have some serious forest sustainability issues and most of the intended outcomes of public forests have not been achieved.

The present trustee, Forest Minister Thomson in an article in the Spring 2014 edition of Truck Logger BC states that "Area based management is not about privatization of public forests". This ambiguous assertion could be true if you define area based forest management as the stewardship of a large area of forest by a steward with full responsibility for the sustainable management of all the forest and its infrastructure. Area based forest management is likely to be better than permitting different parties to harvest and regenerate piecemeal pieces of the same forest area. Area based management should be seen as an avenue toward better stewardship of British Columbia's public forests.

Public Forest Trustee, Thomson and his Ministry of Forests are presently engaged on a public consultation on area based tenures.  Privatization in BC's public forests is not some new or future threat, but something that has been underway for at least seventy years. BC's forest tenure system is about private timber harvesting rights in public forests. A few forest corporations hold the rights to harvest a substantial portion of all public timber. The area based tenure initiative will enable these corporations to convert long term timber volume tenures to area based tenures.This means greater control over areas of forest by forest corporations. It is a form of creeping enclosure of public forests into the private interest.

The forest tenure system gives rights to harvest public timber. The timber is given an administered price by government. These administered prices make BC wood exports vulnerable to export tariffs or taxes and we are being penalized. In an attempt to create a semblance of a market for public timber, the government sells some public timber under the BC Timber Sales program. It is not effective in creating a true open market for public timber and has not removed our vulnerability to discriminatory export taxes. The tenure system is poor economic policy. The BC Timber Sales program and a variety of other small and short term tenures fragments the management of public forests and is an impediment to area based management. Since BC has large contiguous areas of forest landscape, any proposals to move to area based forest management should aim to place complete geographic areas of forest under the management of a single forest steward.

In the Truck Logger BC magazine, Forests Minister Thomson says: "Area based management is providing one licence holder with exclusive timber harvesting rights, but not rights to other resources.  Whether a forest licensee has an area based licence or a volume based licence, they must follow the same laws and regulations with regard to environmental stewardship and public rights and access." The Forest Minister uses area based management and area based tenure inter-changeably and admits that that it will give stronger, exclusive private timber rights. The Forest Minister's test for privatization is the actual sale of public forest land to corporate timber interests. Enclosure of common or public land throughout history has often involved gradual or creeping privatization.

Is Forest Minister Thomson only able to consider area based forest tenures as the institutional framework for area based forest management, because the public forests are already encumbered by private interests?

It may suit the Forest Minister's political purposes to use the test of actual sale of public forest land as proof of privatization. However, Forest Minister Thomson is also the trustee of BC's Crown or public forests. If the residents of BC or the beneficiaries of the public forest trust are being denied full potential benefits owing to the interests and entitlements of private or corporate timber rights holders, then privatization is already present.

Unfortunately there are no trust documents for BC Public Forests. It will surprise most Canadians to learn that Canada is now one of the minority of backward countries that does not have a right to a healthy environment enshrined in its constitution. A public trust doctrine has not emerged within the Canadian legal system so a BC Forest Minister has considerable freedom of action with respect to public forests. However, a 1909 Royal Commission  advised BC to retain its forest in public ownership and emphasized that the success of our public forests was dependent on successive BC Government administrations developing a wise system of forest management. Canada is a signatory to the Montreal Process an international agreement on conservation and sustainable forest management in temperate and boreal forests. The Montreal Process indicators do provide a scientific and objective set of indicators to enable the wisdom of our stewardship arrangements for public forests to be assessed: Montreal Process Technical Indicators

The BC Forest Minister argues that area based forest tenures with only give rights to timber and not other resources. Timber comes from trees and trees affect the entire forest environment, its biodiversity, its soil, water, wildlife, fisheries, economic and recreational values. Go to the Montreal Process indicators referenced above if you wish to explore more scientific detail on the obvious fact that "trees make the forest".  A wide range of public goods such as clean water come from the forest. Since the public are the owners of the public forest they should be entitled to these benefits.
Is a private timber manager, even when constrained by rules and regulations, the most suitable steward of a public forest? A tenure system within public forests is not a good legal and institutional framework to support sustainable forest management. (See Forests and Wall Street )

Forest management in BC has been the focus of protests, wars in the woods, and some of the largest incidents of civil disobedience in the history of Canada. Control of public forests by timber harvesting rights holders has been at the root of most of these incidents. While no one can predict the future, the strengthening of timber harvesting rights to greater control of areas of public forests is likely to reduce social licence. The tenure system of timber harvesting rights has not even been a success at sustaining timber supply. Rather than seeking greater control over public forests, forest corporations should be wise to consider the benefits of an independent forest steward for public forests. They could leave forest management to another party and buy their timber supplies on an open market. We should not blame forest corporations for the existing privatization within public forests. It is a long line of poor government administrations that gave us the tenure system, and the inability of the present trustee to envision any alternative.

Economic benefits were another reason for retaining BC Forests in public ownership. By the early 1900's timber interests had wasted considerable forest resources in North America and there was fear that private ownership of forests would lead to waste.The tenure system has led to waste.
Timber barons could control all the timber supplies and restrict the development of a diverse wood products manufacturing industry that adds value and employment. Public forests with independent professional stewardship and open access to public timber supplies was seen as a better route to ensure the sustainability and prosperity of forest dependent communities. Forest dependent communities around BC now face sustainability and prosperity challenges. The original vision for public forests has been corrupted. The original vision remains pertinent today and it seems that our pioneers of a century ago had greater wisdom than abounds today.

Economic, social and environmental benefits of forests can now be assessed under Criterion 6 of the Montreal Process. The first indicator is the value and volume of wood products. Control of a substantial portion of public timber by forest corporations engaged in commodity wood products production has restricted the availability of wood supplies to other manufacturers. A lack of diversity in wood products manufacture reduces the total potential value of wood products. The value of non-timber forest products has never been fully realized because timber management views these as a nuisance rather than an economic opportunity.  Nature based economic activities such as eco-tourism is regarded as a bit of a joke by timber managers. The average forest landscape in BC has an area of forest and other land in natural condition that equals the area of forest that can be harvested in the same landscape. Area based forest management should not be restricted to timber and a timber economy but it should seek to develop and sustain a variety of forest based economic activity derived from the full natural capital of the forest landscape. Large efficient saw mill and pulp mill operations will remain a cornerstone of the timber economy and there should be a place for the existing corporations in any re-engineered legal and institutional framework for sustainable forest management.

The Minister of Forests tries to reassure the public that all will be well with area based tenures because there will be laws, regulations and rules. The history of forest management tells us that rules do not make the best foundation for good forest management. They often introduce inflexibility and tend to reduce innovation and progress. Rules are often brought into to fix poor forest management. The French tried a strong set of rules in the 1600's and it slowed improvement. In BC we are convinced that we need a rules approach to curb the timber instincts of timber rights holders. The result is a cumbersome and wasteful bureaucracy both in government and forest industry. It is possible that one of the main motivations for government promotion of area based tenures with the notion of professional reliance is to further reduce and downsize the Ministry of Forests. The system is frustrating for forest corporations because plans produced by their foresters with practical field experience and knowledge may have to be approved by a government administrative forester with limited field experience and knowledge. While the system of approval is supposed to place checks on timber interests it is also confounded by the fact that government also shares in the proceeds of harvesting. The tenure system set up by government gives entitlements to timber. The forests are seen as a resource pool that you can extract your entitlements of timber and cash. The forest is not operated as a business and both the government and forest corporations have been reluctant to put back enough cash into the tending of the forest and the maintenance of its infrastructure.

The Minister of Forests, the Trustee of BC's public forests needs to go deeper than a little surface rhetoric provide the necessary revisions to our legal and institutional framework for sustainable forest management. The first problem to resolve is the trusteeship of BC's public forests. Devolving trusteeship to elected board members of local forest trusts is something to consider. Democratic area based forest trusts

Canadian Forest products has concerns about the area based tenure process

CanFor has concerns about the area based tenure process. The forest industry is dealing with the aftermath of the major mountain pine beetle epidemic and negative public reaction to area based tenure could reduce the social licence of forest corporations.

Canfor is one of the few coastal forest companies of the 1960's to survive and prosper and become a major player in the interior of BC. Read the wise advice at:

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Feedback to the Area Based Forest Tenure Consultation

Area based forest management means an area of forest under the control of a forest steward  responsible for all aspects of forest management and maintenance of forest infrastructure such as roads and other facilities. In a technical forestry sense, this type of forest management can be an improvement over a volume based approach that limits forest management responsibilities to forest harvesting and regeneration over piecemeal parts of a forest.

The  British Columbia Government's consultation process is asking for feedback on the following:
  • the social, economic and environmental benefits that should be sought from proponents interested in converting their forest licences, and
  • the criteria for evaluating applications and the process for implementing conversions, including specific application requirements and target locations for conversion opportunities.
The British Columbia Government is the trustee of our public forests and it's primary responsibility is to ensure sustainable forest management. We hear about sustainable forest management certification processes that aid the marketing of forest products. There are differing definitions of sustainable forest management but there is a scientific gold standard definition, in an international agreement that is intended to help countries or other forest jurisdictions such as British Columbia to assess and make progress toward sustainable forest management. It is called the Montreal Process and its Criteria and Indicators should be used as the primary guidance on the two consultation questions. The seven comprehensive criteria are as follows:
  1. Conservation of biological diversity
  2. Maintenance of the productive capacity of forest ecosystems
  3. Maintenance of forest ecosystem health and vitality
  4. Conservation and maintenance of soil and water resources
  5. Maintenance of forest contribution to global carbon cycles
  6. Maintenance and enhancement of long term multiple socio-economic benefits
  7. Legal, institutional and economic framework for conservation and sustainable management
The criteria have several specific indicators that assess present status and help to guide progress and improvements. Foresters often neglect to give much weight to the last criterion (NO. 7) but it is perhaps the most important. British Columbia is facing some serious sustainability issues in most of above criteria that can be traced to the nature of the present legal and institutional framework largely based on a tenure system. The existing tenure system has restricted the total value of wood products because it has limited diversity of wood product manufacture. Non-timber and nature based forest economic activity has pushed to the sidelines owing to interest in timber. The non-market administered timber pricing and the tenure system have made BC wood exports vulnerable to export taxes and tariffs. The BC Government will be remiss in it's duty as trustee of our public forests, if it fails to examine other area based forest management institutions that do not involve tenure.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

BC Government's Consultation process on area based forest tenures

The BC Government's consultation process on area based forest tenures can be found at:

A blog where you can post your input can be found at:

From the Website: "Government is committed to broad public engagement on the topic of converting some or a portion of some volume-based forest licences to new or expanded area-based tree farm licences. This is intended to help address the issue of a declining timber supply in B.C.’s Interior caused by the mountain pine beetle. This site is the place for you to learn more about the concept and to provide feedback. Feedback is specifically being gathered on:
  • the social, economic and environmental benefits that should be sought from proponents interested in converting their forest licences, and
  • the criteria for evaluating applications and the process for implementing conversions, including specific application requirements and target locations for conversion opportunities."

This means a major change to the legal and institutional framework for sustainable forest management is being contemplated by the Government of British Columbia. This is not just a slight reworking of forest tenure arrangements and could lead to the enclosure of public forests into the private interest.

There are a wide variety of ways that area based forest management could be conducted within a legal and institutional framework for managing public forests. The BC Government's consultation process considers only one option. It is a tinkering with an existing legal and institutional framework that has given serious sustainability problems on the coast and the interior of BC. There are two possible reasons for the limited option:

  1. The Government, its agencies and other advisers lack the vision, imagination and ingenuity to consider and develop other options for area based forest management within a legal and institutional framework that will support sustainable forest management in British Columbia.
  2. Tenure is a private right within the public forest, and the tentacles of enclosure of public forests are already sufficiently strong that only option for consultation is one bound to put control of public forests into the private interest.

The Government has tried to move in this direction before,but has been dissuaded by loud public dissent.  This time there have been some public relations moves to pave the way in these never-ending attempts to move to give forest corporations greater control over public forests. One of these is the concept of "Professional Reliance" that embodies the idea that professional foresters will look after the public interest even if they get their paycheck from a forest corporation.

Government needs to hear more than dissent from the public of British Columbia this time. The public needs to provide the Government of British Columbia some better ideas on how to implement area based forest management. These would include a much enhanced form of "Professional Reliance"
that would see forest professionals working for the public and directly accountable to a local elected board. These professionals would also work under a charter requiring comprehensive sustainable management to international standards. 

The next posts will explore better arrangements for area based forest management