Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tree-farm licences a failure in forest management


Anthony Britneff
British Columbia’s forests are 93-per cent owned by commoners and comprise a part of what has been known for centuries as The Commons.
As such, it is incumbent on policy-makers to ensure the common interest prevails over self-interest and government interest in the governance of these forestlands.
Unfortunately, misguided thinking is undermining the common interest as the government struggles to deal with the aftermath of the mountain-pine-beetle infestation in Interior B.C.
For over half a century, the forests ministry allowed vast areas of aging pine forests in the B.C. Interior to become increasingly susceptible to infestation by the mountain pine beetle.
Although scientists and forest insect specialists did not foretell the magnitude of the beetle infestation, they are in general agreement that climate change caused it and poor government forest policies exacerbated it.
The government’s initial response to the beetle infestation was to deal with the symptom (dead pine trees) and implicitly deny the cause (global warming).
The government immediately raised the rates of logging and the limits placed on allowable cuts to unsustainable levels in the mountain-pine-beetle zone with little regard for the cumulative affects it would have on the soil, water and animals, not to mention the people of Interior B.C.
The recession of the last decade allowed senior forest officials to deceive themselves into thinking that over-harvesting and unsustainable logging rates are in the best interests of forest-dependent communities for at least a couple of political election cycles, but not beyond. Yet, the government, while claiming to have spent a billion dollars on mitigating the affects of the beetle infestation, appears to have completely neglected to do any strategic planning needed to deal with the inevitable social and economic consequences of the predicted crash in available timber.
The only evident plan is to keep the rates of timber harvesting unsustainably high, thereby making the eventual collapse of available timber even more painful for forest-dependent communities, a policy based on the premise that it is better to have more jobs today and none tomorrow rather than fewer jobs today and some tomorrow.
Instead of focusing on the common good, on getting a reliable forest inventory and on defining a long-term vision for forestry in British Columbia with attendant strategies, goals and objectives, the government is preoccupied with rewarding an oligopoly of companies with exclusive timber rights over public forests within quasi-private timber farms (Tree Farm Licences)
In its zeal to justify further enclosure of The Commons and increased corporate control over the commoners’ timber, the government’s twisted thinking becomes so bent that it defines mountebank politics.
The false argument, or syllogism, goes like this. Area-based forest management is preferable to volume-based management. Tree-farm licences are a type of area-based tenure. Therefore, forest management on tree-farm Licences must be better than it is on volume-based tenures.
The government then takes that syllogism to the people and pretends to consult publicly by inviting selected stakeholders to a meeting with the consultation leader and by arranging an Internet blog on which the public can post comments and send written submissions by email.
The declared purpose of the consultation is to obtain input on the criteria to be considered in evaluating proposals for converting some or a portion of some volume-based forest licences to new or expanded area-based tree-farm licences. More tree-farm licences are a foregone conclusion. The public has no say.
The whole consultation process is a sham. The language used is a complete turnoff for any member of the public unversed in forestry jargon. To participate meaningfully, the public would need clear evidence of whether public benefits from previously awarded tree-farm licences have materialized as background to an open question as to whether more timber farms are desirable and in the common interest.
History shows forest tenure under tree-farm licences is a singular failure resulting in British Columbians being robbed of control of their forests and denied the promised benefits from them.
British Columbians need a full, public and provincewide discussion — not a phoney consultation — on what type of forest governance might best address the concerns and needs of forest-dependant communities during this century of rapid climate change.
Today, common sense is the cement needed to unite British Columbians to re-establish control over their forest commons. Until noon on May 30, use your common sense to say no to more Tree Farm Licences by sending an email to: forest.tenures@gov.bc.ca
Anthony Britneff recently retired from a 40-year career with the B.C. Forest Service during which he held senior professional positions in inventory, silviculture and forest health.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Area based forest management is a vehicle for sustainable forest management but Area based tenure is a Lemon

Forests are complex systems involving a myriad of networked factors from the physical nature of the terrain and the web of life that lies on top. A another confounding factor is human ecology or how human societies interact with the forest environment. This includes the laws, institutions and economic framework for forest management.  The consultation on area based tenures falls at the human ecology end of the spectrum.

Less than half of the average forest landscape in BC is suitable for timber harvest. The remaining area is land, usually in natural condition, comprising forest that cannot be harvested for various reasons, alpine areas, glaciers etc. Wilderness in natural condition is in short supply globally. Although the parks and protected areas in British Columbia comprise 13 million hectares or 13% of the Province, there is potential to triple the size if these areas in natural condition within timber producing landscapes were given a protected area designation.

We have operated on the paradigm that timber rights are the economic king in our public forest. Polarization between timber and other interests has become part of the dynamic of human ecology. It is even embedded in the language that foresters use. Managing other forest values are regularly described as constraints (against timber). Owing to the polarity that has developed, managing other values often entails reserves rather than some long term forest design that protects the other value while at the same time growing timber perhaps under a different silvicultural system or other innovation. Framing other interests in the forest as economic luddites only inflames the problem. Having bastions in the form of private timber growing leases in public forests will not provide the desired protection for the timber supply.
If you assess BC as a forest jurisdiction under the Montreal Process, the strongest red flag indicators show up in forest health and sustaining timber supply. The other interest in the forests did not help to cause these problems. BC's increase in protected areas is a positive indicator of progress toward conservation and sustainable forest management. The attitudes of the forest sector much assisted the efforts of the environmental movement. They could not have done it without you. Is the Government and forest sector now going to foster a human ecology dynamic that triples the area of Parks?

Progress toward sustainable forest management in BC will involve some hopefully well designed arrangements for area based forest management. Area based management should involve the management of entire contiguous forest landscapes for multiple economic and social benefits. The managers or stewards should plan manage and draw income from timber, non timber and nature based economic activity. They should also be stewards of the areas of the landscape that are in natural condition and will not feature in timber supply. They might develop a sustainable trail system to encourage local tourism.

There have been two competing philosophies about forest management that have been around since the nineteenth century. One side sees an agricultural or tree farm model of planting tree crops. The other side feels that the security of timber supply is best served if forest management is done more along the lines of the natural virgin forest. Alternative silvicultural systems and mixtures of species were developed in response to failures in mono culture spruce plantations on some sites in Europe. The debate continues today between industrial forest management and ecosystem forest management. There is an old dictum in forest management: "Work with nature or you will be defeated".  It probably makes sense for humans not to force things too much in the forest or there may be unintended consequences.  Forest fire fighting and a failure to harvest  compensatory areas of lodge pole pine was a major factor in the recent epidemic that exceeded reference conditions. After this multi-billion dollar beetle feeding exercise it may be wise to be on the nature side of the equation. A more diverse nature based type of forest management is a better fit in the average BC forest landscape than the agricultural tree farming model. It is also less likely to create conflicts and reduce social license.

Area based forest management is a good vehicle for sustainable management in public forests. If you do not design a vehicle it will be a lemon. Area based tenures or almost private tree farms on public land within public forest landscape is not a solution designed to make progress toward sustainable forest management. It will be compromised by other forest management fragments within landscapes resulting from the appeasement required to bring it into effect. It does not provide for comprehensive sustainable management of an entire forest landscape or for the multiple economic benefits that should be realized under Criterion 6 of the Montreal Process. It will be a step toward enclosure of public forests into the private interest and a social collision waiting to happen. It will be viewed internationally as a cozy deal between the BC Government and forest corporations and our vulnerability to export tariffs may be increased.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

British Columbia's forests spin out of public control.

The BC forest sector has always managed to get its way with BC's public forests through good public relations. The right bit of spin can work wonders!  In the present area based tenure consultation being conducted by the BC Government, emphasis is being placed on the public land, rather than public forests. This distinction enables  you can argue that privatization of forest land is not going to happen as you enclose the public forest further into the interest of timber rights holders.

To assert their prime position, timber rights holders in BC's forests always use the trump card. The forest industry is the most important economic driver in BC and most essential to many forest dependent communities. This is all very true.  This is why we need good institutions and arrangements to ensure sustainable forest management. The forest sector likes to frame itself as the protector of the BC economy:

" These forest lands are finite and yet we, the public, place increasing demands on these lands for uses other than growing timber, shrinking the area we hope will supply our timber needs. We have also witnessed negative impacts on timber supply from natural causes such as the mountain pine beetle."  (Comment from the areas based tenure consultation)

How do these views stand up against internationally accepted standards on these matters?  What about the natural causes of the mountain pine beetle epidemic?  Under the international Montreal Process the mountain pine beetle epidemic would be examined under criterion and indicator 3a: "Area and percent of forests affected by biotic processes and agents beyond reference conditions". Mountain pine beetle is an agent in the forests of BC and some timber losses are to be expected, but the recent epidemic qualifies for scrutiny because it is huge compared to previous outbreaks. The public relations machine has convinced the public that climate change and warm winters enabled beetles to survive the winters. While this is true, there were other factors involved. Lodge pole pine becomes susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack after it gets to about 80 years old. Old pine forests make good habitat for mountain pine beetles. The forests of interior BC had become filled with old pine, so the beetles had a munch-fest. The abundance of old pine forest was not natural, but a product of the "public land model" with timber rights holders harvesting the public forest with preference for species other than pine. The BC Government as the trustee helped out by supplying fire fighting services. Lodge pole pine was saved from fires so it aged.  Timber interests and the BC Government, the managers of our public forests conducted a successful mountain pine beetle habitat enhancement project. Tens of billions of dollars of timber were lost. These losses will have real and biting significance to many interior BC communities for a generation. It was not natural causes but a failure of the public private partnership of the BC Government and forest corporations acting as managers of our public forests. What would the shareholders of a corporation do with managers that lost tens of billions of dollars of assets and then tried to cover it up with spin?

Forest industry likes to think that it is protecting timber production in public forests from other users. (Those misguided economy destroying folk with interests in other forest values!).  A whole criterion of the Montreal Process is dedicated to these questions. Criterion 6 deals with the maintenance and enhancement of multiple socio-economic benefits to meet the needs of society. Sustainable forest management should aim to use the full natural capital of the forest to generate economic activity from timber, non timber and nature based activities. The aim is to generate the greatest good for all and manage the forest for maximum return. This will not happen if one interest is pitted against another. The forest industry demonstrates that it remains in its polarized corner and seeks domination of public forests. It is also true that some of the other interests are polarized.  Enhanced area based tenure is more likely to cause, rather than solve wars in the public woods. Independent management rather than timber interest management will enable public forests to be managed and planned to include a variety of economic activity and interests. The enhanced social license of independent management of public forests will give benefits to timber and all other interests.

The tenure system has restricted open access to public timber supply and reduced the diversity of wood manufacture. It has also made BC wood products vulnerable to discriminatory export taxes or tariffs. These are major economic downers. Our present timber sustainability issues do not help to attract investment in wood manufacturing plant.

Timber interests may not be the protectors of the BC forest economy. Sustainable management of timber supply is of the highest priority to the economy of British Columbia and forest dependent communities. It is time for central government and its timber rights holders to admit that their management of the timber supply and the forest economy has been less than stellar. Given the problems facing many forest dependent communities, their residents should be crying out for new independent managers of their surrounding public forests. The present area based tenure proposal will only further entrench existing problems and their associated negative economic consequences.

It is rather late in the day for timber rights holders and the BC Government to talk about enhanced investment in forest stewardship. They have both had seven decades to extract the considerable wealth of British Columbia's public forest. It is a total failure of an evident fiduciary duty to neglect to put enough back to maintain the forest. Much of the capital expended to construct forest road access in public forests has been lost through lack of maintenance. These losses also cause negative impacts on water and fisheries resources. The forest has been ripped off and now you wish to invest!  Investment is an instrument of ownership. Private forests will exist on top of public land. It is a rip off to own scheme.  It is absolute public relations chutzpah from the forest sector. Chutzpah is defined as:  "that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan."

The argument that forest companies need to have tenure in a public forest to attract investment in wood manufacturing plants seems to be a non-sequitur. This type of thinking seems to come from seeing forests like a non-renewable mineral deposit. Given the track record of tenure holders and the central BC government at sustaining supply, prospective investors would be much encouraged by new trustees and managers of BC's public forests.

Residents of forest dependent communities need a "public forest model".  A public forest is an institution that places the stewardship of the forest in first place, above the concepts of ownership, rights and title. Good forest stewardship is the essential element in ensuring forest health and productivity that supports a healthy forest economy and forest dependent communities. Although timber will remain the top economic value, other economic, social and environmental values should not be compromised.  A sustainable supply of quality timber is needed to ensure continuing investment and upgrading of wood manufacturing plant. The existing tenure system has failed in this respect.

BC Government administrations have demonstrated failure to act as an adequate trustee of BC public forests and have corrupted the institution through private timber tenures. We need new institutions for trusteeship and independent managers in our public forests to realize their full economic, social and environmental value. Democratic area based forest management can be achieved through new institutions such a Local Forest Trusts and a British Columbia Forest Trust Assembly.  
Say no to the "Rip off to own scheme" of area based tenures.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Unsustainable Logging and area based tenures

Focus : Takes you to an article on area based tenuresProvince :Takes you to a newspaper article on unsustainable logging

Thursday, May 1, 2014

New Institutions for British Columbia's forests

British Columbia's public forests are operated under a tenure system of timber harvesting rights.  A substantial portion of these rights are held by forest corporations. A system of rights to take timber from public forests is hardly a good basis for sustainable stewardship. At the core of this unsuitable foundation for sustainable forest management lies the present institutional arrangements for the Trustee of our public forests.

The Minister of Forests is the Trustee of our public forests and operates without any trust documents and no clearly defined fiduciary duties. Ministers in a political administration tend to be driven by short term political and economic forces. Sustainable forest management is a long term affair where great care needs to be taken to ensure that too much is not extracted from the forest in the short term. We are now facing some sustainability problems that can be traced to having a Minister of Forests as Trustee and conductor of an orchestra of timber rights holders.

It is time to renew the institution of Public Forests in BC. Public forests exist as an institution to ensure that BC's forests will have good stewardship and continue to provide sustainable or a steady stream of economic and social benefits. The trustee of our public forests needs to have some trust documents to define their duty to the forest. The Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators provide a sound scientific definition of sustainable forest management. Criterion 6 on the subject of Economic and social benefits of forests point toward comprehensive management of forests for more than just timber production. The Montreal Process provides a comprehensive basis for trust documents. Its comprehensive list of requirements for good forest stewardship involve the exercise of responsibilities rather than rights or title.

British Columbia's public forests have had more than their share of disputes, conflicts and incidents of civil disobedience. Most of the strife is about different parties sensing that their benefits, rights or entitlements are being reduced by others with rights, entitlements or expectation of benefits. The only common ground among these divergent interests is that good independent forest stewardship will sustain most forest benefits. Independent forest stewardship in the public forests of BC has been undermined by giving timber rights holders increasing forest management responsibilities and control over public forests. The present British Columbia Government administration is trying to solve forest problems by giving corporate timber rights holders stronger tenure over defined areas of public forests. Even a forest corporation operating with the best intentions of sustainable forest management is likely to be viewed as a Timber King in the forest by the public or interest groups.

The Montreal Process Criteria and indicators can be used a the basis for trust documents for the trustee or trustees of BC's public forests. They are sufficiently comprehensive to include forests in Parks or protected areas. Timber producing forest landscapes have a greater area of land that will remain in natural or virgin condition than is in BC's designated Parks. The comprehensive nature of a public forest's multiple economic and social benefits points toward the need for an independent forest manager. The independent forest manager needs to be accountable to the public and all with an interest in the public forest. Independent forest management needs to be more than the present notion of "professional reliance" meaning a registered professional forester working for a forest corporation or government agency.

Independent forest management in public forests is needed not just to ensure public benefits of a healthy forest environment. From a long term sustainability and stability viewpoint, the main beneficiaries of independent forest management in a public forest will be timber interests. Good independent forest management will ensure a sustainable flow of timber and keep mills operating.
The assured flow of timber will come from good technical management of the forest and also the social licence of the independent forest manager including non-timber and nature based enterprise and activity in a comprehensive forest plan. Independent forest management offers efficiency and cost reduction for both forest corporations and government because it can be done without the present cumbersome apparatus of approvals, regulation and checking. True independent forest management should include the responsibility of the manager to assign funds from forest income to the necessary stewardship and upkeep of a forest and its infrastructure. An open market for timber is part of independent forest management and this will make public timber more available and reduce our vulnerability to export tariffs on our wood products. This will also be a major sustainable benefit to wood products corporations.

How can we package a responsibility system into a new legal institutional framework that will replace the existing timber rights and entitlements tenure system?  A new system also needs to include First Nation's people as a key part of a responsibility system and ensure their betterment and benefit from public forests.

Local Forest Trusts are a promising institutional arrangement that devolves trusteeship to local elected trustees and combines true independent forest management. A local forest trust would involve a large geographic area of forest (Minimum 100,000 hectares). It should have enough forest resources to sustain the economic operation of the forest as a business that draws income from timber, non-timber and nature based economic activity. Trustees would be elected on a ward system from communities and rural areas in the vicinity. A staff of forest and related professionals would manage the forest and be accountable to the Trustees.

Local Forest Trusts would be accountable to and be supported by a British Columbia Forest Trust Assembly. The Assembly would be governed by a elected Trustee Delegate and a Professional Delegate from each local trust. The Forest Trust Assembly would audit local trusts and provide collective services such as fire fighting, research and extension, insurance. It would also act as a court of appeal. Major policy changes would require ratification by a substantial majority of local forest trusts.

First Nation's would have their own local trusts or be represented on the board of a local forest trust. The British Columbia Forest Trust Assembly would provide training and supports to increase the employment of First Nation's people in all local forest trusts. Major forest licenses would not be permitted within a local forest trust. First Nation's and family woodlot stewardship licences would be permitted.

The elected board and forest managers of a local forest trust will be able to allocate income to the stewardship and maintenance of infrastructure of the forest. It will sell timber on a open market and the business operation will be able to use its own funds to ensure sustainability. This is a much better than the present begging for funds that central corporate or government masters may choose to provide.

Local Forest Trusts and the British Columbia Forest Trust Assembly would replace the present Ministry of Forests and some of the functions of the Ministry of Environment. The BC Forest Trust Assembly would support local forest trusts with good geographic information tools that will enable the Trust Assembly to assemble comprehensive reports of the Legislative Assembly on the state of BC's public forest.