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.