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.


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