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.

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