Sunday, July 27, 2014

Uphill and downhill of forest management in British Columbia


On the west of Vancouver Island facing the Pacific Ocean lies a slope that extends from the sea to a ridge line of about 3000 feet in elevation. Over the past sixty years loggers have worked their way through the virgin forest leaving behind well stocked young forest. Some old growth remains near some parts of the ridge line. It is the last to go because it is at the top of the hill and was much smaller in stature than the previous old growth that once existed downhill.

The human footprint on the slope bears witness to the supremacy of industrial forest management in the landscape. It was supported by a tenure system of harvesting rights held by forest corporations in public forests. There was a strategic vision of replacing decadent old growth with vigorous young stands. The system of taking virgin timber from the forest has worked its way up the hill and is now looking at its future.

At the top of the slope there is another footprint, a little testimony to the notion that public forests should not just be about growing timber. A long trail was located and developed by volunteers along the ridge line. Parts of the trail go through the remaining old growth. Although the trees are smaller than the now vanished lower elevation old growth, a moist environment of Mountain Hemlock and Yellow Cedar gives a rich interesting ecosystem. The remaining old growth is not protected. Its previous protection lay in the fact that it was the least desirable timber in the landscape. Now the Yellow Cedar and Mountain Hemlock make acceptable pickings in comparison to the young trees downhill.

The trail takes the visitor through an interesting old growth environment as shown in the picture:
The trail is adequate for the low volume of foot traffic it presently receives, but since it was located by amateurs there is little control of gradients along the route. Note the rope in the picture supplied as an aid on a steep section. If the trail gets a higher level of traffic it would become gouged, eroded and unsustainable. Even the loggers have seen the light on the need for gradient control on forest roads for at least half a century, but steep eroding foot trails are a feature in BC landscapes. Some protect areas in BC Parks have steep eroding foot trails.

Meanwhile the loggers have been improving the road up the hill. Ditches have been cleaned out and new culverts have been installed. It is a 30 kilometer log haul from the top of the hill to the water, so it pays to improve the road. Improved ditches and culverts make the roads sustainable and reduce erosion. Forest practices codes and guidelines have brought some improvement in practice, but there is a strong hint that old attitudes prevail. The sign marking the trail at the road was totally obscured by a big pile of rocks and soil cleaned out of the roadside ditch.

The road downhill from the ridge goes through second growth that gets progressively taller and older as you work your way down the hill. Near the bottom of the hill, the harvest of the brave future is underway. Parked beside the road near the bottom is this thing:

The tree falling machine is quite a technological achievement with considerable hydraulic prowess and probably some computer assisted stabilization. The old time tree faller of half a century ago would probably describe it as "A bean pole snips that looks like a vulture's ass in a power dive".
Using these machines on the steep slopes of coastal BC will be more costly than in other areas where these machines can be used on flat or gentle terrain.

A little farther down the hill is an area of young forest that has been harvested with bean pole snips:

The machine did not harvest the trees from the big stumps. It would be too small to grab the tree and if it could the mass of the tree would over-topple the big machine. The big stumps remain from previous virgin forest harvest, sixty or seventy years ago. They are like rotting wooden markers in a graveyard, a reminder of the once majestic forests that stood here. They will probably be gone in another sixty or seventy years after the next harvest of relatively small young trees.

"Work with nature or you will be defeated" is an old forestry notion. On the hills and mountains of coastal BC, nature grew big valuable trees over time periods of 200 or more years. We are trying to grow smaller less valuable trees in sixty or seventy years in service to one notion of economics. Science knows that it takes about 100 years for all the biological components of an old growth forest ecosystem to re-establish. Other than some minor root rot problems, there is little experience of negative effects with short rotations. We do not know if short rotation industrial forest management in these landscapes is sustainable over the long term. By quickly harvesting our old growth in favor of short rotations, we have put most of our eggs in one basket.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Aboriginal Title offers a progressive solution for all forest dependent communities.


Aboriginal title provides the right to occupy and use land. It differs from other titles because it is a collective title held by a group or community. Uses of the land have to be sustainable. The present generation cannot use the land in a manner that will degrade the land and deprive future generations of its benefits. The land cannot be sold and can only be alienated to the Crown.

Aboriginal title is a progressive and sustainable concept. The recent Canada Supreme Court decision has been reported in the press mainly through the lens of how it will affect other rights and development. There is concern about private timber harvesting rights on Crown land, rights of way for pipelines and other developments.

Aboriginal land claims have been ongoing for 130 years, and the supposedly accelerated process of the last two decades has hardly made it out of first gear. Lawyers rather than First Nations seem to be the main beneficiaries. While the Supreme court has given a progressive definition of aboriginal title, it differs from other private land titles and private tenures and entitlements on Crown land. The discontinuity or gulf between the various titles and the realities will provide fertile ground for more high priced lawyers and little hope for solutions that will benefit aboriginals and the wider Canadian society. We need to solve the problem with some new legal and institutional arrangements. Wise progressive political solutions are needed now.

Aboriginal title is a progressive concept and it is actually very similar to the progressive concept of public forests that developed at the start of last century. Public forests were to be held in Crown ownership with the British Columbia Government acting as the trustee to ensure that the forests would be managed by a professional forest service. The intended outcomes were sustainable forests, communities and a diverse wood manufacturing industry. The original intent of independent professional management by a forest service got a little corrupted through the granting of private timber harvesting rights and sharing forest management responsibilities with forest corporations. Aboriginal title is really a form of sustainable trust and very similar to the original intent of public forests. Public forests are also a trust with the BC Government acting as the trustee. Successive government administrations acted as poor trustees of public forests by developing a tenure system of private timber rights in public forests. It is these private rights that clash with aboriginal title. The main outcomes of the tenure system are forests of degraded value, a struggling forest industry and forest dependent communities coupled with discriminatory tariffs on wood exports. The BC Government is presently thinking about strengthening these private timber rights in public forests.

Aboriginal title is a sustainable trust over land and forest. What sort of legal and institutional arrangements can be developed to ensure that the trusteeship will be exercised in a sustainable fashion for present and future generations? The BC Government should be asking itself the same question regarding its trusteeship of Crown Land. Crown land comprises over 90% of BC land and forest. Trusteeship of BC's Crown land and public forests by the central trustee of the BC Government has been far from exemplary in the past century. It is time to seek some new and more sustainable institutional arrangements for trusteeship. Some devolved form of trusteeship would work for aboriginal communities as well as other or mixed communities. The legal and institutional arrangements for devolved trusteeship need to be sufficiently robust to ensure that the sustainable trust is truly exercised with inter-generational equity. This is a right or entitlement of all communities dependent on the surrounding landscapes and it has to be achieved by exercise of responsibility. Sustainable trusts are more about responsibilities than rights. Aboriginal communities need to exercise these responsibilities and so do mixed or non aboriginal communities.

British Columbia needs devolved sustainable trusteeship of its lands and forests. We need a system that enables all land dependent communities to participate in true sustainable trusteeship. Aboriginal title could be exercised through a local forest trust. In other situations where there has been long term occupation by aboriginal and others a local forest trust with board members elected under a ward system will also suffice. Since the concept of a sustainable local trust is progressive it will also service non aboriginal communities and rural areas. In other words, everyone gets the same brush. However it needs to be a good brush of adequate legal and institutional structure.

How should local sustainable land and forest trusts be organized and operated? What checks and balances are needed to ensure that they will operate with regard to the needs of present and future generations?  The area of land in the local devolved trust should be of sufficient size to an enable economic operation that supports a professional forest and environmental management staff. The staff would be accountable to an elected board. A ward system would be required where there are several communities or rural areas in the vicinity. Local trusts would operate under trust documents or a charter modeled on scientific sustainable land and forest management criteria. The Montreal Process, an international sustainable forest management agreement provides robust standards. There is considerable freedom for local trusts to develop their own local approach given their ecosystem conditions. The lands and forests would be managed and planned comprehensively for timber, non timber, and nature based economic activity while maintaining the spiritual and recreational qualities of the landscape.

Local forest trusts would be audited and supported by a British Columbia Forest Trust Assembly governed by one elected and professional delegate from each local trust. It would audit, provide collective services such a fire fighting, insurance and extension services.

A system of local forest trusts and a BC forest trust assembly will work to ensure the sustainability of aboriginal title and provide a similar system of sustainable trusteeship for other communities and their landscapes in British Columbia. While it will enable a different flavor to the management of each local trust, it will ensure sustainability for all.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A designed solution for area based forest management in British Columbia


This article was published in the July -August 2014 edition of the BC Forest Professional

Over the span of a generation, our public forests have gone from a state of abundant timber supply to a situation of scarcity.  A biotic agent, has affected a large area of forest beyond reference conditions. We need to improve the diversity of wood manufacture and increase non-timber and natured based economic activity. Expenditure on the fabric of the forest is required to sustain economic and social benefits. We are vulnerable to discriminatory wood export tariffs.
We need to clarify entitlements in our public forests to keep the peace between timber rights holders, First Nation's title, the right to a healthy environment, and the needs of various interests. Our forest disputes have been some of Canada's largest incidents of civil disobedience. Social license for forest management walks on a thin crust.
The above sustainability issues feature in the Montreal Process, an international agreement intended to help forest jurisdictions make progress in sustainable forest management.   Criterion 7, The legal, institutional and economic framework for forest conservation and sustainable management is what we should be considering, rather than  "tenure reform".  The comprehensive indicators in the process can help to design an area based forest management vehicle that will not be a lemon.
Public ownership has been out of vogue for a generation. It is easy to blame our present predicament on Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons": the hypothesis that free unrestrained use of a common will result in overuse and decline. Our forests were never managed in that way, so it does not fit. Elinor Ostrom's research found that common pool resources can be sustainable if there are adequate institutional arrangements. Public Forests can be sustainable.
Our public forest is not about some ideology of nationalization or government ownership. The basic principle is that stewardship of the forest is more important than ownership. Government would act as the enduring trustee and ensure a wise system of independent professional management. Public forests were seen as a means to encourage diversity and enterprise in wood manufacture. Public timber would be available on an open market and  would not be controlled by a few timber corporations. Sustainable communities and a healthy wood manufacturing sector were the intended outcomes.
Successive government administrations made arrangements contrary to the original intentions resulting in poor outcomes. The trustee operated without any trust documents. Sufficient proceeds from harvesting virgin forest capital were not directed to maintenance of the fabric of the public forest. The trustee now intends to solve this problem by relying on private investment, an instrument of ownership. We need new nested institutions with trust documents and some checks and balances. Otherwise, our public forests will not endure in this century.
A new framework  that embeds independent professional reliance and is accountable to the public can be achieved through nested institutions of Local Forests Trusts and a British Columbia Forest Trust Assembly. A local trust would have a charter to manage a large contiguous area of local forest landscape of sufficient size to permit economic operation.  The trust documents or charter would require comprehensive management of all forest resources to Montreal Process standards. The local trust will have an board elected on a ward system from local communities and rural areas. First Nation's can have their own local forest trust or be represented on the board of a trust on a ward system depending on geography and local population. The local trust will be managed by forest and associated professionals as a business drawing income from all forest resources. It would have a fiduciary duty to use sufficient proceeds to maintain the fabric of the forest. It would be responsible for the full natural capital of the forest and would manage fish, wildlife and develop sustainable trails etc. Only minor stewardship licenses would be permitted. Timber would be sold on an open market.
Local forest trusts would be audited and supported by a British Columbia Forest Trust Assembly governed by one elected and one professional delegate from each forest trust. The assembly would handle collective services such as fire fighting, insurance, extension and act as a court of appeal.  This new framework is an area based forest management alternative designed to enable progress toward sustainable management under the Montreal Process. It meets Ostrom's design principles for common pool resource institutions. It renews our public forest institutions and is mainly a more efficient deployment of professional forest management capacity. It embeds professional reliance that is accountable to the public. It will provide social license symbolized initially by the separation of central government and wood processing corporations from the management of our public forests. While it is probably counterintuitive for both parties to relinquish control, they will both benefit from the new democratic framework.