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.

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