Sunday, August 24, 2014

Penthouse Forestry in British Columbia

Penthouse forestry is the notion of forests being run by accountants, lawyers and foresters from the top of some skyscraper office tower. These illustrious folk being far from the dirt of a real forest would inevitably screw up the forest. The man that first coined the negative notion of centralized and bureaucratic forestry was a forester who was central to the establishment of centralized industrial forest management in the public forests of British Columbia. The individual forester in BC only serves a system that permits little flexibility. Harvey Reginald  (HR) MacMillan was appointed the first Chief Forester of the British Columbia Forest Service in 1912. After WW1, he established a timber export company that helped to expand timber exports and the timber industry. After WW11, his company merged with another forest company to form MacMillan Bloedel Limited. The company acquired Tree farm Licence timber tenures and became the premier large blue chip coastal forest company.

Although he was one of the key authors, H R MacMillan felt powerless against the system of forest management in British Columbia. In his later years, when his company was still a major force in the BC economy, HR would go out to the forest and cry because forests with old growth trees in the first picture would be replaced by a succession of forest crops with wee young trees in the second picture below:

Note the relative size of the old growth stump in the second picture. It is less than half the diameter of the old growth Douglas Fir in the first picture.

One of the ideas from the corporate and bureaucratic penthouse of half a century ago, was short rotations of young trees slated for harvest at fifty to eighty years old. The average annual growth to wood is at its maximum on these short rotations so the idea was a winner in the penthouse. Half a century later, the blue chip forest company giant MacMillan Bloedel is no more, and a straggling coastal forest industry is faced with harvesting relatively small trees. Harvesting trees and hauling them off the hills and mountains of coastal British Columbia is a costly affair. Many of the young forests that were supposed to be ready for harvest cannot be harvested because there is not sufficient volume and value of timber to pay the bills. Perhaps it could be said of the situation that nature is exerting a little common sense into the previous penthouse forestry ideas. The trees will remain growing and gain additional timber volume. Their value may increase even more because the later growth gives wood of better quality.

This is a Douglas Fir forest about 95 years old and the forest is approaching old growth characteristics. The stems or trunks of the trees are upwards of two feet in diameter and they will contain quality wood. Although the average annual growth may be slightly less than the seventy year old forest, the improved wood quality will more than make up. There will be enough volume to make harvest profitable. 

If the penthouse forestry of half a century ago was less greedy and a little more sensible, there would have been a little less rush of harvest all the old growth. Harvest of the second growth would have been delayed a few decades and the resulting harvests would have been more economic. Mills and other wood processing plants wood not have had a major transition from large old growth trees to small second growth logs. The second growth logs from a 100 year old stand are much larger and more valuable and would require less retooling of manufacturing plants. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Area based forest licenses

By Ben Parfit
British Columbia’s forests represent the single-largest renewable asset that we have, a public resource shared with First Nations across the province.
Whatever the fate may be of our non-renewable natural gas resources, our forests can and should be there for generations to come.
Healthy forests ensure that we have clean water to drink and clean air to breathe; a diversity of animal and plant species that is found in few places on earth; a vital tool to assist us in addressing climate change; and a source of wood and other forest products that for decades has delivered economic, social and cultural benefits. For these reasons and many more, decisions about how our forests are managed are of vital public policy importance.
In the lead-up to the last provincial election, the government proposed changes in an omnibus bill that would have opened the door for a significant increase in the number of Tree Farm Licences or TFLs.
Such licences grant their recipients long-term, compensable rights to log trees on defined areas of public forestland. Due to concerns raised by numerous British Columbians, the government chose to remove the TFL clauses from the omnibus bill.
During and after the provincial election campaign, however, the government indicated that it intended to reintroduce legislation that could once again result in more TFLs being awarded. However, before doing so the government said it would consult with the citizens of British Columbia.
It has been more than six months since that consultation commitment was made, but the government has yet to reveal what British Columbians will be asked to comment on, or what opportunities they will have to voice their concerns.
Disputes over the management and conservation of British Columbia’s forests are legendary and have often pitted one or more groups against one another. Clayoquot Sound, Haida Gwaii, the Nemiah and Stein valleys, and the Great Bear Rainforest are among many examples.
Far less common is when groups that sometimes oppose one another find common ground. The government’s proposed TFL policy is one such exception to the general rule. And history tells us that it is an area where government should proceed with extreme caution.
In the late 1980s, the then Social Credit government enacted a similar proposal into law and subsequently had to rescind the legislation after hundreds of British Columbians turned out at public meetings and voiced their concerns.
Eight organizations representing a wide array of British Columbians signed a letter calling on the government to honor its public consultation promise. The groups represent a significant cross section of the provincial population and include public sector and forest industry workers, First Nations, environmental organizations and the forest industry.
The signatories to the letter may have different ideas about what changes to forest policy are needed to make for a more socially, environmentally and economically just world. But what they and others want is to be part of a conversation — a conversation that government has promised and would be wise to deliver.
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives