Friday, September 26, 2014

Area Based Forest Tenures report released

The Area Based Forest Tenures report  has been released, a little late and without any fanfare. British Columbia's Minister of Forests has put area based tenures on hold given the recent the recent Supreme Court of Canada's decision on aboriginal title.

The report is tendentious in its support for the conversion of forest tenures to long term area based leases. It provides the usual tired arguments that the move to area based tenures is not another step in the gradual enclosure of public forests into the private interest. The Province of BC will own the land and the Government will remain the landlord. The BC Government was intended to be more than a landlord of the land that supports our forests. The Government was intended to be the enduring trustee and ensure sustainable benefits of our forests for the beneficiaries, being present and future generations of British Columbia's residents.

After 100 years and after one forest cycle or rotation our public' forest assets have been somewhat depleted and have not produced the robust sustainability of our forest dependent communities and forest sector that was intended. Successive Government administrations were supposed to develop a wise system of forest stewardship. The system that was developed was a forest tenure system of private timber harvesting rights in public forests that enabled the Government to share in the cash from the exploitation of valuable virgin timber while off loading forest management responsibilities to its tenure holding forest corporations. Was it wise to let logging companies harvest the timber and expect them to provide the stewardship to sustain the forest and its dependent industries and communities over the long term? A grade 2 class would probably think this idea to be unwise. Are we so stuck in conservatism combined with a total lack of imagination and ingenuity that we only see solutions in fix up repairs to a system that is fundamentally flawed.

Aboriginal title comes as an interesting bump in the road to the tenure system and a challenge to its stodgy unimaginative supporters. Land title is a bundle of rights to property, and we tend to think of it as ownership or possession. However aboriginal title is not ownership in a simple sense. The Supreme Court definition: "The nature of Aboriginal title is that it confers on the group that holds it the exclusive right to decide how the land is used and the right to benefit from those uses, subject to the restriction that the uses must be consistent with the group nature of the interest and the enjoyment of the land by future generations." It is a kind of communal trust that ensures sustainability for future generations. It is actually very similar to the trust that the BC Government has not fully exercised toward our public forests. The BC Government is the trustee that is supposed to ensure the sustainability of public land and forests. Aboriginal title occurs mainly on public forests and lands so it can be viewed as a devolution of responsibilities from the central BC Government trustee to the local First Nation or aboriginal group. The sustainable trust concept provides an avenue for solution of the aboriginal title issue. A sustainable trust exercised over an area of land or forests requires some institutional arrangements to bring results on the ground. A forest tenure system giving private harvesting rights to loggers with a few forest management responsibilities thrown into the mix will not achieve the sustainability requirements of aboriginal title. It has not achieved the sustainability requirements of public forests. We need new institutions on the ground. If aboriginal title devolves forest and land stewardship responsibilities to local aboriginal groups, then we should look at similar devolution to non aboriginal and mixed communities.

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