Sunday, September 21, 2014

Forest management can learn from aboriginal cultures

Sixty percent of Canada's aboriginal languages are found in BC.  Terrain, climate and environment led to the development of differing aboriginal cultures and languages. Michael Blackstock a forester of part aboriginal descent has proposed a Biocultural Zonation of British Columbia based on bio-geography and aboriginal culture.  See: Biocultural Diversity Zonation article in BC Forest Professional Magazine

Since the arrival of Europeans, British Columbia has pursued a centralist, one size fits, all model for managing its forests. Most of the forest in BC are public forests and they are managed under a system of private timber harvesting tenure rights held by forest corporations. A recent complication is a Supreme Court of Canada decision that confirms the concept of aboriginal title. It is not a title of ownership but a title that is a communal trust to sustain the land and its values for future generations. The title is similar to the BC Government's trustee or stewardship responsibilities over public forests. The title implies devolved responsibilities to First Nations. Michael Blackstock suggests development of a caretaker strategy for each biocultural diversity zone. This is a good idea and there is the need for an independent local steward or caretaker with the freedom to manage according to the environment of each zone.

However, the caretaker strategy or caretaker will need some institutional foundation or it will just float around as a bit of an amorphous concept in the present institutional framework of public forests with private timber harvesting tenure rights. Private timber harvesting rights was a convenient way for the BC Government to share forest management and timber revenues with the private sector. It represents a conflict of interest in the Government's trustee responsibilities to ensure that forest values are sustained for future generations. We have almost completed one forest rotation where revenue sharing was a boon to the forest industry and Government coffers, but the inter-generational asset base of the public forest has been eroded. It is not a good long term economic model to ensure the sustainability of forest dependent and aboriginal communities. We do not need to extend the inadequacy of the existing institutional arrangements by corrupting the sustainability requirements of aboriginal title with more revenue sharing.

The proposed biocultural diversity zones are very large areas and most will need several caretakers. If local forest trusts were the caretaker areas within the biocultural diversity zone and local forest trusts were audited and supported by a Provincial Forest Trust Assembly, the diversity zones could become boundaries for regional meetings of the Assembly. This would enable the local forest trust managers develop the caretaker strategies appropriate to each zone.

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