Saturday, December 6, 2014

Diversity in forest tenure and aboriginal title in British Columbia

In the recent discussions about Tree Farm Licences or longer term leases in public forests in British Columbia, the concept of diversity of forest tenures was used as a selling point. Some forest land would be withheld from large corporate forest tenure holders for a diversity of smaller tenure holders. This was supposed to make long term leases of public forests to private corporate forest companies more acceptable. Like most public relations efforts the notion of diversity of tenure is a little disingenuous. 

There is really no diversity of forest tenure in British Columbia because all forest tenures fall within one type. They are all rights to harvest timber in public forests. Diversity is a good word that is used in a variety of public relations contexts. The diversity of forest tenure proposed, is little more than the fragmentation of the management of local forest landscapes between large forest tenure holders and a few smaller tenure holders. Do we really want to fragment the management or stewardship of local public forest landscapes? Rights to harvest timber are hardly a sound legal and institutional basis for sustainable forest stewardship. These institutional arrangements facilitated the big binge of virgin timber in BC over the past century. The forest sector is no longer in the pink, so it is perhaps a good time to think about some different institutional arrangements.

Forest stewardship or tenure arrangements met a big bump in the road recently in the form of the Canadian Supreme Court ruling on aboriginal title. Aboriginal title is not an individual ownership title but an aboriginal group entitlement and responsibility to sustain the natural resource and other values of the land and forest for present and future generations. Aboriginal title is little more than a devolution of the trust and responsibility that the BC Government is supposed to exercise through sustainable stewardship of our public lands and forests. A century worth of BC Government administrations have failed to exercise their responsibilities for public lands and forests. They have concentrated on the dough or moolah that can be derived from public forests. Will aboriginal title holders follow this example and just want to squeeze a share of the cash or will they be interested in the responsibility of sustainable stewardship that comes with the title. BC does not need more reprobate trustees of its lands and forests.

The solution is some form of devolved local sustainable trusteeship of public lands and forests. Aboriginal title needs some institutional arrangements for effective sustainable stewardship. If it is good for aboriginals, it should also be good for other resource dependent communities and rural areas. Local forest trusts with elected boards and professional resource management staff would suffice aa a good arrangement.

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