Sunday, January 25, 2015

Forest Design and Habitecture

In an article in the Truck Logger BC magazine, Les Kiss of the Coast Forest Products Association promotes the idea of intelligent forest design. The approach to managing wildlife habitat and other sensitive sites in the public forests of British Columbia has been more knee jerk than intelligent. While it is sometimes necessary to protect a habitat from forest harvesting, reserves should not be the only approach. A wildlife species may benefit from younger forest or forest edges in the vicinity. In many instances habitat can be improved or supplemented by forest harvesting or treatment. Silvicultural systems other than clear-cutting can sometimes be employed to improve habitat. Forest design can also be employed to reduce the aesthetic impact of forest activities on the landscape over the long term. The shapes of clear cut harvesting blocks can be designed to blend rather than conflict with landscape features. While the BC resident will be concerned about the appearance of clear cuts in the landscape, it is interesting to note that the first efforts in visual forest design occurred in the UK where reforestation efforts were establishing forests on bare hills often protected by the straight lines of deer fences. There was negative reaction to straight line forests rather than straight line clear-cuts.

The intended outcome of intelligent forest design is greater certainty in the supply of timber resulting in greater community stability for both humans and other species. Forest design of habitats or habitecture is a long term planning affair and more complex than just protecting core habit in reserves. The managed forest becomes supplemental habitat that includes beneficial features that will need to be dynamically replaced as forestry activity takes place. Some contingency may need to be included to cover for unintended disturbances such as fire or wind damage. Intelligent forest design is a long term affair requiring stable forest stewards that will be there in the local forest.

Les Kiss is a good BC forester promoting a good and necessary idea. I helped the Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada FERIC develop a course on forest design for BC about a quarter of a century ago. I expected the good idea to take root and flourish. Most foresters would expect the same, but like many other good technical forestry concepts it did not take root and grow. If a forester plants trees and they do not grow, growing conditions will be closely examined to determine the cause. Some changes will be made and the second attempt will usually be successful.

The soil of our social, cultural and institutional conditions is the reason that good and necessary forest stewardship ideas do not flourish. Eighty percent of Canadians live in cities. Every election we hear that it is all about the economy. What is the Canadian economy mainly about? Extraction of resources from the hinterland is the focus. Forests are just another resource in the hinterland that should be shipped out the door as fast as possible to make a dollar. Where is Canadian long term thinking with respect to tar sands or natural gas reserves? The "make as many dollars now" concept is not compatible with sustainable forest management.

The most important piece of sustainable forest management, that even foresters ignore, is the legal and institutional framework for sustainable forest management. BC has a very robust foundation for sustainable forest management in its public forests. However its arrangements for managing these public forests are unwise because they are built on the "make as many dollars now" idea. The idea works well in the exploitation of forests for a while and then there are problems. We are now trying to deal with the problems under a system that created them in the first place. The primary legal arrangement for managing public forests is under rights to harvest timber. The whole system is built around permissions to harvest and relatively short term responsibilities to regenerate the harvested area. These are not good arrangements for the practice of long term intelligent design of forests, habitats or ecosystems.

We first need some intelligent design of our legal and institutional arrangements for the management of public forests to enable long term forest design and advanced stewardship. A key feature of these new arrangements is that they need to provide long term stewardship. Forest industry associations will promote the idea of long term leases in public forests that permit them to manage the forests over a very long term. Where are the big forest corporations of just a few decades ago? MacMillan Bloedel, BC Forest Products, Crown Zellerbach all have disappeared. Would forest corporations manage the forests in the public or their own interests?  Will long term leases be just a stepping stone in the enclosure of public forests into the private interest.

Intelligent design of institutional arrangements for managing public forests in the long term should be based on responsibilities for stewardship rather than rights to harvest. The timber producing area of the average forest landscape in BC comprises less than half of the total landscape area. The non timber producing area comprises poor forest, mountain tops, lakes rivers and glaciers. These are areas of virgin undisturbed lands in natural condition with recreation and nature based economic potential. The total area of these undisturbed natural lands is greater than the area of BC's extensive parks and protected areas. The stewards of public forests should be accountable to the public under local democratic arrangements. The stewards of the local forest should have the responsibility for sustaining the forest and all its resources. All the natural capital should be managed for multiple economic and social benefits. The most promising institution is a local democratic forest trust with professional managers. This arrangement is also totally compatible and would provide institutional arrangements for aboriginal title which is really a long term sustainable stewardship trust over the land for the benefit of a community.

If we want to practice intelligent forest design, we first need to design some intelligent arrangement and institutions for the stewardship of our public forests.

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