Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Forestry, Recreation and Tourism in BC's public forests
British Columbia's public forests are managed through a system of private timber harvesting rights.
Industrial timber production takes priority and sustaining other values is seen as an imposition on timber activities.
After a binge through the best virgin timber in the last half of last century, the forest sector is less robust and more sensitive to cost pressures and unlikely to be progressive in the stewardship of non-timber values and resources.
The Montreal Process an international agreement makes it clear that sustainable forest management means including non timber and nature based economic activities in the forest economy.
Only approximately 25% of the average public forest landscape in BC is suitable for timber production. The remaining 75% is wilderness in natural condition with considerable recreation potential. This area of wilderness is twice as large as the area protected in parks.
The wilderness areas in timber producing forest landscapes and the protected areas in BC Parks are lands in natural condition with recreational potential. Land in natural virgin condition is in short supply in the world. BC has barely scratched the surface of the sustainable nature based economy that could be generated from these lands that make up more than half the area of the Province. Aesthetic values have been reduced in some areas as a result of industrial timber management.
The Montreal Process calls for legal and institutional arrangements that support comprehensive sustainable forest management. Given that the recent mountain pine beetle epidemic was, in large part, a $100 Billion forest management failure, it can be argued that the timber harvesting rights system has failed to ensure timber sustainability. It has done a poor job of managing other values and made our forest products vulnerable to discriminatory export duties.
British Columbia's potential for non-comsumptive nature based economic activity is greater than Switzerland. Switzerland's tourist economy is valued at US $20 Billion. This is larger than BC's forest economy. BC's private harvesting rights in public forests impedes the development of nature based resources and economic activity. BC Parks, the management authority for protected areas is unfunded and lacking professional capacity.
Development of forest recreation resources should be sustainable. While other jurisdictions have standards for safe sustainable forest trails, poorly located unsustainable trails are the rule rather than the exception in BC. Serious accelerated erosion can be found on trails in BC Parks.
New legal and institutional arrangements are required for sustainable management of public forests in BC. These arrangements should focus on stewardship responsibility rather than private rights. The stewardship institution should have the mandate to manage all the natural capital of a forest landscape. The stewardship institution should be accountable to the local public.
The local forest trust is a promising forest stewardship institution. Trusteeship of public forests would be devolved from the BC Government and would replace the existing failed institutions. The local forest trust would have a democratically elected board and professional forest managers charged with sustainable management of all forest resources. The forest managers would contract harvesting operations and sell the timber on an open market. They would also be responsible for the protection and development of recreation and other resources. Recreation business activity could take place through stewardship licenses. A more long term forest design approach would be employed to sustain all forest values and there would be a major shift away from the present short term piecemeal planning that is associated with forest harvesting and its grudging accommodation of other interests. Forestry treatments would become more diverse and as a result the health, aesthetics and timber sustainability of the forest landscape will improve.
British Columbia's public forests are managed by harvesting rights that are held by forest companies. The public interest in recreation is handled through professional reliance. Professional foresters are supposed to ensure that environmental and recreational values are sustained and protected in any forest management plans. Most forest professionals probably do their best to accommodate other forest values and interests. However, the entire legal and institutional framework for managing public forests is stacked against a more proactive approach toward the development and protection of recreational resources.
Timber is king in BC's forests and this false economic hegemony has pushed other interests to the side because they are not seen as producing big dollars. The tourism economy in BC is significant and could be much enhanced by some investment and development in forest recreation. Forest companies with timber harvesting rights operate on timber dollars and accommodating other interests and values is viewed as an imposition or a constraint on timber activities. Professional foresters are hired or employed by forest companies and are subject to the pressures to reduce timber harvesting and forest operating costs. The timber harvesting binge through the best of BC's virgin timber in the last half of last century has left a situation where forest operating cost pressures are greater than any time in the last seventy five years. Cost pressures are likely to impede progress in stewardship of non-timber values.
Where does recreation and tourism fit in sustainable forest management?
This depends on your definition of sustainable forest management. Sustainable forest management is touted by the BC Government and forest corporations. Some of the sustainable forest management certification schemes have a timber centric definition of sustainable forest management with other interests being accommodated by advisory groups and public opportunities to comment. These align with the approach of the BC Government and forest corporations toward the management of other forest values and interests. Public involvement processes can easily become a public relations effort to appease the public with no real commitment, dollars or effort going into the protection development and enhancement of non-timber resources or values.
The Montreal Process, an international agreement and definition of sustainable forest management signed by Canada makes it clear that recreation and tourism does fit within sustainable forest management. Sustainable forest management is about generating multiple social and economic benefits to meet the needs of forest dependent communities. Sustainable forest management is about generating economic value from timber and then adding other social and economic benefits from the natural capital of the forest landscape.
Further, the Montreal Process makes it clear that a forest jurisdiction such as the Province of British Columbia should have a legal and institutional framework that enables the type of comprehensive sustainable forest management that it defines.
The potential for forest recreation and associated nature based economic activity in British Columbia is an untapped major economic opportunity. Switzerland's mountains, forests and scenery attracts a tourism economy of US$ 20 Billion annually (more than our timber economy). BC has more to offer and greater potential.
A forest dependent community seeking to enhance its tourism economy by developing the recreational potential of its forest landscapes will be impeded rather than aided by the institutional framework for forest management. A forest company or forest company will see the landscape as its operating forest and the proposed recreational developments as a bit of a nuisance.
Forestry and recreation in the average forest landscape in BC under the present framework
Politicians, especially at times of elections invite us all to partake in a sort of voluntary tyranny of the economy. The economy looms so large that it distorts our perceptions. Our perception of the average public forest landscape has been similarly distorted. Timber economics looms large and most of us see timber growing and harvesting as the dominant feature of the landscape. Only about one quarter of the area of the average forest landscape in BC is suitable for timber production. The remainder of the area is inaccessible or uneconomic forest, alpine areas, lakes glaciers and mountain tops that will remain in wild natural condition. This area of de-facto parks is about twice the area of our officially designated protected areas or parks. The last two decades have seen a considerable increase in the area of public forest that has been placed in parks or protected areas. Pressure from environmental groups to "save" forests from forest management was the motivating force for designating more parks. Society was seen to have made an economic sacrifice and there were calls from the forest sector to designate timber producing forests as "working forests" or places where growing timber could take place without the constraints of other interests or values. Polarized political land use and economic arguments between environmentalists and forest corporate interests have distorted our perceptions of the real need to provide sustainable stewardship to forest landscapes. These perceptions have emanated from big cities and are being imposed to the detriment of forest dependent communities. The polarized debate over forest management did promote improvement in forest practices. Erosion associated with forest roads in timber producing forests was much reduced. Meanwhile there is egregious soil erosion ongoing on trails in "saved" forests or protected areas because BC Parks lacks similar standards, budget and trained staff capacity.
The area that comprises BC's forest recreational resource, the protected areas or parks and the land that will remain in natural condition within timber producing forest landscape is getting little stewardship under our existing framework. Meanwhile there is pressure toward a timber producing or "working forest" approach in the timber producing area. Timber producing areas can also offer considerable recreational opportunity if a long term forest design approach makes accommodations for other values. The present forest stewardship plans are really only relatively short term plans for harvest and forest regeneration with other values seen as a constraint requiring some work around approach.
Forest recreation is poorly accommodated within the present framework for managing public forests. Efforts to prop up our existing arrangements, designed for 1945, are likely to be regressive with respect to protecting and developing recreational values. In 1980, the Ministry of Forests had a recreation section with professional capacity in forest recreation. This capacity no longer exists and the cost pressures in forest harvesting have increased. Forest contractors are being squeezed by forest corporations and there is less stability in the forest sector. There may be increased discriminatory tariffs and taxes on forest product exports to USA because their lumber producers can make convincing arguments that the BC framework is not market based and subsidizes forest companies. BC forest products get extra taxes because BC's system is too lenient. The US forest products producers could argue that BC is not doing enough to sustain other values and failing to pay the costs of their protection is a subsidy. Our forest products could face extra taxes because we are not doing enough to sustain recreation and other forest values. The BC Government's revenue stream from stumpage will reduce and this will put pressure to reduce administration costs through long term leasing of public forest land for corporations to have a relatively free hand in mono focused timber growing. The population of BC is becoming more concentrated in southern cities easing the way for politicians to advocate robbing the hinterland for the sake of the economy.
Government and forest corporation public relations efforts will point to a future of improvement in the accommodation of recreational values and development in BC's forest landscapes. However, the present situation in the forest sector indicates that we will face a regressive period with regard to the stewardship of recreation and other non-timber forest values.
New legal and institutional arrangements are needed to safeguard recreation and other non timber values in BC's public forests
Today, we like to talk about ecosystem forest management. Actually the idea that forests should be managed more along the lines of natural indigenous forests has been around for a long time. Foresters were advocating this approach almost two centuries ago. The main argument was that more natural forests are less likely to have major failures or blips in their ability to sustain timber supplies. "Work with nature or you will be defeated" was the dictum of foresters that opted for the natural approach.
BC has just experienced one of the most serious blips in the history of forest management. The mountain pine beetle epidemic caused lost economic opportunity to the tune of about $100 Billion. The public relations machine would have us believe that global warming is the sole culprit. The main species involved is Lodge Pole Pine. European foresters have been growing this BC tree as an exotic species and know it should be harvested before it gets too old. Too old for this species is about 80 years because it becomes susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack at that age. In BC, harvesting other species was favored and government forest fire fighting efforts saved more Lodge Pole pine from fire. The net result was that the interior of BC became filled with old Lodge Pole pine. Our forest management arrangements for public forests created a huge area of prime mountain pine beetle habitat ready and waiting for a mild winter or two. Since BC is on the Pacific shores a couple of mild winters can be expected without help from global warming. Our legal and institutional framework, based on the notion that forests can be sustainably managed by the vehicle of harvesting rights has failed to sustain timber supplies and resulted in major economic losses. It is not good for the timber economy and it has been a major impediment to the protection and development of recreation and the non-timber forest economy.
What should we learn from this? In forest ecosystem management we should see ourselves as part to the ecosystem. A major item in how we interact with the forest ecosystem is our legal and institutional arrangements for managing our public forests. The public as owners have given up their forests to a system of private harvesting rights that has had negative impacts on the forest and its timber production capacity while riding roughshod over other forest values. These are ecosystem and public values. We need a new system that works for the forest ecosystem and the public instead of corporate greed.
We need to start thinking of our forest values not as a right but as a responsibility. We have to be good stewards of the forest and our legal and institutional arrangements should ensure stewardship. The stewards should not be corporate folk with a right to harvest, but independent professional stewards charged with comprehensive sustainable management of all the natural capital of the forest landscape. These stewards should be accountable to the owners of the forest. In BC the owners are the public. The trustee for the public has been the BC Government and for over a century it has failed to adequately exercise its duty to the public as beneficiaries of our forests and values. Its forest and environmental agencies are failed institutions. Even if you have a warm feeling about the considerable increase in parks or protected areas, the management authority, BC Parks, is perhaps the most capacity and budget deficient of the agencies involved in public forests.
A new approach of devolving trusteeship of public forests from the Provincial Government to local forest trusts under trust documents requiring sustainable forest management as defined by the Montreal Process is the a promising arrangement. There would be a locally elected board and professional managers charged with sustaining all forest values. The forest managers would plan and conduct timber operations with the aid of contractors. Timber would be sold on the open market. The forest managers would also be responsible for planning and managing other forest resources. Recreation or nature based economic operations would operate under stewardship licenses. The professional forest managers would work for all interests and would be accountable to the public through a democratically elected board. The local trust approach provides for stewardship of all resources rather than private timber harvesting rights with the hope that the harvesters will accommodate and care for other values. The polarized reaction to industrial timber harvesting activity in British Columbia is a product of the deficiencies or inability of the harvesting rights system to accommodate other values. This has distorted public perception about forest management and stewardship. Forest management should include stewardship of recreational values.
The local forest trust approach would provide professional forest stewards that would plan and develop recreational values. A long term forest design approach could be employed rather than simply trying to reduce impacts of piecemeal harvesting plans. The lack of social license for timber harvesting in BC has brought the view that all forest harvest is bad while protection in parks or other non timber activity is good. The reality is that all activity in forests requires good stewardship. Poor forest roads, recreation trails, ski runs can cause erosion. Good stewardship and planning can prevent these problems. Good stewardship is the product of comprehensive education and experience. A forest engineer will have training and experience in forest roads that is transferrable to the task of adequate location and construction of hiking or other trail in the forest. Use of clear cutting, shelter wood or selection silvicultural systems can be used in a forest design to sustain recreation, wildlife or recreational values. Under a new system with professional forest stewards charged with sustaining all forest resources, forest management can be the means to sustain recreational resources. Under the present system of harvesting rights and the hegemony of industrial timber harvesting in the forest landscape there is limited opportunity to exercise the protective potential of good forest stewardship in the protection and development of recreational values. The local forest trust could also be the institution for stewardship of aboriginal title. Aboriginal title is already defined by the Canada's supreme court as a sustainable community title.
The development and protection of recreational values in public forests in BC
There is both a social and economic component to the protection and development of recreational values in forests. Nature based economic activity is generated through various diverse recreational activities such a hiking, hunting, guiding, skiing etc. There are social, spiritual, and health benefits in forest recreation.
Recreational development in forests to bring significant economic return to a local economy do not need to involve some major project requiring large capital investment. The natural capital is in the natural conditions and scenery in the forest landscape. A good system of hiking trails may be sufficient to supply recreational opportunity to locals and attract visitors and tourists. Sometimes these can be constructed by local volunteers at minimal cost. However, trails need to be adequately routed, located and designed to be sustainable and attract use and tourists. Gradients of trails should not exceed 15% to provide ease of hiking and reduce the risk of erosion. They need to provide viewpoints and other points of interest along the route. Sensitive site should be avoided. The tread or trail surface should be free of tripping hazards such as projecting rocks or roots. Humans are barely evolved to stay upright, and if you hike regularly on a trail with tripping hazards there is a very high chance that you will suffer an injury within one year. A considerable amount of planning and location effort is a prerequisite for a recreational trail system that will be sustainable and attract users and tourists. Other jurisdictions that aim to attract tourists provide high quality hiking trails. Forest trails in BC, even those in protected areas, tend to leave more than a little to be desired. Landscapes that are marred by poorly planned industrial timber operations leave a bad impression on visitors.
There are boundless opportunities for recreation in BC's forests but we will not advance in the protection and development of these resources and values until we reform our legal and institutional arrangements for managing public forests.