Better Community Control Over Forests

The Healthy Forests-Healthy Communities initiative is getting feedback from BC communities. Communities are concerned about the future of local forest landscapes. Communities want a viable and sustainable local forest economy and greater influence in forest land decisions. Click here for the full report from Andrew Mitchell entitled “Better Community Control Over Forests”.

Andrew Mitchell

The Healthy Forests-Healthy Communities initiative is getting feedback from BC communities.
Communities are concerned about the future of local forest landscapes. Communities want a viable and
sustainable local forest economy and greater influence in forest land decisions.

To address these needs, the BC Government and forest corporations will seek a symptomatic treatment
and possibly supply some new public involvement processes. There is no doubt that effective and
meaningful involvement by communities in management of local forest landscapes could be a
foundation for sustainable stewardship. A few new opportunities to review and comment on the
intentions of central government and forest corporations will not provide meaningful involvement.

Most of BC’s forests are Crown forests owned by the Province of BC. In the days of absolute monarchy,
Crown lands would be chartered to feudal lords and formed the basis of feudal systems. The majority
had little or no say. However, Canada and British Columbia are democracies and the appropriate role of
the BC Government over the Crown forests is to act as trustee and see that the forests have wise
management to sustain communities and a strong forest economy. This progressive view of Crown
forest land was expressed in BC over 100 years ago by a Royal Commission on forests. The commission
recommended that the Crown forests be retained in Crown ownership, supplied independent
management by professional forest service with the intent of providing sustainable communities and a
healthy forest industry. They noted that the priority of Government was to ensure that there was a wise
system of forest stewardship through a progressive legal and institutional framework.

Given the enlightened early vision for BC’s Crown forests, the last 100 years should have brought some
devolution of control and management of forests to the local level. Unfortunately, the legal and
institutional framework for Crown forest land has been regressive. The allocation of harvesting rights
for most of BC’s Crown timber to a few commodity forest products corporations restricted the
diversification of the BC wood products industry and the administered prices made wood exports
vulnerable to export tariffs and taxes. Improvident stripping of the best virgin timber led to major
problems in the coastal forest industry. In the interior, improvident forest management led to the
accumulation of huge areas of old Lodge Pole pine and set the stage for the loss of tens of billions of
dollars worth of timber to beetle attack. independent professional forest management was
compromised by passing more and more forest management responsibilities to forest corporations. BC
Government administrations have developed a legal and institutional framework that has enabled
forest corporations for more than 60 years. It can be said to be regressive because it is akin to that of an
absolute monarch handing out the benefit of land to the feudal lord. The only difference is that the
feudal lord has been replaced by a corporation. This is not progress. The feudal lord was a real person
and there were some expectations of human decency. The corporation is a legal person constituted to
make profit; not the best profile for the steward of the local forest landscape.

The legal and institutional framework for managing BC’s Crown or public forests, involving corporate
timber harvesting rights has become the established paradigm in BC. There is fear that any change will
have adverse economic effects. There have already been enough adverse economic effects that we
should really fear failure to make major change. The legal and institutional framework has been headed
in the direction of giving more control over public forests to corporations for over 60 years. We are at a
tipping point and any moves toward stronger tenure by forest corporations will complete the slide
toward enclosure of our Crown or public forests into the private interest. It is the inevitable destination
under the present paradigm.

If BC communities are concerned about the future of local forest landscapes and their forest economy
and want more control, they need to do more than ask our political decision makers for some more say
in the present framework. BC communities need first to remind our politicians that the local forest
landscape is our land. The rightful relationship of the community to the local forest is through an
elected board that directs a local professional forest management staff that manages the forest
landscape for the benefit of local communities.

The building block of a new framework would be the local forest trust. It would involve a sufficient area
of local forest landscapes to form a viable economic forest enterprise. More than one community or
rural area in the vicinity could be represented by a ward system on the elected board. The board and
professional forest managers would operate under trust documents or a charter modeled on the
international Montreal Process definition of sustainable forest management and conservation. The
managers would develop a local forest economy that includes timber, non timber, and nature based
economic activities. Delegation of forest management responsibility for anything greater than a family
woodlot or stewardship license would not be permitted and timber would be sold on an open market.
A provincial institution would be required to audit, support and provide a court of appeal for decisions
made by local forest trusts. A provincial forest trust assembly governed by an equal number of elected
board and professional forest management delegates could fulfill this role. Major policy changes would
require ratification by local forest trusts.

These new institutions also provide an innovative mechanism to resolve First Nation claims. First
Nation’s will be able to have local forest trusts or equitable representation through a ward system on
local forest trusts. The Montreal Process provides for customary aboriginal use.
Forest dependent communities should seek direct control of the management of local forest landscapes
under the new institutions of Local Forest Trusts and a BC Forest Trust assembly. This is a much more
sustainable alternative than gaining a facade of more public involvement in the existing centralized
government and corporate framework. It has been moving and will continue to follow a path of stealth
privatization that will result in the enclosure of Crown forests into the private interest. Communities
should grab the opportunity to ask for changes that will bring a sustainable future under their own
control. The default alternative is debilitated industrial wood forests and probably gates restricting
access to privatized local forest landscapes.

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