Column: Private versus public philosophy to managing our forests

As a result of the different approach to forest management there have been a number of royal commissions and a variety of legislation.

As a result of the different approach to forest management there have been a number of royal commissions and a variety of legislation resulting from different government philosophies.

As Ken Druska points out in his book Tie Hackers and Timber Processors a good example was with the NDP government (1972 to 1975) which purchased a number of forest companies, was involved in industry transfers and appointed Peter Pearse to conduct a Royal commission. Some of the concerns raised by Pearse were the following:

The ever increasing size of fewer forest companies caused the erosion of opportunities for others to play a constructive role in the industry.

Pearse suggested that “the extent of industrial consolidation has proceeded far beyond what can be considered to have been necessary to keep pace with technological change and efficiencies of scale.”

He also stated that “the continuing consolidation of the industry, and especially the right to Crown timber into a handful of large corporations is a matter of urgent public concern.”

As is often the case the newly elected Social Credit government (1975 to 1991) was left to interpret and implement the findings of the commission and sold off the NDP purchases.

The tension between the private and public approach can also be demonstrated through a review of the legislation changes of various Forest acts and resulting tenures in the province while various governments were in power.

A very useful document in   “Evolution of timber tenures in British Columbia” shows 20 different tenures from 1870 to 2012, when they came into effect and which have been amalgamated into other kinds of tenure.

The chart also shows when various acts came into force. I also find it interesting to review sources that show  provincial parties that were in power during the various eras being discussed.

A document written by the UBC faculty of law entitled “Forest Tenure reform in BC” is very useful for summarizing the changes and impacts of recent legislative changes.

Before the 1990s provincial forest policy was focused on timber supply which increased the concerns from environmental groups and led to the passage of the Forest Practices Code Act brought in by the NDP (1991 to 2001).

Staff involved in implementing this very detailed “command and control “style of regulation contended that it quashed innovation of forest practices.

As a result of the concern about over regulation, the Liberals (2001 to 2013) introduced the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA) which replaced the old Forest Practices Code. The idea was to go from an inflexible measures approach to a results based planning approach.

Major licensees were now required to submit a Forest Stewardship Plan in which the licensees would address environmental and non timber objectives.

The province also implemented a number of measures to make the forest industry more competitive. Under the Forest Revitalization Plan the largest licensees were required to return about 20 per cent  of their tenures to the Crown (8 per cent was to go to First Nations, two per cent to more community forests and woodlots and the remainder auctioned off to help determine stumpage fees for some licensees).

Restraints were also removed from transfer and divisions of licences along with cut controls and minimum logging requirements. BC also removed “mill appurtenancy” which required licensees to operate mills.

The forest practices board (an independent auditing arm created by statute by the Forest Practices code act) was asked to audit some of the early forest stewardship plans. Its examination of fifteen plans was inconclusive.

The lack of measurable goals, specificity and lack of tangible criteria was troubling as was the overly legalistic language used in the plans. The board did conduct on site inspections of the plan areas and “regularly (saw) thoughtful and innovative professional management.”

“The boards overall assessment of forest management was quite positive, but there remained concern about how to monitor and even measure the environmental impacts of forestry activities.”

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.