The forests of British Columbia have long been a source of great wealth and deep passion. First Nations derived shelter, clothing, food, and transportation from the old-growth ecosystems of the Coast and the Interior. Their wealth was the wealth of the Earth, providing enough.
The passions of the first part of the 20th century were infused with exploitation and greed. Our public lands were carved up and handed out to corporations as long-term tenures over 50 years ago. A Forests minister was sent to jail for accepting bribes. Vast swaths of forests were converted into stacks of money for a relatively few corporate shareholders and wagesfor generations of forest workers.
The passions of the second part of the century were permeated with the opposite desire to conserve the ancient forests that remained. These passions resulted in record numbers of citizens being jailed for trying to protect the last intact ecosystems while the old-growth fell faster and faster.
Citizens looked at BC forest policies with more passion than ever; entrepreneurs wanted more access to timber, and conservationists wanted to protect forests for habitats, species, and recreation. There were conferences and Royal Commissions, reports and protests. A huge, largely coordinated movement to increase protected areas began to build steam.
The stage was set for reform when the NDP was elected in 1991. By 1995, the supposedly eco-friendly government was locked in bitter conflict with environmentalists over Clayoquot Sound, which government said would be excluded from land use planning processes. Hundreds were arrested while pro-corporate forest workers jeered. The NDP tried to bury the conflict with negotiations where substantive issues – such as tenure, logging methods, access to timber, support for secondary manufacturing – were subsumed into drawing boundaries for parks and so-called “special management areas.” Some activists were able to develop traction in the Commission on Resources and the Environment (CORE) negotiations, but there were back room deals made out of sight of the public. Forest companies were represented by $400-an-hour legal teams while environmentalists shared floor space in hotels or at friends’ homes.
Old maps existed which showed watersheds across the province, set aside from logging as community drinking water reserves. Shockingly, according to Will Koop of the BC Tapwater Alliance, these maps were withheld from community activists at the tables, and those reserves were lost into timberlands.
Concurrent with the CORE and Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP) negotiations, and with considerable professional coaching, the larger environmental groups formed coalitions that attracted millions of dollars in US foundation funds. With almost no political maturity, social analysis, or even the discipline of the labour movement, this money fragmented activists. The big groups engaged in side negotiations with corporations and the government with the result that decisions were made on behalf of communities and smaller grassroots groups, which withered under the pressure of SLAPP suits, injunctions, and a hostile media.
“Forestry in BC became a police state,” says Anne Sherrod of the Valhalla Society, speaking of the government’s response to numerous blockades over protecting watersheds in the Slocan Valley. “The corporations and government broke citizen resistance and tried to silence our voices with police, bulldozers, jail terms, and lawsuits.”
By the mid-1990s, the NDP had brought in a prescriptive Forest Practices Code that intended to limit the destructive impacts of logging. Although an improvement, it did not deal with the major issues of clear-cutting, tenure reform, and the need for more value-added manufacturing.
To protect biodiversity, the government proposed to limit the amount of timber that could be harvested. But, as forest activist Jim Cooperman summarised it, “The biodiversity guidebook – a maze of compromises, half-truths, and contradictions – was introduced in 1995, but implementation was stalled as old-growth forests continued to be logged at unsustainable rates.”
Wood for Local Jobs
Similarly, government developed some private forest land tax regulations, but they were never applied. About 20 new woodlots were assigned, but no large-scale tenures were taken back from the corporations. At Youbou, the first of the “appurtenances” were removed, supposedly by accident, from tenure renewals; the appurtenances were clauses in the original tree farm licenses that required timber to be processed – sawed or pulped – at local company mills to provide employment for forest communities.
When a revived pro-business BC Liberal party, financed in large part by the logging and mining industries, took power in 2001, few activists imagined that things could get worse, but they were wrong.
The first to go was the skilled civil service, many of whom were dedicated to their work in the Forests and Environment ministries. Mark Hume, in the Globe & Mail (31 May 2010), described the cuts (which began under the NDP) as: “The thin green line made up of forest ecologists, conservation officers, fisheries biologists, wildlife technicians and park wardens seems to have nearly been wiped out through attrition and layoffs.”
Government then set to work changing forest policies to suit the corporations. Meanwhile, grassroots activism withered as the large organisations focused on certification, market campaigns, and the Great Bear Rainforest.
Mountain Pine Beetle
Over the past decade, as government continued to whittle away at the civil service and revealed a resource export agenda, the mountain pine beetle increased its range over BC’s vast lodgepole pine forests. The beetle had always co-existed with lodgepole pine, but these forests were older than normal due to fire suppression, and more extensive than natural because of restocking policy. As winters warmed and summers dried up, the beetle population exploded. Since lodgepole is quick to achieve “free-to-grow” status, the point at which a company is considered to have carried out its reforestation duties, pine was – and still is – extensively planted.
By 2009, the Ministry of Forests and Range estimated that 16.3 million hectares (ha) of public forest (containing 675 million cubic metres of timber) had been affected, making BC’s forests one of the greatest ecological disasters on earth. Despite textbook theories, many young plantations were hit. As summer wildfires raged, the forest management regime of “cut one–plant one,” so-called “sustained yield” logging, no longer made sense, even on paper. (www.for.gov.bc.ca/hfp/mountain_pine_beetle/faq.htm#6)
In response, government scrambled to promote “salvage logging” with almost no stumpage fees and no requirement to replant salvage cutblocks. Other replanting initiatives were also abandoned and, by summer 2010, retired forester Anthony Britneff wrote in the Victoria Times-Colonist that, “Since 2002, the government has gutted the Forest Act and the Ministry of Forests and Range Act of requirements for reforestation, for forest inventory, and for resource planning and reporting.” As a result, estimated Britneff, BC’s Not Satisfactorily Restocked (NSR) lands had increased from 2.8 million hectares (ha) in 2001 to around 9 million ha, three times the area of Vancouver Island. On a forest land base of 23 million ha, this would mean that nearly a third of BC’s forest lands are NSR.
The Western Silviculture Contractors’ Association (WSCA) weighed in to explain that there are many different kinds of NSR, but, “For what it’s worth, the WSCA estimates the…NSR lands worth reforesting to be between 3 to 5 million ha…In the 1980s, the province’s NSR area was estimated at 738,000 ha and was considered a forestry crisis. It led to a major investment from the federal and provincial governments to restore what were then called ‘the silvicultural slums of British Columbia’.” To add insult to injury, the BC government recently axed the requirement to report on the status of NSR lands in its annual reports.
In November 2002, the BC Liberals passed the Forest and Range Practices Act, and, in 2004, new forest practices regulations operationalised so-called “results-based” forest management practices. The new practices require little paperwork, but, according to West Coast Environmental Law also eliminate measures designed to protect the environment. They include extraordinary restrictions and bureaucratic hurdles which hinder government taking action to protect environmental values, such as wildlife habitat, water quality for community watersheds, and endangered species. They also afford greater opportunity for political interference in decision-making. (Deregulation Backgrounder: Timber Rules, http://wcel.org/resources/publication/deregulation-backgrounder-timber-rules)
Forester Herb Hammond notes, “Perhaps the largest problem is the lack of any form of meaningful public consultation. This is facilitated by the lack of requirements for specific plans to be reviewed. The plans that are available for public review do not provide enough substance to permit evaluation of potential impacts.”
Anne Sherrod of the Valhalla Wilderness Society explains, “Bringing in the results-based code crippled us. All that we achieved in the Slocan Valley before logging – by getting professionals out to inspect future cutblocks – is no longer possible because the licensees no longer have to identify cutblocks ahead of time, as they did under the Forest Practices Code.” Sherrod, in typical Valhalla style, adds that BC is now a “resource brothel” with no democracy and where the people have no power. “After all,” she says, “Canada started as a corporation – the Hudson’s Bay Company.”
Jim Cooperman adds, “Although corporations are now in charge of our forests, the BC Liberals retained the land use plans. Many boundaries established to protect ecosystems, including old-growth management areas, continue to be respected by most companies if they have certification programmes. However, since government and public reviews of comprehensive forest plans are no longer required, no one really knows if some of these old-growth stands are ending up being logged or not.”
Raw Log Exports
In July 2010, the government happily announced an agreement to facilitate raw log exports to China. Exports of raw logs from BC have been rising for many years. BC Stats reported in 2003 that, “from 1998 to 2002, the quantity of BC logs shipped out of the country has risen over 360% from 855,000 to almost 4 million cubic metres.” Despite protests and almost universal disapproval, the amount of raw logs exported has remained at approximately those levels, especially as private forest lands on Vancouver Island are stripped for real estate development.
The largest parcels creeping onto the real estate market, despite vigorous resistance from locals, were the 12,000 ha released from Western Forest Products’ tree farm license in 2007. Waterfront land west of Victoria was released without government demanding compensation for years of low property taxes and access to public forest land, or making provisions to protect local community plans from suburban sprawl.
Eventually, the Capital Regional District teamed up with conservation groups to buy 2,300 ha of waterfront at Jordan River, as well as parkland and land to be added to Victoria’s drinking water reserve.
Community and First Nations Woodlots
Those 20 community woodlots have now increased to over 60, although, with the extended downturn in the industry, most small companies have disappeared, so large corporations are the main purchasers of logs from these woodlots. There was a “take back” of public forest land from the corporations, to provide interim measures for First Nations in the absence of treaties. But without treaties, few First Nations have the resources to develop ecosystem-based management on these lands.
Overall, increasing corporate concentration and government policy is leaving less and less room for small operations in the woods. Jim Cooperman writes: “BC Timber Sales has replaced the small business program and only large sales are available, which has put horse-loggers out to pasture and small operators out of business. Now that forest licences are no longer linked to mills … corporate mergers and take-overs are increasing and fewer companies control greater amounts of forestlands. Canfor’s absorption of Slocan Forest Products gives it control of 19 per cent of the provincial cut. Smaller mills are shut down as mega-mills, where fewer workers are needed, take over most of the production.”
The last decade has been one of taking all the necessary steps to systematically unravel both the social systems and the ecosystems that support our once-magnificent forests. Many suspect that privatisation of the public forests is the ultimate goal.
The final stage in this drastic remodelling of BC’s forests is reflected in the Forests ministry’s new mission. It discarded its usual lip-service to conserving and protecting forests for future needs when it declared that its new mission is to facilitate industrial access to the fibre supply by supporting competitive business conditions.
Ironically, despite the BC Liberal government’s efforts to corporatise forestry by eliminating public oversight and control, the forest sector is in turmoil, as many sawmills and a few pulp mills have closed. In 2009, the cut was only 41 million cubic metres on an allowable rate of 84.5 million cubic metres (the annual allowable cut has been increased to “harvest” the beetle kill), but the government says the cut in 2010 is expected to return to a more normal level of about 71 million cubic metres. Many smaller companies have disappeared, along with over 10,000 jobs, but three BC companies – West Fraser, Canfor, and Tolko – are now the largest in Canada.
The industry continues to limp along by highgrading remaining stands and leaving vast mounds of waste. Calls for turning forests into biomass energy remain unheeded as profits are elusive and the supposed carbon offset benefits are an illusion.
Still, in the hearts and minds of many in BC, the love of forests continues. Many shed tears when a favourite forest falls to the chainsaw, as did Comox’ Lannon Forest last spring. Others leap to defend the remnants of ecosystems, such as the coastal Douglas-fir at Nanoose.
Retired Forester Ray Travers insists we already have the knowledge (and artistry) of how to grow first class wood with extended rotations and intermittent commercial-scale thinning. We’re waiting for government to get BC back into the forestry business. Travers says four essential policies are needed for BC to have an effective forest economy:
1. Government needs to be smart in the global forest products trade. Sweden, with about the same forest land base as BC, achieves double the economic value for its forests.
2. Arms-length regional log markets to ensure that all wood is used to its best purpose.
3. Small-scale tenures no more than 10,000 hectares, so people in the forest, who know their land, are making the decisions.
4. Use ecosystem and value-based silviculture to grow high-quality
Ecoforester Herb Hammond also holds out some encouragement for future developments, saying that the understanding of how to do community forestry with Ecosystem-Based Planning is being established on the ground with some First Nations, like Xaxl’ip and the Haida, and Community Forests such as Harrop-Proctor.
Hammond, although he despairs of the “corporatization” of the environmental movement, says the issue in the end is not that difficult. We need to keep the remaining old forests for carbon sequestration, water, and other ecological services and stop playing games, making “assumptions of convenience.” If we start with the ecosystems that sustain us, and a common value system that includes facilitating community economies, we would have a “pretty gentle revolution.”
Hammond suggests that it is lamentable that the environmental movement is convinced that change can’t happen without the involvement (read control) of large corporate entities. This has occurred because large corporate interests fund the environmental movement and environmentalists don’t know how rural economies, or economies in general, work. He thinks society vastly over-estimates what’s involved in making these changes. “We think it is way more complicated than it is. Living within ecological limits is necessary, possible, and fun.”
In the end, says Travers, it’s a matter of answering two simple questions: “Who are we?” and “Do we intend to stay?”
With special thanks to Maggie Paquet, Jim Cooperman, Ray Travers, and Herb Hammond. All errors and omissions remain my own.