Restoration Forestry

Ecological forester Herb Hammond on the history, diagnosis, and cure for BC's crummy forestry practices

Van Andruss and Herb Hammond

Photo | ©Dru!

Herb Hammond is the premier ecosystem-based forester in BC and probably the world. He has for years been director of the Silva Forest Foundation. In October of 2017, after the new NDP government came into office, Herb sent a letter to Premier Horgan, the relevant ministries, and BC Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver. The contents have been lightly edited, with the author’s approval. —Van Andruss


Why it is necessary to reform the way forestry is carried out in BC?

Forests are our most important terrestrial carbon sink. When we log natural, intact old forests, it requires 150-250 years to regain the same level of carbon sequestration as before logging. Most of the carbon stored in the trees cut (up to 65%) is back in the atmosphere within five years. Thus, the “long-term storage” of carbon in wood products is at best overstated by the timber industry and many forest professionals. In fact, carbon released from logging in the US has been shown to be greater than all other residential and commercial sources combined.

Thus, changing the way forestry is done is vital to mitigating the effects of climate change and adapting to conditions associated with climate change.

Forests, particularly old, natural, and intact forests, produce the highest quality water in moderate quantities throughout an annual cycle. As currently done, most logging degrades water quality, quantity, and timing of flow. This degradation contributes significantly to spring flooding and fall droughts. Restoring full hydrological functioning of forests after logging takes at least 5-7 decades, and it takes more than a century and a half to reach the water conservation of old/old-growth forests. Thus, changing the way forestry is done is vital to conserving water.

“Industrial forestry corporations neither provide significant levels of employment, nor pay adequate stumpage fees.”

We all depend upon biological diversity for our survival. Conventional forestry practices degrade biodiversity to dangerously low levels when compared to intact, natural forests. This not only degrades the ecological services that we all depend upon, but also makes forest ecosystems more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Industrial forestry corporations neither provide significant levels of employment, nor pay adequate stumpage fees. Significantly less than one job is produced per 1,000 cubic meters of timber cut and milled in industrial forestry and wood products manufacturing. This rate of employment in the BC forest industry has steadily declined since in 1944. However, there are examples in BC of ecologically responsible timber cutting coupled with value-added wood products manufacturing that produce 5-7 jobs per 1,000 cubic meters of timber cut. Starting in 1993, the Vernon Log Sort Yard was run by the Ministry of Forests using wood from ecologically sound forest management, produced under the Small Business Enterprise Program. The project operated for a number of years and recovered significantly more stumpage per cubic metre of timber than the standard appraisal system, while practicing socially and ecologically responsible forestry.

Challenges to changing the industrial model of forestry

A growing reason to change the “forestry construct” in BC is that we are running out of timber. The models have not worked because of poor data and overly optimistic assumptions that encouraged high cutting rates. Forest professionals have ignored the need to alter timber cutting rates as the old growth was logged and “fall down” resulted, with logging now occurring in the remaining intact natural forests, and in younger and younger forests. The way that “sustainable” cutting rates are propped up is by cutting socially and ecologically sensitive forests, as well as younger and younger trees over larger areas. These are the major reasons that logging has steadily crept into socially and ecologically sensitive areas, like domestic watersheds and steep slopes.

“The combination of Professional Reliance, the virtual elimination of the Forest Service, and the failure to establish clear, publicly accountable standards for forest management, has de facto privatized public forest land.”

The reliance by industry on employment of professional foresters with no government oversight means corporate responsibility is virtually always put ahead of ecological and social responsibility. In this regard, I believe that forest professionals are in violation of their code of ethics as it relates to protecting the public interest, and are certainly not upholding their obligations under the policy of “Professional Reliance.” By ignoring the obvious need to change the forestry construct to mitigate and adapt to the effects of global warming’s negative impacts on water and biological diversity, forest professionals are complicit with the timber industry and the former Liberal government’s permissive policies. If you consult with the ABCFP (Association of BC Professional Foresters), keep in mind that this organization’s views are largely that of the timber industry, because key positions in the ABCFP are consistently held by forest professionals directly or indirectly employed by industry.

The combination of Professional Reliance, the virtual elimination of the Forest Service, and the failure to establish clear, publicly accountable standards for forest management, has de facto privatized public forest land.

What is the fix?

The Ministry of Forests and the BC Forest Service need to be re-established with clear, unfettered authority over forest land use planning and regulation of use of public forests. Staffing levels and budgets need to be at least as large (in today’s dollars) as when the Ministry of Forests/BC Forest Service were virtually eliminated by the past Liberal government.

Forest management needs to incorporate public needs and values, starting with landscape-level plans that are fully available for public review. These landscape-level or “higher level” plans would be jointly developed by the Ministry of Forests and Ministry of Environment, and include a participatory, shared decision-making process with local communities.

“We need to restore the “public” in meaningful ways across BC’s public forest lands. These lands do not belong to industry.”

Regional log sort yards need to be established to scale and sell timber from public forests. This change will increase stumpage revenue to the Province and eliminate the basis for the US to continue to charge us with subsidizing the timber industry, which currently has merit due to the stumpage appraisal system. Forest professionals need to put maintaining, and where necessary restoring, the ecological integrity of forests ahead of short-term timber interests. The ABCFP needs to stand behind and support professionals who take this stand with their employers.

Responsibility for evaluating and disciplining the practice of forestry needs to be removed from the ABCFP and vested in an independent arm’s-length body appointed by publicly accountable experts from a range of biological, ecological, climate, and social disciplines in Canadian universities.

Protecting ecological integrity and landscape-level plans are particularly necessary due to the climate emergency, and forestry’s significant role in this problem. Let’s stop giving climate change “lip service” by suggesting that we can plant trees that may be more appropriate to forthcoming climates, and distorting facts to suggest that converting old forests to seedlings is good for carbon sequestration and storage.

The fact is you can plant a tree, but you cannot plant a forest.

We need to restore the “public” in meaningful ways across BC’s public forest lands. These lands do not belong to industry. Yet current policies and actions by forest professionals have resulted in active denial of information to the public, exclusion of public needs like water protection and climate change mitigation from forestry plans, and a level of industrial dominance of forest lands not heretofore seen in BC.

The time has come for the mills to fit the needs of the forest and the public, not for the forest to fit the needs of the mills.

There needs to be a focus on protecting and restoring the composition, structure, and function of natural forest ecosystems, not on logging to meet the needs of mills. The time has come for the mills to fit the needs of the forest and the public, not for the forest to fit the needs of the mills. Foresters need to stand up for that need – for Restoration Forestry.

Restoration forestry will re-establish ecological integrity, improve ecological resilience in the face of climate change, and meet timber needs. The timber that results will not be the focus, but rather a by-product of maintaining natural forest integrity for the full spectrum of society’s needs. Meaningful employment from restoration forestry will exceed current levels of “timber focused” employment.

Restoration forestry has the potential to supply adequate (if not higher than current levels of) revenue to the government through secondary and tertiary manufacturing, and better marketing of wood products.


Further Reading:

Briony Penn, “An Orwellian Path to Fraud in BC’s Forests”

Oversight at Risk: The State of Government Science in British Columbia

Herb Hammond, Good Jobs require Healthy Ecosystems and Healthy Communities 

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