Herb Hammond is the premier eco-system based forester in BC and probably the world. He has for years been director of the Silva Forest Foundation (www.Silvafor.org). In October of 2017, after the new NDP government came into office, Hammond wrote a letter to Premier Horgan; Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forest, Lands and Natural Resources Operations; George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy; Katrine Conroy, Minister of Children and Family Development; and Andrew Weaver, Green Party Leader. With the author’s permission, I have lightly edited the contents and converted this letter into a sort of essay without sacrificing essentials. ~ 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 to 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 (see “The Great American Stand: US Forests and the Climate Emergency” in the link below). 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 five to seven decades and 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.
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 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 records started being kept in 1944.
However, there are examples in BC of ecologically responsible timber cutting coupled with value-added wood products manufacturing that produce five to seven 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 meter of timber than the standard appraisal system, while practising socially and ecologically responsible forestry.
Challenges to changing the industrial model of forestry in BC
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 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 logging has steadily crept into socially and ecologically sensitive areas, like domestic watersheds and steep slopes.
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 certainly not upholding their obligations under the policy of “Professional Reliance.” Forest professionals are complicit with the timber industry and past Liberal government’s permissive policies 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. If you consult with the Association of BC Professional Foresters (ABCFP), keep in mind 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 and virtual elimination of the Forest Service, including their responsibilities for planning, approval, and disapproval of industry plans, and establishing clear, publicly accountable standards for forest management have de facto privatized public forest land. If this continues, history will show that this will produce a sad legacy for future generations, particularly in the face of climate change. However, there are practical, tested solutions for the problems outlined above.
What is the fix?
The Ministry of Forests and 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 start with landscape level plans that are fully available for public review and incorporation of public needs and values. 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.
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 arms-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 contribution to this problem. Let’s stop giving climate change lip service by suggesting 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.
We need to come to grips with the fact: 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. But 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 public forest lands not heretofore seen in BC.
There needs to be a focus on forest protection and restoration of 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.
By putting the forest back into forestry, a new forestry will put the forest first, recognizing that the forest sustains us, we do not sustain the forest.
Briony Penn’s “An Orwellian Path to Fraud in BC’s Forests.” www.focusonvictoria.ca/mayjune2017/an-orwellian-path-to-fraud-in-bcs-forests-r10/.
Anthony Britneff and Martin Watt’s paper to the Coastal Silviculture Committee, “Uncertainty Relative to the TSR Process.” www.coastalsilviculturecommittee.com/uploads/4/4/1/8/4418310/britneff_and_watts_2017.pdf.
“The Great American Stand: US Forests and the Climate Emergency” by Bill Moomaw and Danna Smith of Dogwood Alliance.
“Oversight at Risk: The State of Government Science in British Columbia.” www.evidencefordemocracy.ca/en/research/reports/bc.
“Good Jobs Require Healthy Ecosystems and Healthy Communities.”
“Good Jobs” —Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Slide Presentation. www.dropbox.com/s/7ca3ru6vx2zalqj/Presentation_HerbHammond_GoodJobsConf.pdf?dl=0