Photo: Chris Stubbs
Photo: Chris Stubbs

By Van Andruss —

This year the BC government carried out an online public inquiry called an “Area Based Forest Tenure Consultation,” which ended May 30, 2014. Advertised as a response to a dwindling timber supply and particularly to the devastating beetle kill of the past decade, the Consultation invited comment on a proposal regarding “tenure” for large-scale logging interests.

Basically, two kinds of tenure exist in BC. Both involve logging rights. One is known as an FL, or Forest Licence; the other is known as a TFL, or Tree Farm Licence. There is a big difference between the two. The Forest Licence gives the right to harvest a certain volume of wood, while the Tree Farm Licence gives the licensee management control and near-exclusive harvesting rights over a specific area of land.

The simple fact is that logging corporations, big or small, do not make acceptable stewards of public forest lands and giving away near-ownership of our precious heritage will not reverse dwindling timber supplies

The government’s proposal is that, in selected cases, tenure shift from “volume-based” logging rights (FLs) to “area-based” logging rights (TFLs).

The evil here is that the Tree Farm Licence offers a degree of property rights only slightly less complete than Fee Simple, meaning ownership of the land. The provincial government’s “Discussion Paper” states that only existing tenure holders are to be considered and only in beetle impacted areas. These specifications necessarily refer to forest companies on a grand scale.

You can be sure that converting FLs to TFLs will make it much more difficult than it already is for the general public, and even for the present government, to influence forest management plans and operations, to protect vital forest functions, and to carry out non-timber economic activities like ranching, tourism, and recreation. Under this regime, it is certain that First Nations will have greater difficulty negotiating just and honorable treaty agreements and any kind of protection in their lands.

In fact, granting big corporations TFLs must be regarded as a final step towards the government’s de facto privatization of public forests, which began with dismantling the BC Forest Service and their approval-authority over company logging plans.

The shocking truth is that the present Ministry of Forest Lands and Natural Resource Operations is no more than a processing agency for issuing cutting permits, while the power to decide how cutting plans should be executed is currently in the hands of company-hired RPFs who cannot deviate from their employers’ fix on timber extraction and the maximization of profits.

TFL holders have consistently degraded the land under their control, after which they are free to sell their rights to “what’s left over,” yielding further profits at public expense. In reality, the pressure for new corporate tree farm licences is being driven by overcutting in the interior of BC, not only beetle kill. Issuing new tree farm licences can only worsen the problem and skirt the necessity to address the history of unsustainable logging, the lack of community control, and the many other complicated issues resulting in mismanagement and environmental degradation.

The government’s focus—I would say “obsession”—with timber extraction alone is narrow and destructive. Responding to the Consultation’s “Discussion Paper,” ecology-based forestry advocate, Herb Hammond of the Silva Forest Foundation, reminds us that “providing timber products is a relatively minor role that forests play in BC and elsewhere on Earth. Necessities of life like clean air, pure water, carbon sequestration and storage, and climate moderation are all important functions of forest ecosystems” and “these functions are best carried out by old, natural forest ecosystems, as opposed to tree farms/managed forests.”

TFLs effectively privatize ecosystem functions as well as timber supplies.

The simple fact is that logging corporations, big or small, do not make acceptable stewards of public forest lands and giving away near-ownership of our precious heritage will not reverse dwindling timber supplies.

Back in1989, the Social Credit government tried to convert FLs to TFLs. Public meetings were held and the outcry prevented the conversion from happening.

I wish to remind the board of “Consultation” that, strictly speaking, neither corporations nor government, for that matter, own the Crown Land of this province. The people of BC, both native and non-native, own the Crown Land of this province. Crown Land is our version of the Commons.

A better solution to the declining state of forest lands is to begin a process of re-claiming TFLs and FLs from large corporations. Besides this, to set about re-instating a socially responsible forest service charged with supervising a respectful stewardship of the land, legally empowered to deal with all aspects of forest health and forest use. In this vision, private enterprise will not control the land or set the rules for its use, and government policies will shift to favour small scale forestry operations whose products accrue to the economic benefit of local communities. In this way, “profits” will be counted in terms of jobs (meaningful and friendly) for local workers.

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Van Andruss is editor of the magazine Lived Experience. He enjoys the bioregional life and community in historic Moha outside of Lillooet, BC.

Originally published in Bridge River News.


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