The forests need your help

Mad rush to destroy forest ecosystems

By Brian L. Horejsi

I can't imagine any rational or knowledgeable observer believing forest management or conservation of forest landscapes and ecosystems have been “done right” in this province. 

That's any rational or knowledgeable observer outside of “public” servants and privileged corporations who have been so deeply embedded in the exploitation of B.C. forests for the past 50 years they can no longer think beyond “get as much as you can, as fast as you can."

But, hold on.       

A reporter for the Victoria Times (see the Penticton Herald, Nov. 20) apparently likes what he sees; “rushing in to extract” value is something he admires. 

If there were such things as scientific standards, conservation or protection of old growth and biodiversity, and a regulatory permitting decision process, he parrots the corporate timber industry and thinks we should “overturn” those standards.

He belittles too, much like the timber industry has been harping about for decades, those rules protecting forest values as not regulation, or democratic process, or using sound science – they’re only “bureaucracy."

It's been fat pickings for the timber industry and their promoters over the past few decades. Pine beetles, and now forest fires have taken a bite out of living forest stands, and this appears to have whipped local politicians, tree fallers and truckers into a “get as much as you can, as fast as you can” frenzy.

They want all these logs, as they refer to burned forests, at a very steep discount. Most of the beetle salvage was sold off by the Ministry of Forests at “give away” prices — $8 per truck load.

Assuming 40 cubic metres/load, that’s $300 for enough wood to build a house. No wonder the industry is salivating over salvage logging.

On the other hand, our taxes pay most of the cost of operating the Forest Service. The 2017 provincial budget says it will cost taxpayers about $700 million to administer Forest Operations, about $11 per cubic metre of wood expected to be cut.

And yet, it looks like another “fire” sale on the way.

The Ministry of Forests quit issuing annual operations and data reports over 15 years ago. Consequently Forest Management records today are a jumble of partial and secretive government and industry “data” that makes a can of worms look organized.

It's part of a not-so-subtle attempt to obscure information.

Factor in the thousands of kilometres of road we subsidize companies to build for their own benefit, and the maintenance and erosion prevention that follows, and the balance sheet looks even redder for the poor taxpayers of B.C.

That is not my idea of good forest management.          

What would it look like if we added in environmental costs? We can't expect the B.C. Forest Service (FLNRO and BC Timber Sales) to do any research on this, and they haven’t. Why expose your past ugly practices?  

But in the U.S., scientists and the public are coming to realize that fires and beetles are, and have always been, a critical part of forest renewal.

Standing and down wood is beneficial to soil stability, water quality, local weather modification, snow accumulation, forest biodiversity – like certain woodpeckers that are entirely dependent on dead trees, and insects to feed songbirds and small mammals, and grasses and shrubs that sprout up immediately and feed deer, elk, and moose.

The fact is standing dead trees enhance natural forest recovery. Standing dead trees store carbon, while industrial consumption (the moment the chain saws appear) releases it to further aggravate green house gas emissions. 

Between the dead trees and new immediate new growth, a significant amount of carbon is stored. Over time, the dead trees do break down releasing their stored carbon, but this takes decades, sometimes hundreds of years, and we need to retain carbon now. 

Burned forests are centres of rejuvenation and productivity. It's been this way for a thousand years, until that is, “forest management” B.C. style dropped on the landscape like a dead cow from space.

Over 40 years have passed since a Royal Commission looked at forest management in B.C.

One dramatic positive change has taken place since then; the public has embraced the reality that they are the legitimate owners of forests, that democratic participation processes can improve conservation and management, and that the public trust, and the public good, should be the foundation of forest management.

Countering this have been dramatic negative changes, including clear cutting on a massive scale, and near abdication of accountability for forest management by government as they stealthily shifted decision making from government/pubic service to private forest industry.

One nasty theme has characterized these destructive changes; as pubic expectations for forests shifted toward ecosystem services (clean water, carbon storage, biological diversity, recreation) government (mostly the public service) and the “timber” industry have moved aggressively and systematically to divorce the public from participating in or having access to:

  • legal and administrative processes to determine forest conservation and management goals
  • setting scientific and economic performance standards.  

It's time for economically honest, scientifically and ecologically sound forest landscape conservation in this province.

Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson should name a Royal Commission and initiate public hearings on the future of  BC forests.

Our future as citizens and a cohesive equitable society depends on setting a new course.

Brian L. Horejsi has a bachelor of science in forestry and a Ph.d in wildlife science. He lives in Penticton.


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