Transforming forest management in B.C
The recent auditor-general's report on government mismanagement of our forests should serve as a wake-up call to the people of British Columbia to demand transformation of forest governance and management. Healthy forests provide us with clean water and clean air. They store three-quarters of the world's above-ground carbon and are biodiversity hot spots. They are critical natural sinks for greenhouse gases, yet can become major sources for decades upon harvest.
We the people own 94 per cent of B.C. For over a century, our forests have paid for hospitals and schools. They have gifted us with one of the highest standards of living in the world. They have provided a healthy environment in which to raise our children, who are counting on inheriting healthy forests to provide for their children.
Keeping our forests healthy is critical for our survival. History has repeatedly shown that societies that steward their forests thrive, whereas societies that exploit their forests to the point of collapse soon follow suit. In B.C. we are on the latter path, and these fears have been verified in recent reports.
We have become trapped in a commodity industrial model that seemed to work well when old-growth forests were abundant, milling was local and markets were diverse. Over past decades, however, the forest industry concentrated into a small group of large, multinational corporations dependent on lumber markets in the United States, and now China. Repeated downturns in industry due to market volatility and an increasingly strong Canadian dollar, and now timber supply and revenue problems generated by the mountain pine beetle epidemic, should have led government to take a hard look at the industrial model and the ability of our forests to sustain it. Instead, government turned its back on investments in forest stewardship, research and monitoring, lured by larger, faster returns from exports of non-renewable resources such as shale gas, coal and oil.
There are ecological limits to the ability of forests to provide life-sup-porting services and products. Recent forest health and timber supply crises are indications that these limits have been exceeded. Unlike the immediate and easily measured impacts of cuts to health and education, cuts to forest stewardship do not weigh on public consciousness until communities are faced with the collapse of the forest-based economy and ecosystem ser-vices that support it.
We argue there is a better way. Our very survival depends on knowledge-based management that maintains diverse, healthy forests and communities that are resilient and adaptive to global forces and financial instability.
The public needs to hold government accountable for neglect of the natural world and demand that it transform governance of public forests and the forest industry in ways that respect and properly value our environment, people and future generations. This will involve reinvesting in the management and study of forests, and engagement of people with place through local stewardship of forests.
Following are some minimum requirements for conservation management of our forests. These are based on the concept that societies are integral to forest ecosystems, not separate consumers of its products and services.
. Re-engage communities in land-use planning, decision-making and forest management, to foster reconnection of people with forests.
. Value forests for the full range of ecosystem services without timber carrying the trump card.
. Strengthen the laws, policies and operating rules governing forest practices.
. Link marketing and product innovation with forest stewardship to remove market-based barriers to forest diversity.
. Enhance initiatives such as Wood First to develop and promote a wide range of B.C. wood products and enhance interest among local and international buyers.
Kathy Lewis is a professor of ecosystem science and management at the University of Northern British Columbia. Suzanne Simard is a professor of forest sciences at the University of B.C.