by George Hoberg
Today the Government of British Columbia released the long-awaited report of its 21 member Forestry Roundtable. The Roundtable was chaired by Forest Minister Pat Bell, and its membership was heavily weighted towards government and industry, and also contained representatives from labour, communities, First Nations, and academia. Environmentalists did not participate as members.
The vision and principles guiding the Roundtable, and the resulting recommendations, are provided in italics in full below. The report is available here.
I had one meeting with the Roundtable, but have not followed its deliberations closely. I have been teaching forest policy at UBC for 12 years, and the following themes strike me upon first reading.
1. The report offers little near-term solace to the struggling forest sector and forest-dependent communities. But that is realistic. The causes of the deep crisis in BC forestry are largely beyond the control of government policy.
2. In a further indication of the Campbell government’s commitment to reconciliation with First Nations, the report includes as one of its six priorities “First Nations becoming full partners in forestry.”
3. Forging consensus for action among so many stakeholders is challenging under the best of circumstances, so it is not surprising that many of the recommendations are very vague. A telling example of overly vague recommendations is # 8 – “We should work to streamline transactions between government and industry to support a vigorous, efficient and world-competitive wood processing industry.”
5. In some cases, instead of providing specific recommendations, the report simply encourages that policies be “reviewed” or actions should be “encouraged.” One example is # 3 – “We should review our forest management and silviculture practices to ensure that they encourage maximum productivity, value and support forest resilience.” This style of recommendation is discouraging to those who thought the purpose of the Roundtable was to perform this sort of review.
6. Given the times, it is not surprising, yet still notable, that environmental values are barely mentioned. They do not show up explicitly in the priorities. In a 56 page report, the word biodiversity appears twice. While environmentalists might take some comfort in the absence of any specific indication of environmental deregulation, they will find little solace in the absence of commitment to maintaining strong environmental standards. The closest the document comes to such a commitment is a line on page 20 “At the same time we need to ensure we maintain sustainable forest management practices.”
7. There are real indications of a commitment to diversify the mix of products. The report disparages the province’s mindset that “saw logs are the only forest crop” (p. 19), and talks about carbon credits and bioenergy. But the report is not specific on what actions need to be taken to move in this direction. For example, recommendation #15 states “We must advance bioenergy and biofuel projects by creating competitive tenure and pricing frameworks to attract private sector investment.”
8. There are real indications of a commitment to diversifying tenure arrangements. The Roundtable recommends giving First Nations larger, more secure area-based tenures, and recommends expanding community forestry. It also recommends (#5) enabling the establishment of short-rotation fibre plantations, and (#7) establishing “commercial forest land reserves for key portions of the current forest land base where wood production will be a primary focus.” The combination of these recommendations conforms to longstanding recommendations by policy observers that BC would be better off by having more refined and differentiated forest land use zones.
9. While the commitment to tenure diversification should be applauded, the document is silent on how far the province should go, or how it should get there. It does not contain targets for either aboriginal or community forest tenures, although in a press conference Minister Bell said that they intend to increase those two categories from the current 10% to 20%. The report does not indicate from where the new land or harvesting rights would come.
10. Recommendation #7 on the commercial forest land reserve sounds remarkably similar to the Campbell Government’s failed “Working Forest” proposal of its first term. Can the Working Forest, like a phoenix, rise from the ashes? It would be helpful to know how the government plans to overcome the obstacles that the Working Forest initiative could not.
11. The text around both Recommendations #7 and #5 (“we should enable the establishment of short-rotation fibre plantations”) seems to flirt with the idea of granting more private rights to public land without ever coming out and using the P word – privatization. Given that privatization has proven to be the third rail of B.C. resource politics (see conflicts of Western Forest Products schedule A lands removal on Vancouver Island and current battle over private hydropower projects), it is not surprising the Roundtable chose caution.
These are immediate reflections based on one reading and several hours of thinking. Greater clarity in how Campbell government plans to pursue the substance and direction of the Roundtable’s recommendations will no doubt emerge as they are engaged by the NDP in the upcoming May election.
What follows are the text of the vision, principles, and recommendations from the press releases and backgrounders.
The Working Roundtable on Forestry’s vision is for “a vibrant, sustainable, globally competitive forest industry that provides enormous benefits for current and future generations and for strong communities.” The Roundtable Report sets six priorities to help achieve the vision:
1. A commitment to using wood first.
2. Growing trees, sequestering carbon, and ensuring that land is available from which to derive a range of forest products.
3. Creating a globally competitive, market-based operating climate.
4. Embracing innovation and diversification.
5. Supporting prosperous rural forest economies.
6. First Nations becoming full partners in forestry.
1. We should continue to inform British Columbians and forest product consumers about the beauty, carbon friendliness, economic and other benefits of British Columbia’s forests and forest products.
2. All taxpayer supported buildings in British Columbia – federal, provincial and municipal must, and private sector buildings should, utilize and demonstrate wood and wood products whenever and wherever possible.
3. We should review our forest management and silviculture practices to ensure that they encourage maximum productivity, value and support forest resilience.
4. We should encourage the Western Climate Initiative to include forests in the identification of cap and trade opportunities for carbon credits.
5. We should enable the establishment of short-rotation fibre plantations.
6. We should establish a Carbon Offset Credit program for restoration of forests killed by the Mountain Pine Beetle where credits could be purchased.
7. We should establish commercial forest land reserves for key portions of the current forest land base where wood production will be a primary focus.
8. We should work to streamline transactions between government and industry to support a vigorous, efficient and world-competitive wood processing industry.
9. We should offer competitive bid timber sales as area-based sales and review our timber pricing system to ensure it is as simple and transparent as possible.
10. The provincial government and Union of British Columbia Municipalities should work with industry to ensure municipal tax structures support competitiveness and industrial activity in British Columbia communities.
11. We must establish labour arrangements that advance productivity and support competitiveness and investment while maintaining good working conditions and an adequate standard of living.
12. We should clearly define compensation rules for agreements between government and licensees, and in particular, what constitutes a taking of rights awarded through agreements and how compensation levels will be assessed.
13. We should establish clear competition policies to guide the transfer of tenure between licensees.
14. We should respond to the urgent needs of business, workers and communities during the current global economic downturn.
15. We must advance bioenergy and biofuel projects by creating competitive tenure and pricing frameworks to attract private sector investment.
16. We should establish a Wood Innovation and Design Centre focused on bringing together builders, architects, designers, artists and engineers to advance the commercialization of value-added wood building and design products.
17. We should create a forum to bring together leaders from the forest sector with those from chemical, energy, and other sectors to identify new wood based product and market opportunities.
18. We should continue to diversify forest product markets with particular emphasis on emerging markets such as China, ensuring that marketing efforts are sustained, coordinated and based on what end users want.
19. We should be proactive in exploring ways to ensure wood fibre is available for industry growth and product diversification while respecting tenure holders’ rights.
20. We should increase the percentage of fibre that is available through competitively-bid timber sales.
21. We should develop an internet-based wood market.
22. Logs that are surplus to British Columbia manufacturing needs should be exported until local manufacturing capacity exists. The surplus test currently in use should be reviewed to ensure it is rigorous.
23. We should expand the Community Forest Agreement Tenure program.
24. British Columbia forest policies should reflect the unique forest attributes and socio-economic circumstances in different parts of the province.
25. We should create more long term, area-based forest tenures that are of an economically viable size, and create legislation for a First Nations forest tenure.
26. Revenue-sharing with First Nations should be proportional to the value of timber harvested in their respective territories instead of being calculated on a per capita basis.
27. We should encourage business and First Nations to become full partners in forestry businesses, in particular in emerging areas of opportunity including biofuels, bioenergy, carbon and reforestation.
28. We should strive to build capacity among First Nation governments, First Nation forest corporations and First Nation forestry institutions to achieve full participation in forest activities.
29. We should collaborate with First Nations to involve First Nations youth in forest employment opportunities.