Vancouver Sun

New policies needed to save our forests

- BY SuzAnnE SImARd And KAtHY LEwIS Suzanne Simard is a professor of forest sciences at the University of British Columbia. Kathy Lewis is a professor of ecosystem science and management at the University of Northern British Columbia.

The administra­tion and care of British Columbia’s publicly owned forestland­s — some 60 million hectares, an area larger than France — is unstable and in deep trouble.

The shifting of forest governance among three ministries in less than a year, following a decade of deregulati­on, has eroded forest stewardshi­p and sustainabl­e forest management in B. C.

Signs that we are losing our grip on stewardshi­p are evident in declining forest health and in expanding understock­ed forests — also known as NSR ( not satisfacto­rily restocked) — over an increasing­ly clear-cut and fragmented landscape.

Another sign is that public consultati­on over land-use planning has taken a back seat to efficiency of resource extraction from our forests. The public is largely disengaged from this sea change.

Forest profession­als are the stewards of the publicly owned forests. But B. C.’ s profession­al forestry associatio­n appears paralyzed by the rapid changes and foresters are finding it difficult to challenge entrenched forest policy and weakened forest legislatio­n.

Looking back over the past decade, we see a steady erosion of stewardshi­p principles. With the enactment of the Forest and Range Practices Act came “ results-based forest management” and “ profession­al reliance.”

Results-based management is meant to improve science-based forest management practices on-the-ground, whereas profession­al reliance shifts responsibi­lity for stewardshi­p from industry and government to the individual forestry profession­al, purportedl­y with tough penalties for noncomplia­nce. Has this resulted in more innovative and effective forest stewardshi­p?

To answer this question, we can look at four examples from the two most important and impactful forestry activities on the land base: Logging and reforestat­ion.

First, the vast sea of clear-cuts that is increasing­ly covering our province is reducing landscape complexity and affecting broad-scale ecological processes such as hydrology, carbon fluxes and species migrations.

Second, salvage harvesting practices to address the mountain pine beetle, amounting to bottom-line clearcutti­ng, have resulted in the loss of the small underlying trees, midterm timber supply, and healthy forest complexity.

Third, disturbing­ly, scientists and foresters are observing that young simplified plantation­s of single-species have declining health due to insect, disease and abiotic damage, and this is projected to worsen with climate change.

Fourth, the area of NSR has increased dramatical­ly in the past decade due to inadequate reforestat­ion of harvested, burned and beetlekill­ed land.

This increase has negative implicatio­ns for the future productivi­ty, diversity and carbon-sequesteri­ng capacity of the land-base.

A number of government institutio­nal changes over the past decade underscore these problems. Most fundamenta­lly, there has been a precipitou­s decline in opportunit­y for public engagement in resource-management planning under the Forest and Range Practices Act.

Not only is there a lack of public consultati­on over timber harvesting, there is no meaningful assessment of the cumulative effects of multiple land-use tenures that overlap with forestry, such as for energy or water resources. Even within forestry, there is little mechanism or expertise for implementi­ng stewardshi­p for multiple forest values over large scales; instead, forestry is still largely practised on a block-byblock basis.

Additional­ly, with emphasis on economic goals and efficiency in awarding of resource-extraction permits in the new Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, there is a troubling lack of legislativ­e process, policy or research in place to enable forest stewardshi­p and protect environmen­tal values.

Long-term forest stewardshi­p and science-based forest management remain low priorities for this government. This assertion is supported by the neglect to maintain a current forest inventory and to monitor the efficacy of forest practices, activities considered elsewhere in the world to be fundamenta­l to certified forest management.

Other indicators include the dissolutio­n of the forest Research Branch, the slashing of funding for forest science, and the greatly diminished number of foresters charged with stewarding public land, monitoring compliance, and enforcing profession­al reliance.

“ Results-based management” and “ profession­al reliance,” like forest certificat­ion, are only effective when backed-up by strong and efficient forest laws, policies and operating rules. In British Columbia, forest laws and practices are deregulate­d and weak. Therefore, we are failing to meet our own stewardshi­p goals.

The potential costs of this failure are very high — including the loss of healthy and resilient forests, economies and communitie­s — and these costs are expected to accelerate with climate change. We urge readers to voice their opinion on stewardshi­p of their forests and to demand of the provincial government new forest policy and laws that will ultimately increase the resilience of B. C.’ s environmen­t and economy.

 ?? roB kruyt/ postMedia news ?? A number of issues face B. C.’ s forests but the ability of existing forest legislatio­n to meet the challenge is suspect.
roB kruyt/ postMedia news A number of issues face B. C.’ s forests but the ability of existing forest legislatio­n to meet the challenge is suspect.

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