What type of forestry do we have in B.C.?

Forestry in B.C. remains a timber sustainability approach to forest management mandated by the Sloan Commissions of 1946 and '56. Sustained yield planning and methodolgy was adapted for B.C. forests initially by W.A.C. Bennett led governments eager to develop B.C.'s hinterland . The plan was and remains the liquidation of all reachable "decadent and over mature" old growth forests and their conversion to tree crop plantations.

Simplified, sustained yield is prescriptive planning where an area of forest is cut on a schedule so that when the last part of the area is cut a new crop of trees is old enough to harvest. If trees are mature enough to cut at eighty years, divide your forested area by eighty and harvest one section each year until after eighty years the original forest is gone and you have a series of tree crops maturing for harvest: a flow of commodities - timber sustainability.

Tree Farm Licences and Timber Supply Areas are the areas to be converted. The Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) is the area to be cut each year.

Clearcutting is the elimination method.

What are the problems with this forestry?

What business today in these times of rapid change and uncertainty is still following a business plan that's fifty years old? that's based upon a science and governance worldview dominant after World War II?

Sustained yield is a land rent, economics approach to forestry that is more closely related to shelf-stocking strategy in malls than it is to ecology. Maximizing timber volumes per square foot (hectares) is the goal. Like sustained yield in fishing, it has been a disaster wherever it has been implamentated because it is relentlessly concerned with maximizing commodity volumes instead of protecting the health and integrity of forests.

If you were going to manage humans for a sustained volume of soylent green and you determined that the optimal age for harvesting was eighteen - What sort of society would you have after a couple of rotations? When you plan to systematically eliminate forests that have developed over millenia and were overwhelmingly in age classes over two hundred years old before industry intervention, and farm eighty year old tree crops instead - What invaluable structure and components are you throwing away?

Sustained yield is concerned with timber. Forests provide a variety of goods and services to the biosphere and to humans. Water, oxygen - carbon and climate regulation are just three indispensible services provided by forests. Sustained yield forestry in B.C. never quantified or accounted for these services. One recent study by a team lead by Robert Costanza estimates that timber production is only a small fraction of the total service value provided to human economies by temperate forests.

Sustained yield alienates and interferes with other human use. Clearcutting is not compatible with recreation and tourism. It damages salmon habitat and threatens community watersheds. This approach to forestry is the root cause of the war in the woods.

Sustained yield is a one-size-fits-all monolithic plan for all B.C. that does not allow for differing approaches for the diverse types of forest ecosystems and diverse B.C. communities. The Slocan Valley can't have they're own agreed upon local plan if it doesn't conform to liquidation - conversion MoF planning.

Sustained yield planning legitimizes a bloated high volume - low value added industry. Milling capacity and employment are still based upon volumes predicated upon complete elimination of old growth. (And because sustained yield was always more of an excuse to log, and because this logging was and remains essentially highgrading of the most valuable and easy to reach timber first, falldown is already putting paid to the notion of timber sustainability in B.C. communities such as Golden and Prince Rupert).

Finally, each job in this present forestry eliminates many future IWA (or PPWC, etc.) jobs. Old growth has vastly more potential for value added than second growth. Plantation harvests and milling is also much more easily mechanized. (And this assumes that plantation crops will survive pathogins, global warming, etc.)

Haven't we already changed from the bad old days of forestry?

We still have Tree Farm Licences and AAC's. 95% of wood logged in B.C. is still old growth. Over 90% is still clearcut. The working forest slated for conversion is still 93% of reachable forests in B.C. (The Harcourt parks creation reduced the working forest size by 2%.) The provincial AAC is still above 70 million cubic metres, little changed from Socred AAC levels in the Eighties. Valuable old growth that could support so many more value added jobs is still being turned from diamonds to raw commodity drill bits for other people's profit.

NDP forest policies are cleverly disguised business as usual. The Forests Practises Code, for example, is as former deputy Forests Minister Gerry Armstrong readily admits " completely within the sustained yield paradigm". The Ecoforestry Institute's Cheri Burda points out that the Code "attempts to regulate industrial forestry. It does not change it."

"...the Forest Practices Code is completely within the sustained yield paradigm"

Former Deputy Forests Minister Gerry Armstrong


"The basis of most forest management in B.C. is the sustained yield concept. ... Although sustained yield does not represent the ultimate management policy, it is so well entrenched in B.C. forestry that the concept will be in use for many years."

Forest Handbook of B.C.

The Code is a regulators nightmare: several metres of bureaucratize attempting centralized control with a skeleton field staff.

Well, are there other, better types of forestry for B.C.?

Emerging Ecosystem Management (EM) in the U.S. and the forestry recommended by the Clayoquot Scientific Panel specifically repudiate sustained yield redesign of forests. The prime objective of management is not timber sustainability but the continued health, integrity and function of forest ecosystems for all values. Human use such as timber production is a subset. Historical age classes and disturbance patterns are respected and ecosystem components such as insects, mycorrhiza or lichens, or "keystone species" such as owls or grizzlies are valued for their ecosystem role or function.

Rate of cut, based not on timber targets but on what is ecologically possible without endangering forest ecosystems, replaces AAC's. Partial retention logging methodology replaces clearcutting. Ecosystems are not eliminated.

Forestry tenure is based upon agreement to protect and maintain forest health in license areas while still harvesting timber. A diversity of management styles and methodologies will be facilitated by devolving management control from Victoria to diverse communities under a provincial regulatory umbrella enforcing the prime goal of protecting forest health.

Each local approach should be formulated as an adaptive management experiment where risk to future generations is quantified and front loaded.

Local knowledge: aboriginal, scientific, technologies, etc. is sought and incorporated in forestry planning.

Increased logging costs and accounting that quantifies all forest values (with inter-generational equity - sustainability - foremost) will push the forest industry out of raw commodity markets. Log markets handling products from diverse producers will greatly increase value added capacity by correctly valuing old growth stock and freeing access from the monopoly enjoyed by the few integrated corporations that control supply today.

Wouldn't a change from sustained yield to ecosystem based management be very difficult if not economically impossible to implement?

Difficult, yes - but there is really no choice. Each year we continue down the wrong (timber sustainability) path impoverishes B.C. by degrading forests and limiting the size and viability of a future truly sustainable industry. Each tree cut, each paycheck, each job is robbing future generations of British Columbians, loggers and city dwellers, of opportunities for services and wealth creation from healthy forests.

Sustained yield is ultimately indefensible. An ecosystem based management is inevitable.

Change is opportunity. And first through the transition are first to market. Ecosystem Management standards will sooner rather than later be international standards for forestry. B.C. has incredible forest opportunity if only we change while we still have old growth to access without endangering forest health.

We are very fortunate: wealthy, well educated, with excellent institutions and infrastructure. If we can't change to an ecologically sustainable forestry nobody can. We still enjoy tremendous potential for wealth creation if we bite the bullet in the short term and change. We might even find that there are much richer lifestyles possible in a B.C. 21st century if we co-operate to make the change instead of fighting each other in myopic self-interest.


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Sustained Yield