"Because the environmental movement accepted incremental reforms within the dominant paradigm of continued industrial forestry, rather than insisting on structural reforms to the whole model of production and regulation, the movement is now tangled within a model of forestry that is clearly unecological, and is disempowered as a force for piercing the curtain of green rhetoric."

Michael M'Gonigle

When historians come to write the history of the conservation movement of the 19th and 20th centuries failure will be a key word: Failure to understand the full momentum of exponentially increasing populations and stimulated demand; failure to recognize man's dependence upon nature at the end of the frontier; and failure to go beyond incremental reforms to business as usual in managing man in nature.

Conservationists concentrated on sustaining production of commodities such as timber or fish instead of protecting the health and function of the ecosystems they were a part of, the goose that would have continued to supply the golden eggs.

Michael M'Gonigle is a co-founder of both Greenpeace and the Sierra Legal Defense Fund.. In BEHIND THE GREEN CURTAIN (Alternatives Fall 97) Mr. M'Gonigle uses the history of NDP forest policies to tell a cautionary tale about the failure of incremental change to protect biodiversity and forest health, and regional economies as well.

The Harcourt NDP government created 200 new parks, introduced a stakeholder consensus land use process, CORE, and initiated the Forest Practices Code. The SY working forest was reduced a meager 2%; clearcutting is still the liquidating harvest method for 90% of cutting and the total AAC was reduced by less than 1%.

Mr. M'Gonigle argues convincingly that because these NDP policies "remain(ed) firmly entrenched within the unsustainable assumptions of 'sustained yield management'" bio-diversity and forest health, and regional economies dependent upon forests, remain increasingly at risk. Moreover, because environmentalists have been co-opted by participating in these flawed processes that did not confront SY industrial forestry, the environmental movement in B.C. has been disempowered as a force for protecting forests and biodiversity.

As cumulative global anthropogenic change builds and presents increasingly complex and difficult life threatening problems such as global warming, species extinction , etc., the failure of our institutions and leaders to get ahead of the problems with policies other than business as usual tinkering should be THE governance issue.

As Ludwig-Hilborn-Walters point out - the lesson is that we are not learning from fisheries collapse, from forest dieback, from species extinction. The Tyranny of Now does not allow anything but incremental change in our business oriented forms of government and incremental change does not allow the much needed change from fundamental problems like sustained yield mis-management of forests.

SUSTAINED YIELD FORESTRY IN BRITISH COLUMBIA by Lois Dellert is the definitive academic study of SY in B.C. A hard to find masters thesis, Ms. Dellert's highly informative history and analysis of SY is a must read for anyone concerned with forestry in B.C. She describes the evolution of SY from 1900 to 1990 emphasizing the fear of scarcity and the hoped for improvement of timber production by scientific reordering of forests. From MacMillan through Sloan and Pearse to the present her central purpose is to examine the development of forest policy and "explore why it has been so difficult for forestry to achieve conservation in British Columbia."

"Forestry was motivated by scarcity and its goal was to support a forest-based economy by maximizing production and regulating the forest to provide a continuous supply of wood. Its policy of sustained yield was influenced by the scientific movement which believed the world operated according to universal rules and could be efficiently and rationally managed to capture its full potential and re-structured to achieve stability through order. The core ideas were efficiency and stability."

Lois Dellert

The simple Newtonian universe of linear cause and effect and equilibrium dominant when SY was developed no longer exists. Developments in non-equilibrium thermodynamics, in complexity and chaos theory, and in systems thinking about ecology and uncertainty have awoken science from Newton's sleep.

Claire A. Montgomery's Ecological Economics (16/1996) article RISK AND FOREST POLICY describes a forest management framework where humility in the face of uncertainty no longer allows simplistic assumptions about growth and yields to redesign forests for timber.

We have no choice but to manage but instead of using reductionist forest-as- factories models, modern risk management uses adaptive strategies where actions are regarded as experiments and fit into spatial and temporal hierarchies set by nature not man.

"Public forest management is changing. In the past, public forest managers in the United States sought to manage forests to provide a steady flow of goods that appeared to be highly valued, including non-market goods. Officially, if not always in practice, they tried to provide these goods in a way that would not impair the future productivity of forests - hence, "sustained yield" forestry. However, operationally the emphasis was on a predictable flow of outputs, such as thousand board feet of timber sold, recreation visitor days and cattle grazing unit months.

Now strong biological evidence, such as biodiversity loss and regional forest decline indicates something is missing... In forestry, sustainability is coming to mean sustainable forests rather than sustainable flow of outputs."

Claire Montgomery


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