"(T)he very long planning horizon of timber supply policy creates acute path dependency. That is, we are now living with the consequences of timber supply decisions taken decades ago that forces us along a particular path chosen then. To retrace our steps and reopen possibilities that were rejected by those early decision makers would be expensive or even impossible. Path dependency reinforces the technical character of timber supply analysis by foreclosing or, at least, putting serious obstacles in the way of radical change in direction."

Jeremy Rayner, The Timber Supply Review IN SEARCH OF SUSTAINABILITY

If redesigning forests for a flow of commodities is now routinely referred to in the Journal of Forestry and the Forestry Chronicle as discredited ‘last century’s’ forestry, as not being ecologically or economically sustainable - Why is the liquidation-conversion plan still the basis of forestry on Crown lands in each Canadian province? Why are short term, economic rotations still the dominant management practice in private land management in the US?

Path dependence is an emerging social science concept. The QWERTY keyboard and Microsoft’s control of the development of computer software are cited as examples of how the development of new technologies has been channeled into maybe less than optimal paths by choices made in initial development of the technology.

"The evolutionary paradigm is different from the conventional optimization paradigm popular in economics in at least four important respects (Arthur 1988): 1) evolution is path dependent, meaning that the detailed history and dynamics of the system are important; 2) evolution can achieve multiple equilibria; 3) there is no guarantee that optimal efficiency or any other optimal performance will be achieved due in part to path dependence and sensitivity to perturbations; and 4) ‘lock-in’ (survival of the first rather than survival of the fittest) is possible under conditions of increasing returns. While, as Arthur (1988) notes "conventional economic theory is built largely on the assumption of diminishing returns on the margin (local negative feedbacks)" life itself can be characterized as a positive feedback, self-reinforcing, autocatalytic process (Kay 1991, GŸnther and Folke 1993) and we should expect increasing returns, lock-in, path dependence, multiple equilibria and sub-optimal efficiency to be the rule rather than the exception in economic and ecological systems. "

Costanza et al. Modeling Complex Ecological Economic Systems. BioScience 1993

Path dependence, lock-in and sub-optimal efficiencies are to be expected. Our decision making topology has sinks and mountains.

In political science path dependence is formalized recognition that decisions made in the past have a continuing influence on policy development. A new government, for example, inherits a policy framework or history of policy development which restricts or shapes, to some degree, new policy development.

Sustained yield path dependence (SYPD) is recognition that decades of planning and implementation of sustained yield resource management severely restricts policy evolution to an ecologically sustainable resource management.

"From the onset, the potential for environmental advances was restricted by certain fundamental realities. Most of these could be linked to policy legacies, and particularly to the accumulated momentum of what we have called the liquidation-conversion project. As Robert Putnam reminds us, institutions and policies have historical trajectories: ‘History matters because it is "path dependent"; what comes first (even if it was in some sense "accidental") conditions what comes later. Individuals may "choose" their institutions, but they do not choose them under circumstances of their own making, and their choices in turn influence the rules within which their successors choose’. The liquidation-conversion project gathered momentum as more and more workers, investors, suppliers, and governmental officials acquired a stake in maintaining or increasing timber harvesting rates. This momentum increased as workers set down roots, as businesses designed to serve forest companies and workers sprouted in forest dependent communities across the province, as logging contractors mortgaged their future to purchase rigs, as investors poured dollars into expanding logging and milling capacity, and as governmental bureaucracies set themselves up to monitor and facilitate the whole operation. The resulting pattern of dependency, and the associated political pressures, structured the policy space, established the boundaries between the politically feasible and unfeasible."

Jeremy Wilson Talk And Log

The QWERTY keyboard layout that we use today was a solution to mechanical problems in the first generations of mechanical typewriters. We still use the QWERTY layout on typewriters and computer keyboards even though the QWERTY layout probably isn’t the most efficient keyboard design possible because generations of typists have learned on the QWERTY keyboard and change to a new keyboard is now not possible.

The sustained yield forestry methodology applied to old growth forests seeks to liquidate the old growth on a schedule creating a ‘regulated forest’,: crops of trees maturing as a flow of commodities. If six decades ago a management plan was begun to liquidate old growth and convert to an eighty year regulated forest rotation, it is no easy matter for a new management team or government to escape this management plan in later decades of the schedule.

Sustained yield greatly inflates possible harvesting levels. The liquidation schedule promises set volumes of timber over the liquidation rotation. Tenured contracts for this promised timber becomes collateral to expand production capacity to these inflated harvest levels. Even though this approach to forestry has been discredited, the employment, direct and indirect, based upon these volumes of wood and the economic health of forest industry dependent communities severely restricts change from the sustained yield policy path.

This social trap is especially difficult to escape in Westminster style governments in service economies without a strong legal recourse because the short term cabinet dictatorships cannot afford to initiate policy change that negatively affects the economy.

In fisheries, the focus is on maximizing the production of the targeted fish using population dynamics models where escapement to ensure reproduction was the only management constraint. For the salmon fishery in Pacific North-West North America this meant that sustained yield regulation disregarded necessary escapement for nutrients for forests and for smolts returning to the ocean and the feedback effects of fishing. With hindsight it is also easily to see that catch regulation ignored fluctuating environmental conditions very pertinent to long term population levels but outside of management perimeters.

First Nations traditional management sought to cream off the top of abundance with carefully managed species-specific, river fisheries. Laissez-faire, unregulated commercial fishing introduced open ocean, net fishing at levels controlled only by market forces; and then the introduction of sustained yield catch regulation over estimated potential harvesting possibilities which over time ratcheted up catching capacity. Combined with other anthropogenic change such as dams and clearcutting, populations of salmon runs plummeted.

But because of investment in catching capacity, because the ‘stakeholders’ were boat owners and cannery managers dependent upon the promised volumes of fish, and coastal communities dependent upon the cash flow from the fishery, government and regulators were ‘locked in’ to this particular approach to a fishing industry. This has limited the search for solutions to dwindling salmon stocks to hatcheries and fleet rationalization instead of a return to traditional selective fisheries.

In forestry in B.C., sustained yield cut control actually greatly increased harvesting levels. The decision to liquidate old growth in just one eighty year rotation combined with increased market demand to expand the forest industry into the interior of the province. Harvesting levels were inflated because this cut control was not constrained by any recognition of the forest health importance of retaining old growth age classes, structure or characteristics, disturbance cycles or even historical species distribution.

Six decades into the liquidation rotation sustained yield is now a scientifically discredited approach to forestry.

"Nature designed forests to live 100 to 5000 years. We are designing a forest to live between 60 and 120 years.

Nature continually regenerates diverse forests of single and multiple tree species (usually between one and 10 tree species) including plants, animals, micro-organisms and fungi. We design forests of single and multiple tree species (often planting two or more tree species on the same site) leaving regeneration of other components of the ecosystem to nature.

Nature designed some forests to be connected, and others to be disconnected, "in space and time over vast landscapes." We are designing fragmented forests disconnected in space and time on clearcut patches.

Nature designed a forest to be self-sustaining, self-repairing. We are designing a forest to require external expenditures and subsidies , watershed restoration, brushing, spacing and fertilizers."

Anthony Britneff RPF Forum Oct 97

But knowing that redesigning forests for a flow of commodities is not optimal forestry is equivalent to knowing that the QWERTY keyboard is not the optimal keyboard design. Forestry in temperate forests through out the world remains firmly within the sustained yield management paradigm.

The flurry of cosmetic forest policies initiated by the NDP governments in BC during the 1990s is an excellent example of how SYPD frustrates change to an ecosystem sustainable forestry. Because the Harcourt and Clark governments would not or could not initiate the needed tenure and timber supply methodological changes necessary to evolve past sustained yield, their innovative landuse planning and forest practices regulation had to remain completely and totally within sustained yield.

Contracted volumes of timber based upon sustained yield management limited landuse planning to a zonation that could not challenge existing tenures. New forest practices regulations to protect forest health and biodiversity could not impact the existing annual allowable cuts by more than 6%.

Whereas ecologically sustainable forestry management planning in Pacific North-West forests such as FEMAT and the Clayoquot Scientific Panel reduced cutting rates by more than two thirds, the annual allowable cut in BC remained within one percent of the provincial AAC when the NDP came to power in 1991. As Jeremy Rayner points out in his chapter on the Timber Supply Review in the sadly neglected IN SEARCH OF SUSTAINABILITY, these ecological sustainability approaches to forestry were never even seriously considered :

"New ideas were certainly not lacking. Conservation issues had appeared on that larger agenda, for which traditional yield analysis methodologies seemed irrelevant. Even more threatening from the subsectoral policy community’s point of view, alternative models were also available in which timber supply was treated as a residual after habitat protection and biodiversity conservation. But what we learn from the TSR1 case is the impotence of new ideas if the actors promoting them are successfully excluded from policy formation. With help from some noisy interventions in the wider politics stream, the traditional policy community was able to maintain a focus on sustaining short-term employment and revenue as the key policy problems in this subsector, problems for which improved yield regulation seemed far and away the most plausible solution. The alternative models, stigmatized as experimental and untested, were kept off the restricted selection of policy alternatives that made up the actual decision space for government. As this chapter has emphasized, the decision space was already bounded by the nature of the issue itself, characterized by acute path dependency as a result of the very long planning horizons of forest management and the consequent need to take account of timber supply decisions made many decades before. "

Jeremy Rayner The Timber Supply Review IN SEARCH OF SUSTAINABILITY

In their must read concluding chapter, the authors of IN SEARCH conclude that despite good intentions and a plethora of forest and landuse policies, BC still continues to implement the liquidation-conversion plan, the Sloan Commission business plan for forestry begun so many decades ago.

"(D)ecisions made when the sustained yield paradigm was established after the Second World War set the province on a path that has been and will continue to be extremely costly and disruptive to reverse."

In B.C., after a decade of cosmetic change:

"….those who see forests primarily as sources of fibre and are committed to the commercial development of the resource remain on the policy track laid down after the Second World War. The forest industry and the ministry continue to implement what can be called the liquidation - conversion project, a set of policies aimed at achieving a controlled liquidation of old growth forests and their conversion into managed second growth plantations. Despite two decades of intense debate over forest policy, both harvest levels and the proportion of the harvest that is clearcut have increased dramatically since the 1970s. The busy air of policy innovation may simply mark the final stages of the liquidation - conversion project, amounting to nothing more than a sophisticated symbolic politics that serves to contain environmental opposition."

Ken Lertzman, Jeremy Rayner, Jeremy Wilson

Globally, sustained yield remains the management framework for temperate forests. SFM is easily seen to be just SY redesign of forests with only minor changes in such areas as rotation age, riparian protection, wildlife reserves or improved technology for road building or harvesting.

The regulated forest is hidden behind a beauty strip of sustainable development language but a skeptical observer can still measure ecological degradation by studying the age-class graph projections, species composition and disturbance cycle conditions proposed by the management plans for any specific forest area and comparing them with the range of historical variability before management or even from management practices in any previous decade. A quick comparison of volumes logged in any tenure area from decade to decade and the degree of change under SFM is also a useful experiment.

Where SFM or ecosystem management is still being applied to old growth, ‘frontier forests’, this is still liquidation-conversion forestry, even if the schedule isn’t as clear cut as with the old Hanzlik formula.

Where management is of forests already converted, SYPD or the need to produce an inflated flow of commodities does not allow for the return of significant areas of forests to fully functioning ecosystems within historical variability in order to allow for sustainable human use in the future.


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