WANTED: Leaders… Must Have Vision…

REMARKS by T.M. APSEY, RPF to the WESTERN SILVICULTURAL CONTRACTORS’ ASSOCIATION ANNUAL CONVENTION

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. It is my great pleasure to have been invited to join you today and I am honoured that you have asked me to offer a few comments this evening.

Here we are only a month into the new year but already it has given indications that it intends to be an exciting one.

For starters, I guess we should thank our lucky stars that we are still alive this far into the new year. I mean, we have survived the predicted arrival of Armageddon when history’s odometer clicked over to the 2000 number.

I kind of wish I hadn’t taken the warnings so seriously and hadn’t cashed in my RRSPs. I used the meager proceeds to assemble the essential Apsey survival kit: a barrel of white rum, six litres of diet coca-cola and twenty bushels of carrots. The carrots add a low-cal fibre content to the kit and, by eating them, you improve your ability to see in the dark, thereby making it easier to find the rum and coke when the lights go out. You might prefer to call it the thinking person’s survival kit.

Then there was the dreaded Y2K bug which was to create complete chaos in all our lives. I must confess that I didn’t let that alarm me too greatly.

First, I don’t know enough about computers to know when they are doing the right or the wrong thing. I kind of figure if they are so damn smart they deserve to do their own worrying.

Second, the portent of more chaos in my life is an empty threat. It’s like adding a cupful of water to the ocean in which I’m already barely treading water. All the same, because you can’t be too careful, I did make sure my water wings were fully inflated and all my rubber duckies were within reach.

But, as we begin this year, a more traditional flu bug has struck and it seems to be angrier than usual, perhaps because of all the attention being paid to the Y2K upstart. I was one of those it zeroed in on and all I can say is that the aforementioned survival kit came through once again.

And speaking of the flu, I note that the pharmaceutical industry has just announced a new pill that will reduce the duration of a flu episode by two days. I think that is wonderful and I would like the two days to come out of the middle of its term if you don’t mind.

Anyway, the timing of the drug companies’ announcement of this new drug is typical. They make it available after its usefulness to me has long passed. It’s the same thing they did to me with their last big announcement: Viagra.

The next hurdle we had to face occurred yesterday. We all had to rely on some rodent to stick its head out of its hole to determine our weather for the next six weeks. What the hell does it know? That groundhog just awoke from a long sleep and, like most of us, needed to have a piddle. And we poor fools seize on the event as a substitute for a hundred billion dollars of satellites, weather ships, balloons and a wet finger in the wind to tell us whether or not we get to plant trees sooner or later.

Then there has been the issue of providing public financial support for NHL hockey. I always thought that would be a tough sell. Governments don’t pretend to have the smarts to know if investing millions in a hockey operation is a wise move or not. I mean, its not as though we are talking about something on which they have already demonstrated their expertise…like fast ferries.

I don’t know whether or not hockey teams should receive support from the public purse but I am intrigued by some of the arguments they made in their appeal.

For instance, they put forward the case that they contribute a good deal to government coffers through the taxes they and their players pay. They point out that they create a lot of indirect employment and generate a lot of economic activity in the communities in which they operate. They suggest that their presence adds to the quality of life in those centres. And they remind us that hockey has a long and deep tradition in Canadian life.

Do all those points make you think of any other business or industry? Slap me with a five minute major but those wonderful arguments remind me of another troubled industry and the businesses in it. And the forest sector not only works year ‘round…all its games are home games.

But you know, for all of its economic contributions to life in this province and despite the fact that it has had to cope with extremely serious difficulties and challenges over its history, the forest sector has never considered handouts from the public trough to be the way to solve its problems.

I think that is partly because we understand that governments at all levels and the forest industries are partners, indeed shareholders, in the forest related businesses that comprise the industry. They are partners that suffer together in difficult circumstances just as they mutually prosper in better times.

As partners, governments should be involved in addressing the problems that confront the sector; they should work with their private sector partners to protect and strengthen that partnership and the returns generated from it.

That is one reason why this sector traditionally has not considered it to be appropriate to seek the uni-dimensional approach of bail outs or handouts as the solutions to the periodic challenges that are thrown its way. We have always believed a sounder approach is for the partners together to examine and refine the policy environment that determines in large measure how the partnership will be able to compete in the tough business it is in. It hasn’t always happened but our faith in that manner of dealing with the issues confronting us hasn’t weakened.

The second reason we have declined to follow the bailout route has to do with the people in the forest sector. I think aversion to that course reflects the character of the people who make up the various kinds of businesses that comprise the sector. These people, by nature, are independent, resourceful, hard working and possess a strong entrepreneurial ethic that inclines them to self reliance rather than dependency on others.

Those traits have been severely tested over the years and, as your group knows only too well, the current litany of difficulties would tempt the faith of Adam Smith himself in the free enterprise system.

Throughout my career I have had close dealings with your industry and I feel I can identify with you in the tribulations you are facing. First, like so many forestry students, I did a summer stint planting seedlings. Even though it was for a relatively short time, I did log the necessary time to eventually learn one basic rule I have rarely forgotten: green end up, brown end down. It has served me well. There are hardly any plants in our garden struggling to survive ostrich style with their roots waving futilely in the air. Two or three at most.

I continue to take pride in having fought strenuously for various silviculture initiatives during my tenure in government service. As an example, a position advanced by my office created a lot of work for your business. I am referring to the decisions taken that redefined basic silviculture. One result was that the backlog of lands in B.C. designated as not-satisfactorily-restocked, by definition, expanded enormously. And that, of course, had profound implications for the silviculture industry. Think about that. If the Province had, in the extreme, declared that B.C. forests could be well managed merely by relying 100 per cent on natural regeneration, we wouldn’t have or need the fine silviculture industry that you have built up and which serves our forests so well. By deciding as we did, it followed that we needed the nurseries and planters and stand tending operations that constitute the modern silviculture contracting industry.

The importance of establishing definitions is useful to remember as we contemplate, debate and agonize over a whole range of forest issues that form the current public policy agenda regarding forests. Among many others, we have continuing controversies over what constitutes old growth, what, where and how much of our forest resources should be working forests and what the size of our annual harvest ought to be.

For the most part, to the extent that they will ever be resolved, these and similar questions or issues will be sorted out by the definitions that get attached to them by one group or another. The process may be an official activity of a circle of people around a cabinet table or the work of a body of government officials or, increasingly, it may be the result of less formal activity by groups in the general public.

Out of the thrusts and parries of the ensuing debate and discussion a consensus will eventually emerge as to what should be included in the scope of each issue or term. It is critical that the process be as inclusive of all stakeholders as possible.

As an example of how the business of establishing definitions can be captured by one interest or another consider the “Great Bear Rain Forest”. By seizing the initiative and widely promoting that label a group has been able to bring overwhelming influence on decisions related to a very large area of B.C.’s forest land.

I don’t mean to overly stress that particular example. It is but one illustration of the kind of thing that goes on continually. Issues develop and are addressed because groups of people want to have their interests protected and reflected in their resolution.

When that happens it is critical that all the interests that will be affected by the decisions taken are represented in the exercise. Too often in the past on forest issues the value of the experience, knowledge and skills of those most closely connected to a particular activity has been discounted to the inputs from other elements in society.

Sometimes that has happened because of oversight and sometimes, regrettably, because a deliberate effort has been made to exclude certain representations from the process. But too often a lack of representation has occurred because an affected group, through neglect or ignorance or preoccupation, was unwilling to invest the time, energy and resources to ensure that its legitimate voice was heard in the deliberations around an issue.

It is not easy to divert any energies from the immediate challenges of daily operations and survival of a company. But failure to invest a measure of attention in those broader issues is shortsighted and poses threats to the long term existence of the enterprise.

My mission tonight is a call to you to fully enlist in the thrust of events that are carrying us to the forestry future.

The world forestry community has embarked on a new journey. The journey itself has a name,“The Sustainable Forest Management Era”. There is no end destination for this trip. We won’t finally “get there”. SFM is a style, a stance, a manner, a set of continually improving, continually evolving practices.

The era is the manifestation of the widely held understanding that the earth’s forests must be managed in a manner that reflects much broader values, sensitivities and ambitions than in the past. The journey will be complicated and stressful and will demand flexibility and compromise from all affected parties.

In executing SFM on a global basis a great many players will be involved. Indeed, that will be one of the characteristics of the new era. I have suggested that a sub-title for the “Sustainable Forest Management Era” should be the “Era of Integrated Interests”. I say that because it will require a host of interests to find ways to work together to realize the fullest range of values they hold for forests and forest lands.

Your industry must be one of those interests. It could be argued that the silviculture sector is the vital element in the SFM era. Without it there ain’t going to be any sustainable in “Sustainable Forest Management”.

The essence of SFM will not be found in profound pronouncements or in grandiose policy papers. It will be realized in the work done by people like you as machinery meets dirt and roots enter soil. Without question it is you on the ground who will have to ensure the delivery of many of the critical elements of the programs that will constitute sustainable forest management.

You must be prepared to participate fully in the activities that surround the evolution of the new era. As individuals, companies and through your Association get involved, contribute your ideas and influence, give constructive criticism and lend your important, considered support for those proposals that merit it.

There is an abundance of a great many things in our modern world but there is one thing that is always in short supply. That is leadership. All of the important forest matters to be addressed in the coming months and years cry out for leaders to stimulate progressive action to ensure that this sector and its issues receive their deserved share of political and public attention. You should be alert to any opportunity to fill that need. Don’t leave it to others to define your role in the evolution of the SFM ethic. Resist the trap of merely reacting to the decisions of others. Lead.

I stress that it is important that you get in on the ground floor. Make certain that whatever policies, protocols and activities that are determined to be the defining elements of SFM include a realistic recognition of your role on the ground, both as to its potential contribution and its limitations. You are the experts. Only you have the knowledge and experience to know what is possible and what is pie-in-the-sky in your areas of work. You must not default on this responsibility.

There is a crying need for creative thought as to what the future of forests should be both globally and locally. What objectives should the broad forest community be working toward? What should the forests of this century look like, what do we want them to deliver to the world in terms of the environment, of economics and of the social and esthetic values we draw from them?

A few years ago Coca-Cola had a theme song that said “What the world needs now is love, etcetera, etcetera”. That must have inspired a lot of people because I note that the world population has now passed the six billion mark.

Be that as it may, I think a similar theme for global forest needs would say “What the world’s forests need now is a vision”. Or more precisely, visions and visionaries.

Global SFM is an overarching vision. Within it there must be a sub network of visions that relate to the various local components that constitute that management ethic.

Some of you may have heard me on this subject on other occasions. I make no apology for returning to the need for exciting, challenging and rewarding visions to guide and pull our efforts as we strive to fully achieve SFM. I consider this to be the fundamental underpinning for all that we will endeavor to accomplish in the coming years. It is the horse that must come before the cart. It is as basic and as essential as green up, brown down.

I believe that the visions adopted for the various elements that make up the global forestry community must share at least three fundamental characteristics.

They must be bold. We must be prepared to let go of traditional thinking and to open and stretch our minds to new and better approaches to the issues to be faced.

They must be doable. The litmus test for new ideas will be “Will it work?”

They must be buyinable. I said earlier that the new era was the Era of Integrated Interests. It will be of little profit to develop visions that cannot or will not be supported by other interests.

On the B.C. scene the range of forest policies that must be addressed as we move along in the SFM era includes those dealing with tenure, land-use, yield regulations and revenues.

The tenure system currently in B.C. was designed to assist in the development of a forest products manufacturing sector. It constituted a necessary and valuable component of that process. But we are moving now in a new era and we need to consider imaginative new forms of tenure that relate positively to the objectives of sustainable forest management.

As we do this we have an opportunity to revisit our former assumptions regarding tenure and to test them against our experience and that of others who have followed different patterns. We need to re-examine such fundamentals as land ownership, tenure durations and the responsibilities, obligations, risks and rewards that can and should be expected of those who harvest and manage the forests.

It is timely to ask whether or not additional private ownership of forest land may be indicated in order to serve best the SFM objective. It is an interesting observation that the ownership pattern of forest land in this country and province is an exception to that of land used for other purposes. Agricultural, commercial and residential property is almost exclusively privately owned. Perhaps the time has come to consider a greater proportion of private to public ownership of forest lands. The case can be made that the ethic of sustainable forest management might be well served by such a change.

Similarly, the matter of tenure durations should be held up to the test of what different approaches might better contribute to the SFM processes.

For a long time I, and others, have been calling for a dedicated land base for what some have termed the working forest. I am gratified that, recently, that suggestion has been echoed in the position of one of the province’s political parties. I have always found it incredible that as a province we would take the admirable step of setting aside particular areas for parks and wilderness purposes while neglecting similarly to ensure that an adequate land base was proclaimed to allow the most important economic driver in the province to continue to make its contribution.

The term “working forest” means different things to different people and it is important to know just what is being referred to when it is used. My definition is very broad. It includes all forest lands not set aside as parks or wilderness preserves. Excluding those set asides, all other areas would be given various designations. Some would be primarily devoted to commercial uses; some other areas would serve primarily to satisfy other needs such as water protection or wildlife values. Some would be managed to satisfy combinations of these and other uses.

What I believe must be avoided is the rigidity of the past that has seen various interests attempt to lay single purpose claims on areas of forest lands and an unwillingness to accept the legitimacy of any other use.

Turning to the subject of yields from our forest resource. Again, and you’ll pardon the pun, I have often felt like a voice in the wilderness as I repeatedly said that we need not be doomed to follow an ever decreasing annual harvest. I have declared that we can determine our future. Rather than accept declining AACs, we can set and achieve increased harvest levels of up to 80, 90 or 100 million cubic metres. What we have to do is to commit to the choices we make and to adopt the policies and regulations that will allow the targets to be realized.

Maybe my voice wasn’t as ignored as I feared. A couple of weeks ago I was encouraged and pleased to read in the paper a column by Larry Pedersen, the Province’s Chief Forester. He wrote, “The future AAC in the province can be high or low depending on the decisions we make today and how well we implement them tomorrow….It could be lower and it could be higher depending on the choices that current and future generations make about land allocation and forest practices.”

The other policy area that must be addressed in order to position ourselves for SFM is that of revenues. More specifically, the revenues that are devoted to the sustainable management of our B.C. forest resources.

There is an unfortunate history of shortchanging the forest resource which is the very source of a great amount of the revenue that flows to government coffers at all levels. Historically, governments have been long on good intentions and short on delivery. Time after time, on a hit or miss basis, special funds or programs have been established for various silvicultural initiatives. Without exception, long before they could accomplish their intended tasks, these sporadic efforts have been raided to serve some other expediency.

This cavalier approach to forest responsibilities cannot and must not continue as we move to SFM. The success of sustainably managing our forests will be determined by what we do on the ground. A fundamental principle of a new forest-revenue system should be to leave with those in the field, who are charged with the responsibilities, as much money as is needed for the sustainable management of forests.

Last week I received a copy of your proposal for the creation of a “Forest Trust” as an approach to establishing a permanent funding body for forest and watershed enhancement. I compliment your Association and author Dirk Brinkman on the initiative shown in developing and promoting this work.

We have reached the point where action must overtake process. We must not be afraid of moving on these matters out of the fear that we might make mistakes. The greatest mistake now would be to procrastinate and let the rest of the world move past us in the new era.

I said earlier that leadership is always in short supply. There ought to be a permanently running classified ad that says, “Wanted: Leaders… must have vision, resolve and stamina”. Until the unlikely day that such an ad turns up armies of such people, we must look to our own resources. We must encourage those who can serve as our leaders to emerge from within the ranks of our industries and take up the challenge.

There are exciting and rewarding prospects ahead. It is imperative that you continue to do your part, to use your influence and your energies to help move us there.

The responsibility to do so is to yourselves, to your industry and to the future of the magnificent resource that serves us so well in so many ways.

I close with a wish for your good health and good fortune in the days ahead and I thank you for your interest in these remarks.