A plan for growing the potential capacity of BC’s forests

Read the full text of a presentation given to the BC Government Caucus Committee on Natural Resources on May 30, 2002. Also refer to the Microsoft Powerpoint presentation included as a related link.

A year and half ago the then leader of the opposition asked for a silviculture policy for BC. This plan for growing the potential capacity of BC’s forests is that policy.

BC is not the only province seeking to privatize the management of public forests. This plan draws on our industry’s experience with privatization in other provinces, but, since BC has the most valuable forests as well as the highest recreational and conservation forest values in Canada, one of the unique made in BC aspects is the requirement that this is a plan for privatizing sustainable forest management.

Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) is managing in a way that maintains all that is valued in the forests.

This is not the Forest Trust plan which the WSCA presented to the NDP in 1999-2000[1]. The BC Liberals are asking basic questions, which if you review the history of forest policy in BC, have not been re-examined by government in over 50 years. Their questions were last considered in a period before BC’s current forest licenses were issued. This opportunity to completely rethink private resource rights on public land is an opportunity to eliminate some chronic historic problems. The WSCA plan is not an appeal for increased government funding or improved government programs, although this plan is designed to set the context that would ensure long term funding for SFM.

The BC silviculture industry used to employ 18,000 people but is down to less than 14,000 this year. The industry is a primary employer of youth, and not only employ them, it transforms them through a life readiness initiation. It is also a primary opportunity for First Nations employment around their remote communities. The WSCA has First Nations contractor members and its contractors employ first nations people and have joint ventures with many bands across the province.

Reforestation is the first results based forest management in BC.  In 1987, when ‘if you log it, you have to reforest it to free-growing’ became law, the industry experienced a huge improvement in the effectiveness of reforestation.

Before 1987, reforestation was a government program with about a 69% survival and only about 33% of the trees reaching free growing. Today, because industry is accountable for results based silviculture, not only are 97.5% of the sites reaching free-growing, they do so at nearly half the cost—three times the results at nearly half the cost is a five time improvement in efficiency. In addition, today’s planting includes an enormous improvement in quality and ecosystem appropriateness of the species mix.

This has been so successful that BC’s reforestation program is the largest and most successful ecosystem restoration program in the world. This is because the program is based on a results-based user-pay principle. It makes industry accountable to meet scientifically established clearly defined stocking targets for each ecosystem and sub zone. It does not look at silviculture as an investment in the future, but as a current cost of maintaining the capital forest asset. Through working in this context of clear standards and current costs, some of the leading players in the BC silviculture industry have become globally competitive.

So it will not come as any surprise that the WSCA is recommending that SFM also be results based.

In the New Era election document, the BC Liberals promised to “increase the allowable cut over time through scientific forest management, proper planning, and incentives to promote enhanced silviculture.”

Towards meeting this promise the new government has:

a)Launched the 32nd silviculture fund in BC, the Forest Investment Vote. Forest Practices Branch advises that this vote will not be adequate to maintain the current adjusted level of harvest, not even if all $80 million was spent on the assumed silviculture in the Timber Supply Reviews. With a dozen other qualified expenditures on which industry can spend FI funds silviculture expenditures are expected to be closer to $20 million.

b)Begun the transformation of the Forest Practices Code (PC) into a Results Based Code (RBC). While the silviculture industry, more than any other forest sector, vividly knows the effectiveness of a results based silviculture regulation, the work to give the rest of the code some sharp scientific definition has not been undertaken.

c)Begun a process for dividing the Timber Harvest Supply Area into Defined Forest Management Areas (DFMA). Completing this initiative is an essential prerequisite for privatizing SFM on crown land. Stewardship responsibilities can only be allocated on a defined area basis.

d)Is completing the development of a Sustainable Forest Management Planning (SFMP) process. While it is good to have a process for SFMP; this is a plan without a commitment to practice the sustainable forest management work identified to maintain the productive forest capacity and values. Instead, it is planned to be used as a list from which to prioritize the expenditure of the FIV’s limited dollars.

So what more has to be done to meet the BC Liberal promise?

A current inventory   The new government’s promise requires a baseline against which it can be measured. The Timber Supply Inventories are updated every five years, not every election. The Chief Forester estimates that adjusting the inventory to reflect the past silviculture investments and the forestland set-asides for parks of past governments, as well as adjust for losses to pests, disease and fire, can be completed for about $12 million.

In the past thirty years, BC has spent billions of dollars maintaining or enhancing BC’s forest potential.  Neither how much has been spent, nor what the province has to show for it, has ever been calculated. Planted sites appear to be growing an average of 30-35% faster than pre-harvest stands, allowing adjustments in site indices. Sites that have been tended may have enhanced stand or habitat value, growth or quality. Whatever the affects on the potential forest capacity of past investments, the current inventory needs to be adjusted to establish a baseline against which the public can measure this new government’s promise.

The main step required to meet this promise, is for this government to adopt a set of interlocking principles designed to make the privatization of SFM on public land effective. These principles are the policy context within which the BC Liberal commitment can be met by industry. The set of principles are:

  • Reforest Each Disturbed Stand
  • Off-set Permanent Forest Depletion
  • Sustain Each Forest Area’s Productive Capacity
  • Resource Users Enjoy Enhanced Value or Be Compensated
  • Province Reforests Natural Disturbances
  • Feds Reforest Catastrophic Disturbances
  • Province Restore Backlog
  • Province Captures Forest Carbon Credit Funds

The Principles:

1. Reforest Each Disturbed Stand

The reforestation principle is already in the code—it was the first results based SFM requirement. However, it only applies to forest harvest licenses, but they are not the only users who temporarily deforest. The latest Ft. Nelson Timber Supply Review adjusted the AAC to reflect the 27,000 hectares of temporary seismic lines and well sites that are not reforested. A recent review in Ft. St. John District found that up to half of the exploration companies do some reforestation when they are finished with well sites or seismic lines, because they see it as good corporate policy. This principle would require all users who temporarily deforest to reforest.

The WSCA recommends that all users in the forest are required to comply with the Results Based Code, especially in respect to the obligation of replacing the forest capital when they have finished with temporary depletion. It is clearly inappropriate to have the marginally profitable forest sector be the only ones required to comply with the Results Based Forest Practices Code and not require the same results from BC Hydro, Oil and Gas, or ski licenses to name a few. Interestingly, the public, the shareholders and even many of the CEO’s of these companies currently understand that the FPC does apply to them as well as to the forest sector.

2. Off-set Permanent Forest Depletion

There are also those who permanently displace forests with other uses, mostly rights of way, but also developers. For these we recommend an off-set reforestation program of an equivalent size and ecosystem value. When the proposed $14 billion dollar Alaska Pipeline project cut a swath through our forests, the consortium would have to pay for reforesting an equivalent backlog forest area. Ditto for permanent forest roads, and municipal development into forest areas.

3. Sustain Each Forest Area’s Productive Capacity

The most challenging principle is sustainability. In exchange for a harvest license, the licensee will do all the forest management required to maintain that Licenses agreed upon productive forest capacity. One of the proposed value statements in the code is Section 6.2.7.[2]

–the sustainability of the timber and non-timber values–should become an agreed upon defined result in the silviculture section.  This would require the licensee to complete all of the silviculture treatments assumed within their Timber Supply Review. If the license area is one which has too large a cost of assumed silviculture, the AAC would be lowered until a mutually acceptable agreed to level of sustainable productive capacity was negotiated.

4. Enjoy Enhanced Value or Be Compensated

The resource enhancement principle is designed to incentivise the forestland user that pays to add sustainable timber or non-timber value by promising that they will enjoy that value or be compensated for their investment. Building on the adjusted current baseline agreed to be maintained within the Sustainability principle, the crown would develop a funding formula for resource taking and a quality or quantity enhancement value for silviculture treatments based on which business certainty can be established for private silviculture enhancement of crown forests. The formula might

5. Provinces Reforest Natural Disturbances

Users who take on the responsibility of sustaining a forest area would need some protection from the risks of cost volatility. A timber supply area is small compared to the area that can be damaged of fire or pests. The natural disturbance principle protects users through a reforestation program adequate to reforest the average area depleted by natural disturbances within the Timber Harvest Land Base. But it would only insure or indemnify the licensee against cost volatility, and still expect them to be responsible for natural disturbances that were within a normal range of local variability.

6. Feds Reforest Catastrophic Disturbances

The same principle applies to provincial forest areas. Once or twice a decade, one of the provinces has a pest or fire event that is catastrophic in comparison to the annual rents from its forest resources. In the last few years, the pine bark beetle catastrophe has been growing to that scale in BC. Like other provinces[3] before it, BC is now asking for help to reforest this area. This principle of collective insurance through the federal government should be formally agreed upon at the next CCFM (or what’s a nation for).

  1. Province Restores Backlog

Having licensees assume the silviculture required to maintain the productive forest capacity in their area plus getting off-set work dome from permanent depletion will not necessarily result in all of the backlog of NSR and impeded sites being treated. The WSCA is proposing a program to co-ordinate a clean-up of the backlog that is still outstanding after the implementation of the first principles. Its members recognize the tremendous value of restoring ecosystem function– like restoring salmon streams and also the equally tremendous challenge of funding the extensive backlog of restoration challenges. Consequently, it recommends setting generational goals. 

  1. Provinces Capture Forest Carbon Credit Funds

It may be possible to restore the damage from the past with funds from the future. Once a baseline inventory exists as well as a government policy context of sustainability agreements which will reliably maintain that baseline, only then will incremental investments result in certifiable carbon additionality. On that basis, there is a potential for the carbon credits from the past backlog restoration sink to fund the restoration of the remainder. BC’s potential claims or liabilities under sections 3.3 and 3.4 of the Kyoto protocol are in the hundreds of millions annually, and deserve the critical attention of this government, as well as require the underpinning of the previous principles in order to qualify the province for these potential cost avoidance or revenue capturing strategies.

These principles will revitalize the forest sector and the forests productive capacity with all of the obvious benefits. Is it affordable? Not as another government program like the Forest Investment Vote.  Only through making the users accountable, and protecting them from cost volatility.

We recognize that implementing some of the policies implied by these principles will take time, both to update inventories and change attitudes. The WSCA called it briefing paper to Minister’s De jong and Hagen “Silviculture Funding for sustainable forest management; principles and policies for the next decade”. However, the moment the agreed upon benefits are recognized, the next day we can begin to put these principles into policy, just as, the moment you undertake a silviculture intervention in the flow of change in a forest with an agreed upon benefit, the next day you can adjust the AAC to reflect that benefit.

So, we have promises to keep[4], and now we have the most efficient grow plan with which to keep these promises.

Dirk Brinkman, on behalf of the Western Silvicultural Contractor’s Association policy committee.

The WSCA presentations to government can be found at http://www.wfca.ca/


[1] Forest Brinkmanship: Resource People, January 2002

[2] Section 6.2.7 “Silviculture activities will sustain or enhance the productive capacity and value of the land and forest for timber and non-timber resources at the stand and landscape levels” This statement is only declaring that “it is wise to spend money wisely” and not defining a result and making the user responsible for it.

Add Result #1 “The licensee will sustain or enhance the productive capacity and value of the land and forest for timber and non-timber resources at the stand and landscape levels in their DFMA.” 

[3] New Bruinswick with the Spruce Bid Worm, Manitoba with the fires that burned during the “Omega block” high pressure ridge in place all summer, Quebec with its ice storm etc. In every case the federal government followed with a program of support.

[4] “Increase the allowable cut over time through scientific forest management, proper planning, and incentives to promote enhanced silviculture.” BC Liberals New Era Promises.