SpruceRoots Magazine - February 2001

The Boxy Dance of Discourse

by Erica Thompson

The foxtrot and forest management are strangely alike in their ability to imply movement, through the repetition of steps, without actually going anywhere. The foxtrot moves in currents of left foot forward, right foot forward, left foot to the side, right foot to the side, left foot backwards, and so on ­ creating an endless link of boxes though never moving forward. Ministerial forestry often smacks of this same shimmy, leading public expectation with win-dixy foot-work, promises and stylized words through a routine that most often ends only where it began.

The boxy dance of discourse is unfortunately where the similarities between the foxtrot and forest policy begin to wane, for the dance it is said is simple to do, very romantic, lots of fun and allowing of easy conversation.

Begin the Beguine
There is a policy manual with a purpose of establishing official ministry policy through concise, non-technical statements to communicate specific policy to ministry staff, licensees, interest groups, and other interested members of the general public. Policies, it says, enable the ministry to accomplish its objectives in the most effective manner while ensuring that ministry programs and operations are administered consistently and that clients and members of the public are treated uniformly and fairly.

So, there is a tree and there is a policy and there is a legitimate expectation that the tree will be treated according to the intent of the policy. It is a fair expectation that the purveyor of policy will comply with its own prescriptions.

There is sufficient public awareness of the ministry's duties. The Forest Act states one of the principle purposes and functions of the ministry is "to manage, protect and conserve the forest and range resources of the government, having regard to the immediate and long-term economic and social benefits they may confer on British Columbia."

The Forest Practices Code Act confirms this duty via the intentions in the Code's Preamble. Public expectations are stated: whereas British Columbians desire sustainable use of the forests they hold in trust for future generations; whereas sustainable use includes managing forests to meet present needs without compromising the needs of future generations, providing stewardship of forests based on an ethic of respect for the land, balancing economic, productive, spiritual, ecological and recreational values of forests to meet the economic, social and cultural needs of peoples and communities, including First Nations, conserving biological diversity, soil, water, fish, wildlife, scenic diversity and other forest resources, and restoring damaged ecologies.

Section 41, of the Forest Practices Code Act, states the statutory decision maker, in most cases the district manager, must be satisfied that an operational plan 'adequately manages and conserves forest resources.'

There is a section of forest where a tree, others like it, and others different from it, once grew and still might.

Policy 8.12 refers to harvesting bark from the Pacific yew tree. There is a 'sustainability' reference in the policy directing an expectation that planning will 'facilitate the long term survival of western yew and to maintain its genetic diversity.' Although this policy is specific to yew, is there not an expectation that 'long term survival' and 'genetic diversity' would be a fundamental target for all species as part of the ministry's duty "to manage, protect and conserve?"

There is an expectation that targets such as 'long term survival' and the maintenance of 'genetic diversity' of species is not the stuff of one policy, in one instance, but of the Forest Act itself.

Haida Gwaii's remaining forests are being stepped on in the policy foxtrtot. In cutblocks at Drill, at the northwest corner of the Tlell watershed, yews have been logged, left in slash piles, used in road 'punching', dragged to the roadside or left as single stems in the midst of vast clearcuts. Though peculiarity is not entirely a stranger to commercial forest management, the scenario surrounding the Pacific yew is a provoker, a fire poker.

Interestingly, logging practices surrounding the yew will most likely not become the subject of investigation or enforcement since they are rarely included in operational plans. If a 'value' like the yew, is not part of the 'known' information incorporated into a plan, it is not be considered as part of the district manger's decision making process. According to Ministry of Forests, yew rarely shows up on a timber cruise, which means they fail to exist - on paper. Simply said, if it is not in the plan it is not in the picture and poor practices involving 'the value' can and most likely never will be the stuff of compliance and enforcement.

For components of the forest, like yew, one way into the planning picture is public demand - lacing up the boots and stepping out into the forest, over and over again. It means knowing where species, like yew are, how many there are, or how many seedlings there might be. It might mean documenting, monitoring, and insisting those in the Ministry value the information once it is submitted. It seems to come down to unpaid full time jobs for many people to make this 'the real thing' in the eyes of the Ministry. And after all this is done, it is still the perogative of the district manager to weigh the importance of the information and determine whether or not there is a significant risk to the forest value of concern, such as the yew or the marbled murrelet.

And here most often the foxtrot begins, wherein what is said, what is done and what is expected so rarely grace each other, but maintain separate flights to the left then backwards towards the right.

Illustration - Yaku

SpruceRoots Magazine - February 2001