SpruceRoots Magazine - November, 1999

 

Time for Change ­ Tenure Redistribution

This is the second in a series of articles on forest tenure reform in BC.

by Jessica Clogg, staff counsel, West Coast Environmental Law

 

Rights to harvest timber in BC are very concentrated, both in terms of who holds the rights and in the licensing arrangements through which these rights are allocated. According to the 1991 Forest Resources Commission, in 1954 the ten largest forestry companies held 37% of the cut allocated to licensees, in 1975 the ten largest held 59%, and in 1990 they controlled 69%. In 1998, six forestry companies controlled nearly 50% of the total commitments to licensees. Furthermore, if the proposed Weyerhaeuser-MacMillan Bloedel and Canfor-Northwood takeovers are completed, just two companies will control more than a fifth of the volume of wood cut on public land.

The Need for Diversification
In an unpredictable world, diversity provides stability to both human communities and ecosystems. In order for BC's forest sector to thrive in the next millennium, it is essential that BC diversify both control over the forest land base and our forest economy. One of the most serious obstacles to diversification is that our public forests are already fully allocated, primarily to a small number of large integrated forest products companies who operate within the industrial forestry model. Smaller untenured companies and value-added manufacturers already face difficulties in securing wood supply. As the Forest Resources Commission stressed: Access to wood by new users is restricted. The vast majority of wood is tied up under tenure by companies that primarily produce low value commodity products such as dimension lumber and market pulp. People with new ideas for wood products that would create more value and perhaps employ more people in their manufacture cannot pursue their ideas because they are denied access to timber.

The Forest Resources Commission recommended that the cut allocated to major licensees with processing facilities be reduced by 50%, and the wood freed up be used to create greater diversity of tenures. Currently just two tenure forms, tree farm licences and forest licences, account for more than 80% of the volume cut on public land.

One objective of tenure diversification should be to give the people of BC a meaningful say in the allocation and use of the forest around them. To this end, in recent years many BC communities have explored the concept of community forestry.

Conceptually a community forest is an area of land controlled by a community, where local people are involved in decision-making and the primary benefits from forest use accrue to the community. One objective of community forestry is to ensure forest use is sensitive and responsive to local social and ecological conditions and needs.

Until very recently the only opportunities for community forestry on public land arose where a local government or group was able to obtain an existing timber tenure (e.g. the tree farm licences held by Mission and Revelstoke). These communities face the challenge that the rights associated with their tenures were designed to facilitate industrial forestry by large integrated companies, not ecologically sound forest management for community benefit.

Recent Progress
In 1998 the Forest Act was amended to provide for the granting of community forest pilot agreements and community forest agreements. When the pilot project was announced 88 communities submitted letters of interest! Twenty-seven actually submitted full proposals, and seven communities have received community forest pilots to date. The seven successful proposals came from community-based societies and First Nations as well as local governments. Many of these proposals address the need to reduce the cut in their landscape area, while developing a diversified and value-added local economy and labour-intensive industries to compensate for the lower rate of cut (Burda, 1999). For example, the successful community forest pilot proposal by the Harrop-Proctor Watershed Protection Society has the following business objectives: sell eco-certified timber, create a value-added manufacturing plant, harvest botanical forest products and encourage environmentally low-impact tourism.

We're Not There Yet
However, BC still has a very long way to go in fulfilling the potential of community forestry. Community forest pilots are currently margin-alized to sites that will not impose on the rights of existing tenure holders and where there is unallocated allowable annual cut and unencumbered land available. This latter requirement is problematic from an aboriginal title perspective. Because most of the forest land base is currently controlled through other tenure forms, some form of tenure redistribution is critical to allow community forests to expand in size and scale.

The Small-Scale Approach: Woodlots
Experience over the past five decades has taught us that bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to forest management. Enhancing small-scale area-based forest operations, such as wood-lots, should be another important objective of tenure redistribution.

Woodlots are generally individual or family forest operations on less than 1000 hectares of land. Small-scale forest management generates more jobs per cubic metre of wood harvested, and although many factors influence management decisions, some woodlot operators feel that they have greater incentives for stewardship than major licensees, as they are more aware of community expectations and more concerned about maintaining relationships with their neighbours.

Since 1979 the Forest Act has provided for granting woodlot licences, through which licensees manage an area, of Crown land in addition to forested land they own. Woodlot licences may involve up to 400 hectares of Crown forest land on the coast, and 600 hectares elsewhere in the province. Historically woodlot licensees were not available to people who also had processing facilities; however, an amendment to the Forest Act that came into force in June 1999 authorized district managers to enter into woodlot licenses with people who have processing facilities that meet certain criteria, including size (capacity) restrictions. This change will permit better integration of woodlot harvesting and small-scale processing operations.

Despite broad public support for the woodlot program and public demand for more woodlots, the woodlot licence program currently only accounts for about one percent of the provincial annual allowable cut! Tenure redistribution must occur in order to free up land to expand opportunities for small-scale forestry operations.

Change Must Come on Many Levels
In order for tenure redistribution to assist in moving BC towards more ecologically sound and socially responsible forest use, legal and policy changes must occur on a number of fronts. Tenure redistribution must be accompanied by changes that facilitate reduction in cut levels, allow communities to implement ecosystem-based plans for community management - create log markets and encourage diversification of local economies. Government must also develop compensation law and policy that allows it to reallocate and redefine harvesting rights currently held by major licensees without huge costs to the taxpayer.

The Forest Policy Review Process
Tenure redistribution is one of the issues on the table in the Forest Policy Review process currently being coordinated by the Office of the Jobs and Timber Accord Advocate. See the provincial government's Forest Policy Review website for details, or contact Jessica Clogg at West Coast Environmental Law, 1.800.330.9235.

SpruceRoots Magazine - November, 1999