Comment: The mad rush to destroy forest ecosystems

Re: “Huge salvage job ahead in B.C. forests,” column, Nov. 16.

Outside of “public” servants and privileged corporations who have been so deeply embedded in the exploitation of B.C. forests for the past 50 years they can no longer think beyond “get as much as you can, as fast as you can,” I can’t imagine any rational or knowledgeable observer believing forest management has been “done right” in this province. But hold on.

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Columnist Les Leyne apparently likes what he sees. “Rushing in to extract” value is something he admires. And if there were such things as scientific standards, conservation or protection of old-growth and biodiversity, and a regulatory permitting decision process, he parrots the corporate timber industry and thinks we should “overturn” those standards.

He belittles too, much as the timber industry has been decrying for decades, those rules protecting forest values beside “timber,” as not regulation, or democratic process, or using sound science — they’re only “bureaucracy.”

It has been fat pickings for the timber industry and their promoters over the past few decades. Pine beetles, and now forest fires, have taken a bite out of living forest stands, and this appears to have whipped local politicians, tree fallers and truckers into a “get as much as you can, as fast as you can” frenzy.

Needless to say, they want all these logs, as they refer to burned forests, at a very steep discount; most of the beetle salvage was sold off by the Ministry of Forests at “giveaway” prices: $8 per truckload. Assuming 40 cubic metres/load, that’s $300 for enough wood to build a house. No wonder the industry is salivating over salvage logging.

On the other hand, our taxes pay most of the cost of operating the Forest Service. B.C.’s 2017 budget says it will cost taxpayers about $700 million to administer Forest Operations, about $11 per cubic metre of wood expected to be cut. It is a near impossible task to get information on what the timber industry actually pays to taxpayers, or what taxpayers pay and give to the industry.

Factor in the thousands of kilometres of road we subsidize companies to build — almost exclusively for their own benefit — and the extensive maintenance and erosion prevention that follows, and the balance sheet looks even more red for the poor taxpayers of B.C.

What would it look like if we added in environmental costs? We can’t expect the B.C. Forest Service to do any research on this, and obediently, they haven’t. Why expose your past ugly practices?

But in the U.S., scientists and the public are slowly coming to realize that fires and beetles are, and have always been, a critical part of the process of forest renewal. Standing and down wood are beneficial to soil stability, water quality, local weather modification, snow accumulation and forest biodiversity.

Standing dead trees store carbon, while industrial consumption (the moment the chainsaws appear) releases it to further aggravate greenhouse-gas emissions. Over time, the dead trees break down, releasing their stored carbon, but this takes decades, sometimes hundreds of years, and we need to retain carbon now.

More than 40 years have passed since a royal commission looked at forest management in B.C. One dramatic positive change has taken place since then: The public has come to embrace the reality that they are the legitimate owners of forests, that democratic participation processes can improve conservation and management, and that the public trust, and the public good, should be the foundation of forest management.

In spite of this public evolution of ownership and expectations, there have been an accumulation of negative changes, including clear-cutting on a massive scale, and near-abdication of accountability for forest management by government as it stealthily shifted decision-making from government/public service to private forest industry.

One nasty theme has characterized these destructive changes: As public expectations for forests shifted toward ecosystem services (clean water, carbon storage, biological diversity, recreation, protected areas) government (mostly the public service) and the “timber” industry have moved aggressively and systematically to divorce citizens (the public) from participating in or having access to: 1. legal and administrative processes to determine forest conservation and management goals, and 2. setting scientific and economic performance standards.

It is time for honest, scientifically and ecologically sound forest landscape conservation and management in this province. Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson should name a royal commission and initiate public hearings on the future of B.C. forests. Our future depends on setting a new course.

Brian L. Horejsi has a bachelor of science in forestry and a PhD in wildlife science. He lives in Penticton.

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