Are big-five forest firms about to get a windfall?

Ancient Douglas fir on Juniper Ridge marked for death so Island Timberlands shareholders (including the BC government, Timberland's single largest investor), can realize more profit.
Photo: TJ Watt

Are big-five forest firms about to get a windfall?

From: The Province - Ben Parfitt, October 20, 2013

Shortly before the May election, the provincial government withdrew legislation that could have handed de facto control of publicly owned forestlands to a handful of forest companies.

The contentious sections of the bill were dropped amid a swelling chorus of questions about why such a gift would be bestowed without any debate about what it meant for our shared lands and resources.

It took little time, however, for the government to reverse direction again. During a campaign stop in Burns Lake, Premier Christy Clark said that if re-elected, her government would reintroduce the bill because that is what “the people” wanted.

Given that only weeks earlier the government had pulled the bill from the order papers in response to objections from First Nation leaders, environmental organizations, social-justice advocates and forest professionals, among others, the premier’s choice of words was, to say the least, odd.

What “people” did she refer to? Well, we may soon find out. Following her party’s re-election, the premier instructed Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson to make the campaign pledge a reality.

A good bet is that the answer lies in understanding who would benefit most from such a change. In that regard, the shareholders of the five largest forest companies operating in the province fit the bill nicely.

Between them, Canadian Forest Products, West Fraser Timber, International Forest Products, Tolko Industries and Western Forest Products control the bulk of what is logged each year in British Columbia. They would control even more under the proposed legislative changes.

To understand what is at stake, it helps to know that outside of parks, virtually every standing tree in B.C. is spoken for, because the province has allocated the rights to log them under numerous licences issued to forest companies, logging contractors, woodlot owners, First Nations and communities.

The most important and valuable of those licences are Tree Farm Licences. Holders of TFLs have exclusive rights to log trees over defined areas of land. Currently, TFL holders log about 11.3 million cubic metres of trees per year (a cubic metre equals one telephone pole). Of that, the top five companies control 9.1 million cubic metres or 80 per cent. TFLs are as close as one gets to private control of public forestlands in B.C.

The next most important licences are forest licences. Forest licence holders have rights to log set numbers of trees over vast landmasses known as Timber Supply Areas or TSAs. But because many different companies may hold forest licences within the same TSA, forest licences have less value than TFLs, which give one company exclusive control over a specific area.

One other essential detail: the most valuable forest licences are “replaceable” or renewable. Far less valuable are non-replaceable forest licences, which are usually issued on a one-off basis to deal with perceived crises such as mountain pine beetle attacks or forest fires. Significantly, the overwhelming number of licences held by First Nations — who are typically on the outside looking in when it comes to benefiting from natural resources in our province — are non-replaceable.

As with TFLs, the top five forest companies hold a virtual monopoly on replaceable forest licences. Two out of every three trees allocated under such licences are theirs.

What the government now proposes in the name of “the people” is to allow the holders of replaceable forest licences to roll such holdings into far more secure TFLs. This could lead to near total control of public forestlands by an exclusive five-member club.

In 2012 and in the lead-up to the 2013 provincial election, that club made $556,020 in political contributions to the Liberal Party and $115,200 to the NDP — big dollars for some, but no more than modest investments for a powerful handful of companies who have a very clear vision of what lies ahead.

Entire TSAs — where trees are in increasingly short supply and where what little timber remains is oversubscribed — are on the cusp of being rolled into TFLs. And the Gang of Five is well positioned to divvy up the spoils.

Left on the sidelines would be First Nations, rural communities, small independent and value-added mill owners — people made poorer to give “the people” what they want.

Whether the government’s second attempt at this legislation will move forward remains to be seen. It has promised a public consultation process of sorts. The voices of opposition were heard loud and clear in the lead-up to the provincial election. This time out, which people will the government listen to?

Read more here: http://blogs.theprovince.com/2013/10/20/ben-parfitt-are-big-five-forest-firms-about-to-get-a-windfall/

Read even more here: http://www.vancouverobserver.com/news/island-timberlands-log-contentious-old-growth-forests-vancouver-island

See much more on continued threats to BC's old growth forests here: http://www.ancientforestalliance.org/news-item.php?ID=705


Sooke River Cedars

Cedar growing along (or in!) the Sooke River.

The Cheewhat Cedar in Pacific Rim National Park is the largest known tree in Canada. This building sized behemoth lives only about 100 km away, as the eagle flies, from my home. Thankfully I don't need to go that far to visit ancient cedars.

Cedars favour a moist, wet environment making the Sooke River riparian zone prime growing habitat. Only a few kilometres from my house I can access some of my favourite giant, ancient cedars growing where the land and the river meet.

Riparian zones provide rich habitat and have high biodiversity.

Wikipedia describes riparian zones as "important natural biofilters, protecting aquatic environments from excessive sedimentation, polluted surface runoff and erosion. They supply shelter and food for many aquatic animals and shade that is an important part of stream temperature regulation."

There are a trio of trees in this ancient cedar grove on the Sooke River bank.

Cedars are a major part of Vancouver Island riparian ecosystems. This community of plants ensures perfects conditions for spawning and growing salmon. Any damage to the cedars and the riparian zone will result in damage to salmon runs, as has been the case all along BC's coast.

An unhealthy salmon run reflects back on the rivers and damage to the riparian zone results. Every year millions of salmon return to their river birthplaces and provide riparian areas with tons of nutrients. No fish - no nutrients.

Broken top cedars on the river bank show their advanced age.

Some of the local cedars I visit on my bike rides could be up to 800 years old. Or more. I marvel that they still exist, and breathe a sigh of relief each time I go for a visit and see that they are still there.

Then I soak up the history and magic of the riverside groves and of these patient, wise tree beings that have so much to share. They don't call it the "Tree of Life" for nothing.

Soon the salmon will be running along the base of their land dwelling tree friends, continuing the cycle of life for both fish and trees.

Perhaps one day in the distant future one of the Sooke River cedars will be the largest tree in Canada.


Tree Art - Mark Gauti

Tree/Ent by Mark Gauti

Mark Gauti is a local artist that does beautiful Coast Salish art. I love his work and how he incorporates  traditional and modern in his images. I especially love his depiction of a tree being in "Tree/Ent".

Ents are tree creatures in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. They are tall, slow, patient creatures which live in the forest of Fangorn and exist to protect the trees.

When I go out into the rainforest I see ents everywhere. They are the elders of the forest. Towering, wrinkled, and shaped by the centuries, they are as individual and distinctive as people.

But we have a problem.

In the Lord of the Rings all the ents are male. No mention is made of female ents, although surely they do exist. Luckily I have the solution.

In the coastal rainforest the straight and strong Douglas fir ancients are the male ents. In old age these tree beings take on the classic look as in the Fangorn Forest. Their ancient limbs are held at attention and are often twisted and broke by tussles with winter gales.

Dripping with old man's beard lichen they stand rigid and determined over the ages watching from their lofty heights over the forest.

And the females? Why they are the Western red cedars of course with their gracefully drooping limbs and feathery braided needle leaves. The female ents have fine stripped reddish paper dresses that peel and flutter in the wind.

When winter comes female ents don't defy the gusts and gales like the male ents. Instead of fighting they go with the flow as they dance and sway uninhibited. They smell good too.

Old Douglas firs, especially when dripping sap on a hot summer day, smell like a cross between a musky earthiness and aftershave. Ancient Western red cedar, on the other hand, smell like the most amazing perfume.

Maybe Mark Gauti will do a companion piece to the one above depicting a female ent. Either way, I love what he did with "Tree/Ent".

The following is from Mark's "Trickster Art" Facebook page:

Mark Gauti is a Coast Salish Artist from the T’Sou-ke First Nation. T’Sou-ke Nation is a Coast Salish Tribe on the border of Coast Salish territories and Nuu-chah-nulth territories. T’Sou-ke shares art and culture with the two different tribal groups. Mark uses a wide range of mediums in his art, including: paint and canvas, glass acid etching, drum making, wood carving, photography and digital art. 
Mark worked as an environmental scientist for many years for his tribe T’Sou-ke where he was involved mapping of endangered species and gathering traditional ecological knowledge on traditional uses of native plants for food and medicine. For the past ten years mark has been involved in Coast Salish Culture with participating in drumming, language programs and Tribal Canoe Journeys, as well as researching traditional art and storytelling. Understanding that traditional First Nation’s art and storytelling was the original form of environmental education Mark starting mixing culture with more modern environmental programing with T’Sou-ke and now continues this work with other tribes.  
In Pacific Northwest Coast stories, tricksters are the ones who take on a job that no one else will, often leading to change, and Mark considers his art to be trickster art because he is an environmentalist who sees the way we are treating the earth as wrong and uses art as a form of environmental and cultural education.

Marks' website can be found here.


Who is watching our public lands?

Illegal tree poaching by individuals - this 800 year old red cedar in Carmanah Walbran
Provincial Park was cut, sectioned, and hauled away for shakes or roof shingles.
Photo: Torrance Coste

Who is watching what is happening in our public lands? Well, if you can cut down and haul away a hugely valuable 800 year old red cedar IN a provincial park, I'd have to say no one is keeping tabs on our public resources.

"I'll tell you what irresponsible is - 10 years ago there were 194 park rangers in British Columbia, there's under 100 now." - NDP Scott Fraser in 2012

In the 2002 Raincoast report "Losing Ground: The decline in fish and wildlife law enforcement capability in B.C. and Alaska," author and wildlife scientist Dr. Brian Horejsi concluded the following:

"Wildlife populations and biological diversity are endangered by chronic underfunding and marginalization of wildlife conservation-oriented enforcement programs in British Columbia and, to a lesser degree, in Alaska. This period of measurable political disinterest and low and declining priority now approaches 20 years in duration. 
There is little evidence available to the British Columbia or Alaska public to indicate that current enforcement capabilities are sufficient to provide effective compliance with fish and wildlife regulations, a problem being aggravated by escalating and uncoordinated land use activities. 
In every capability measure examined, capability today is significantly lower than it has been previously. Enforcement and protection staff are presently unable to effect widespread and long-lasting changes in resource user behavior in either Alaska or B.C. 
While fish and wildlife protection capability in Alaska has slipped...the evidence indicates that B.C. has now crossed the threshold at which protection of fish and wildlife populations and their habitat by enforcement services has effectively and materially been abandoned."

Governments at all levels have abandoned their responsibilities as stewards of our shared public lands. Everything from oil to coal to gold to wildlife and old growth trees is being ruthlessly plundered and poached whether by "legal" or "illegal" means.

Legal tree poaching by corporations - this 800 year old red cedar on King Island, which is in the Great Bear Rainforest, was cut, sectioned and hauled away for building products.
Photo: Bedrohte Natursch├Ątze

By all accounts no one in government is watching anything except their own bank balances.

Without oversight on our public lands we can expect that they will be destroyed for the benefit of short term personal gain and shareholder profit.


Bad Mood? Take A Hike

Technically speaking it is possible to walk in the woods and be in a bad mood, and this meme reminded me of the proof that I possess. I know it can happen because I have seen it personally.

While hiking the West Coast Trail, a 72 km forest and beach experience, a hiking partner in our group developed an abscessed tooth. He was not a happy camper while carrying his backpack and sore face through the incredible forests as we neared the end of the trail at Port Renfrew. 

He was even less impressed when while hiking hard with head down he drove his noggin into a huge log suspended across the trail. The impact threw him backwards and he landed on his behind on the mossy boardwalk. 

For a moment his walk in the woods did indeed make him forget about his sore tooth. But only for a moment before the throbbing pain made its way back into his awareness. 

Generally however, a bad day in the woods is better than a great day at the office. Maybe not as good as an emergency visit to the dentist.

The exposure to trees may not cure an abscessed tooth, but it does do wonders for a bad mood. Try it!

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