Vice President, Forestry, Coast Forest Products Association
Managing BC’s Coastal Forests: Professional Reliance and Public Input
“Forestry isn’t rocket science. It is much more complicated” – Dr. Fred Bunnell UBC, Professor Emeritus
When I attended university, Fred was one of my professors – and he was on to something because managing forests sustainably is a remarkably complex task.
We manage public forests under a very rigorous regulatory regime where forest resource objectives are set by our elected government and this reflects the public interest. In addition to public input, this provides the context for professional foresters to manage our forests – both socioeconomically and ecologically.
A better understanding of two key forest management underpinnings – increased reliance on trained professionals who act under government legislation and timely public input – could help to optimize the resources we have by providing cost-effective science-based outcomes.
Role of Professional Reliance
First: Who exactly is managing our forests, and who do they report to? In BC, forest professionals, like other skilled professionals such as engineers, are accountable for their decisions through a self-regulating body enabled through the Foresters Act. Their employers within and outside of government respect and adhere to this.
The practice of professional forestry has been regulated in BC since 1947, and professionals have worked under consistently changing forestry legislation. More recently, the BC government departed from an overly prescriptive policy framework to a professional reliance approach for forest management. Government wanted to utilize a results-based process that would be less costly and more efficient for everyone, backed by clear policy and solid accountability.
They achieved this through the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA). The Act sets objectives for soils, timber, wildlife, water, fish, biodiversity and cultural heritage resources. FRPA requires forest stewardship plans to demonstrate through specific results and strategies that forest management activities, including road construction and harvesting, are consistent with these objectives. Government does not approve these plans until the public and First Nations have been invited to comment, and that their written comments relevant to the plan were considered.
Role of Public Involvement
Which brings me to the second key point: When is public input most helpful? As Fred Bunnell said, forestry is very complex. Long before a tree is cut, professional foresters plan for the unique needs of each site – it can take as long as five years to plan a harvesting operation.
We need public comments regarding our plans early enough so they can be considered during our planning – changes made after the flagging tape is on the trees or the equipment has arrived are too late and make the process extremely inefficient.
We know forests are special to many people in many different ways, and we have to maintain our social licence to harvest them. As the Forest Practices Board recently observed, licensees with effective consultation have a higher level of public confidence, and face fewer complaints. The Board also noted that this means people need a chance to offer input.
This is a really important point. Forest Stewardship Plans are made available for public review for at least 60 days, and in a manner that is commensurate with the nature and extent to which a person’s rights may be affected. From there, forest professionals may make adjustments to the plan. The overall results are well-planned and sustainable forestry operations – an example of this are the healthy third-growth forests on southern Vancouver Island.
Finally, a few more facts that support how seriously forestry professionals take their work. Coast Forest member companies have achieved a compliance rate higher than 90% under Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources enforcement; a number of Forest Practices Board audits have registered 100% compliance; and most coastal operations meet the high standards set by third-party certification.
Forestry is complicated, but BC will continue to have world-leading forest practices and environmental management as long as we are working with smart policies, experienced professionals, and timely public input.