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Canada trumps US on timber property rights

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Liberty Belle

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Could it be that the US could take lessons from Canada on protecting property rights?

Branching Out
Canada offers the U.S. a lesson in timber property rights.

BY ALISON BERRY
Wednesday, February 22, 2006

North American forests are treasures of enormous natural bounty. Yet the United States is squandering this inheritance. Lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service regularly suffer catastrophic wildfire, insect infestation and invasion by alien species. And taxpayers lose money on them, while even Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth admits his organization suffers from "analysis paralysis."

To find a better way, I began investigating forestry outside of the United States last year and found strikingly different approaches just north of the border. Canada has managed to create the right incentives to both profitably manage timber stands as well as protect the environment. In particular, Canadian "community-based forestry" is worth a closer look.

In the United States 59% of the forestland is privately owned, while in Canada 70% of the forestland is managed by provincial governments. But this doesn't tell the whole story. Canadian government run forests are legacies from the British colonial rule and were passed along to the Canadian governments. Today, provincial forests are still commonly called "Crown" lands.

Timber harvests on these Crown lands are managed primarily through long-term leases and licenses, also called tenures. Unlike timber sales in the United States, which give a private company the right to log a specified forest stand, Canadian timber tenures transfer major responsibilities to private companies or organizations for long periods of time. The tenure holder pays annual rents and harvesting fees set by the province and must comply with environmental regulations. Forest management, including planning, timber harvesting, reforestation and maintenance is generally the responsibility of the tenure holder.

Under this system timber tenures generate revenues for provinces, in contrast to U.S. national forests, which operate at a loss to taxpayers. For example, timber management in British Columbia generates $2.35 (in U.S. dollars) for every dollar spent, while the U.S. Forest Service loses $0.36 for each dollar spent on timber management.

Canadian timber tenures allow companies, nonprofit organizations and communities to manage forests for a variety of goals. Although the majority of tenures are held by large, industrial forest companies, a growing number of them are held by community organizations and indigenous groups. British Columbia, in fact, offers a tenure specifically designed to allow local governments, community organizations or indigenous groups to manage the forests around them. Through these Community Forest Agreements (CFAs), some communities concentrate on providing jobs for timber workers. But others manage for local water quality or for other ecological values.

And CFAs are becoming increasingly popular in British Columbia. As of January 2006, eleven pilot agreements had been issued. Two of these have completed their pilot periods; one has been awarded a 25-year license, and the other is negotiating the terms of its agreement. Furthermore, 90 communities have requested information about the CFA program.

The Community Forest Agreement held by the villages of Harrop and Procter in southeastern British Columbia illustrates how these tenures can operate to promote innovative forest management. Harrop and Procter have a total of 700 year-round residents, a rural economy, and a sizeable summer tourist industry. Since the mid-1970s the communities have tried to protect the forests around them, partly because the nearby Crown forest is the main source of the towns' agricultural and domestic water. Residents rely largely on untreated surface water, and they fear industrial logging could end up forcing the community to invest in expensive chlorination and filtration systems. In addition, the community wants to protect wildlife as well as scenic views.

The towns initially tried to have the forests protected as a provincial park, but were turned down. Then they decided to take matters into their own hands by forming the Harrop-Procter Watershed Protection Society. Initially, they tried to prevent logging in the watershed, but soon realized that a Community Forest Agreement was a better approach. In 1999 Harrop-Procter received a Community Forest Pilot Agreement controlling some 27,000 acres of Crown forests and formed a co-op to take over forest operations and economic development. The co-op's first priority in forest management is protection of the community's drinking water. To work toward this goal, Harrop-Procter has successfully negotiated with the provincial government to reduce logging intensity in their area, thereby reducing impacts on the watershed.

Because Harrop-Procter does not intend to maximize returns from timber, it looks for other ways to generate revenue from the forestland. It is the only timber tenure holder in British Columbia that is actively marketing non-timber forest products and one of the few that sell "value-added" wood products. Every effort is made to use ecosystem-based forestry techniques and to process forest products locally. The co-op supports two businesses; Sunshine Bay Botanicals and Harrop-Procter Forest Products.
Sunshine Bay Botanicals sells dried herbs, teas and tinctures created from forest-harvested and organically-farmed herbs. Harrop-Procter Forest Products sells everything from rough-cut lumber to kitchen cabinets, all marketed as "wood with a conscience." Future efforts are aimed at creating an ecotourism business, further developing non-timber forest products, incorporating more local processing of timber, and marketing more value-added wood products.

The community forest has also secured development grants and funding from venture capitalists. Harrop-Procter cuts down on management costs by relying heavily on volunteers, who supply as much as 350 hours of work per month.

Harrop-Procter is an example of innovation in public forest management. Decisions are made based on local values, and the local communities stand to benefit from responsible forest management. Time will be the test of whether the Harrop-Procter Community Forest can sustain itself in the long-run. The key may be the inclusion of non-timber forest products such as recreation and forest-grown herbs in its agreement with the province. This is unusual in the Canadian timber tenure system, which is based primarily on logging. It is important for community forests that do not want to concentrate on timber production to be able to generate revenue from other sources.

Community forests should be carefully watched by the United States. A growing number of community organizations in the United States are exploring the possibilities of community-based forestry--although at the moment there is little opportunity for experimentation within the federal forest system. Perhaps greater knowledge of the Canadian approach will cause that to change, to the benefit of both the forests and communities.

Ms. Berry is a research associate with PERC. Her essay "Branching Out: Case Studies in Canadian Forestry" has just been published by PERC and is available at www.perc.org.

http://www.opinionjournal.com/federation/feature/?id=110008000
 

DaleK

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Yep, Canadian forestry is so well-managed that the US industry has to use that as an excuse to put big tariffs on Canadian lumber and throw thousands of Canadian workers out of work so the US industry can compete.
 

sw

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What US Timber Industry? After the spotted owl and the bunny huggers ther isn't hardly any lumber mills left. In the town where I grew up in the Seventies there were two big mills owned by Champion, several small private mills, one fairly large, and a beam plant. The largest employer in the county was the mills. Now there is the beam plant that gets it's lumber from Canada cause they can't get any any closer. The largest employer is the USFS, and all they do is collect wages and watch the fires burn cause its more natural, and the USFW collecting data on the wolves
 

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