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Private—and productive—B.C. forestlands
Though they may not be high profile, B.C’s privately managed forests are quietly going about contributing to a sustainable—and productive—forest land base in the province, but they still face their own set of challenges.
By Jim Stirling
Private managed forests in British Columbia tend to be forgotten. That’s probably because about 95 per cent of the land and forests in B.C. are publicly owned. But despite their tiny share of the land base, private forests have a larger than commensurate impact.
In 2012, 3.94 million cubic metres of timber was harvested from 823,582 hectares of private managed forest lands, contributing more than 3,000 direct jobs to the B.C. economy, estimates the Private Forest Landowners Association of B.C. (PFLA). “B.C.’s private forests are some of the best managed and most productive forests you’ll find anywhere,” says the PFLA.
Private forest landowners share some issues with their counterparts operating on public lands but each also have their own suite of challenges and issues. High on that list for the private forest sector is the lack of good healthy competition for logs on the B.C. coast, suggests Rod Bealing, PFLA spokesman and the manager of a private forest on Vancouver Island. At the root of that lack of a market are log export restrictions, he says. The federal government’s log export permitting surplus test allows domestic mills to obtain logs from private forests at domestic rather than international prices. The domestic prices can be only half the international price for the logs, explains Bealing.
So while the other forest products markets for lumber and veneer are improving, the domestic price remains flat. “Some of our members are on life support. We’ve been promised a resurgence in the domestic prices but we’re still waiting,” he says. The PFLA has been hammering away at this issue with the senior governments for about 15 years and vows to keep at it, he adds.
The mountain pine beetle epidemic has completely changed harvesting patterns and intensity on public forest lands in the province. The impacts of the beetle for private forest operators have generally been less dramatic, says Bealing.
“A number of our association members in the southeast of the province have been affected (by the beetle epidemic) but they’ve kept on top of it and responded quickly,” he explained. “We tend to manage our forests more intensively and there’s not many over-mature stands.”
Bealing says private forest managers are results oriented and that has helped them deal with natural events like beetle epidemics. “We take the view that we’ve paid for our lands and pay property taxes on them (more than coastal stumpage) and we need to maximize our returns as in any other well-run business.”
Private forest managers do not have to manage for the same range of issues as on Crown land and have a simpler regulatory regime and approach, but still must pay close attention to protecting water quality, and sustaining wildlife habitats, continued Bealing. Visual impacts of harvesting operations are another consideration for private forest managers. “We might have to modify our harvesting plans or maintain smaller openings,” he explains.
“What we think we’re good at on private land is reforestation,” says Bealing. “We tend to be aggressive with reforestation and aggressive with using improved planting stock. It’s purely a matter of incentive. You don’t have to remind a farmer to plant his corn. We just get on with it,” he says.
The PFLA says more than 100 million trees have been planted on B.C.’s private forest lands in the last 10 years. Bealing says using fertilizers to boost tree growth is another common practice among private forest managers, especially when fertilizer prices are competitive. “It can provide some certainty of the landscape.” The fertilizer is typically applied five to 10 years before the final harvest. It can boost a tree volume and wood quality at harvest. “It just makes sense business-wise. It’s another way we can manage our working forest base more intensively.” When the slopes, the riparian zones, visual management areas and wildlife habitat areas are removed, what’s left is the working land base. “And that’s what we try to intensively manage.”
A further example of accomplishing that is through a detailed understanding of what it is you’re managing. “On private lands, we do an inventory on about 10 per cent of the land base each year. As a business, we have to know our growing stock,” continues Bealing. The practice allows better planning to supply future customer needs.
Periodically, concerns are voiced about the numbers of European and Asian investors especially looking to acquire private forest land in B.C., during a stuttering and uncertain global economy. But to Bealing the situation represents nothing new. He points back to the 1960s when Europeans seeking a better life looked to B.C.’s forests for a new start. When they got here, they applied the same stewardship ethic and high level of care they’d learned and practiced in their homelands, he outlines.
Private forest managers are also required to observe the specifications as laid out in legislation like the species at risk and migratory bird acts. More than 85 per cent of the PFLA membership operate managed forest lands under the B.C. Assessment Act and maintain a balance between harvesting and protected areas.
Sometimes federal regulations are based on old information and don’t jibe with reality. The federal government has called for 900 hectare reserves around goshawk nesting sites. “Goshawks thrive in managed second growth forests and raise their chicks even when there’s industrial activity nearby,” notes Bealing. This type of issue is shared with forest managers on Crown land and First Nations. “We recognize we have public values on our lands and we manage for them,” he adds.
Bealing reckons catering for a range of values is part of doing business and sound management practices of private forest lands. It ties in with doing what makes sense “One thing is for certain,” he concludes, “we are all passionate about our lands.”
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