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Guest Column

Canada Poised To Lead World In Responsible Forest Stewardship

by Tony Kryzanowski

A century ago, few would have thought that in 100 years there would be a scarcity of merchantable wood in Canada, and that some sawmills would be manufacturing lumber down to a three inch top. It illustrates how important forest resource management has become-and how Canada is leading the way in this critical area. We are in for some huge changes over the next century in Canada's forest industry. Some feel that countries like New Zealand and South Africa will set the global pace for the forest industry in future. In fact, Canada is going to lead the way in the 21st century and that is because our forest land is largely a Crown resource, not despite that fact. We have done such a remarkably good job of studying and applying integrated resource management to our forest management practices over the past 25 years that we can look forward to a country filled with pristine beauty a century from now, rather than one subdivided into neatly fenced off private wood lots that are off limits to the public and devoid of wildlife.

Thanks to our educational system, we have competent foresters. Their scientific discoveries regarding integrated forest management have been exceptional, with much of the research being conducted on personal initiative and usually on a shoestring budget. The gardening-rather than the farming- approach to forest management is gathering much more acceptance within the woodlands community. Most foresters understand that while the clearcut harvesting approach is scientifically sound, it is only one of many possible approaches and it all depends on individual cutblock circumstances. All good foresters also know that the forest is a living, breathing organism. It lives-and its dies. But researchers have vastly improved our knowledge over the past 25 years concerning how to predict natural occurrences, how to harvest prior to the loss of merchantable wood and how to enhance natural processes in order to reap greater yield. All this while respecting the needs of other coexisting resources. This approach simply does not work as well when the forest resource is held in private hands. The public has practically no legal right to enforce ecosystem management on private land.

Here is where the quest for shareholder value clashes with ecosystem management. There is absolutely nothing wrong with turning a profit. However, many economic analysts in this extended bull stock market are beginning to question the influence that large block shareholders such as pension funds are having on the management of publicly traded companies. They have begun to wonder out loud if pure greed isn't having an unprecedented impact on the workings of many powerful corporations. Consider this: a pension fund manager's only concern is achieving the biggest return on investment for his pension fund members. Large corporations become intimidated, realizing that the control of a large block of shares, if exercised in a certain way, could have a devastating impact on the company's day to day operations and jobs. Project that scenario to a group of forest company executives whose livelihood depends solely on enhancing shareholder value. How do you think they might manage a forest on private land versus public land? Will they care as much about watersheds and wildlife? Will they care that Canadians want somewhere to spend their free time hunting, fishing, camping, hiking or snowmobiling? Will they care what residual impact a tree herbicide might have on other plants or animals, not to mention the berries that someone might be picking to eat? Sadly, those issues are low priorities at current annual shareholders' meetings.

What Canada has developed is a system of accountability that will become the envy of the world. Having a government watchdog takes the pressure off company executives who can argue that certain approaches that might enhance shareholder value in the short term are not acceptable to the voting public. While the tools for integrated forest management are in place, the government's relationship with forestry tenure holders certainly needs improvement. By way of analogy, here is a story about a controversial road in my hometown. City council put forth a proposal to build a road across part of a lake that would eventually become a six-lane interchange. However, the lake just happens to be an important migratory bird rest stop. Naturally, the extreme elements mounted their soapboxes-those threatening to throw themselves in front of the bulldozers should the project proceed, and those suggesting we needed a full blown six lane interchange immediately because it would cut five minutes off their commute to the city. Ultimately, common sense prevailed and council decided on a smaller two lane road across an adjoining river that would minimize disturbance of migrating waterfowl, while cutting a few minutes off the commute for many interchange proponents. Now, let's project this scenario to the forest industry's relations with government. I do not support the extreme view that Crown owned forestland should be privatized.

Nor do I believe that the current tenure system is fair to forest companies. I believe forest companies have made a valid case for extended tenure on their Crown holdings, somewhere in the range of 70 to 100 years, given their responsibilities regarding reforestation and the natural growth cycle of the Canadian forest. I also believe that science would support more intensive forest management practices on marginal land, perhaps to include genetically enhanced trees with shorter growing cycles. The 21st century is a brave new world as far as Canadian forestry is concerned and we will survive the challenges posed by other countries. However, we will also have an ecosystem that we can be proud of as a model to show the rest of the world on how sustainable forestry should be practiced everywhere. 

 


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