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Guest Column

It's Time to Look At Forestry Developments Beyond Canada

By John Innes

Shortly after I moved to Switzerland a few years ago, I told a group of professional foresters that forestry could sometimes have negative effects on the environment. This caused outrage: "How dare a foreigner", demanded one delegate, "cast aspersions on Swiss forest management?"

I replied that I had been referring to information gathered in my previous job in the UK, and that, of course, there was nothing wrong with Swiss forestry. Ruffled feathers were smoothed, but maybe the point was made. Now, once again, I am asked to stick my neck out after only a few months in a new job, new country and new continent.

My impressions of Canada in general and British Columbia in particular are quite mixed so far: majestic scenery, lots of strikes, very curious politics and a widespread and overbearing attitude that it is only what happens here that is important.

This last impression is puzzling. Much of the wood cut in Canada is exported. Of the three biggest forestry companies operating in British Columbia, two are under foreign control. Several other provinces are in a similar situation. Why is there so little interest in what is happening in our export markets and in the countries of some of our major forestry employers? Surely it would be prudent to pay greater attention to some of the changes in forest policy and management practices that are occurring elsewhere?

This introversion runs deeper. Some students at the University of BC appear interested only in courses that are a requirement for professional forester status. These courses fulfil an essential function in ensuring that certain minimum standards are attained that will enable graduates to enrol as foresters in training in those provinces with professional forestry associations. However, knowledge of what is happening in forestry outside of Canada does not feature strongly, if at all, in the national forestry school accreditation requirements. This knowledge is essential if foresters are to be effective land managers in today's global environment.

"Why is there so little interest in what is happening in our export markets and in the countries of some of our major forestry employers?"

In forestry, we are now in a time of great and rapid change. One of the fuels of this change is the increasingly well-informed criticism that is being made of forest management. There is a rapidly increasing amount of information available on the Internet, supplemented by information sources designed to help private individuals assess and criticize forest management plans. Take, for example, the recent book by Gordon Robinson called The Forest and the Trees: A Guide to Excellent Forestry. Whether or not you agree with his views, the book provides access to material that makes it necessary for today's forest manager to be fully aware of new developments if forestry plans are to be justified to an increasingly well-informed public.

Globalization is placing new pressures on forest managers. Last summer, an environmental pressure group was able to flash pictures across the world on a daily basis of a developing clear-cut in northern British Columbia. All they needed was a digital camera and a satellite-linked modem. Sights normally hidden to all but the most determined were suddenly made available to anyone anywhere in the world with a link to the Internet. Armed with such material and presenting only one side of the story, critics of forest management are becoming increasingly plausible, especially to decision makers.

Given the application of such information technology, there is now no excuse for a forest or mill manager to be uninformed. Equally, we might hope that everyone with an interest in forestry in Canada would take the trouble to become acquainted with recent developments in forest science and forest management around the world. There is much that resource managers here could learn from elsewhere, but we are failing to do so. Free electronic journals, such as the BC Journal of Ecosystems and Management (http://www.siferp.org/jem/) may help, and there are many other sources of pertinent information

. One of the conclusions reached by the World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development was that there is a lack of global leadership in forestry. This seems to be a problem at all levels: global, national and provincial. It is time for a clear vision of the future of forestry in British Columbia and Canada, a vision that is shared within and outside the province and the country. We need to move forward rapidly and with determination - while industry and environmental groups here continue to bicker, other countries have made significant progress on issues such as certification, increasing their chances of capturing yet more of the market share previously held by Canadian producers.

We glibly ask students to develop "desired future conditions" in their management plans. This is a near impossible task given the absence of a clear vision for forestry in the province, in Canada and in the world as a whole. Maybe we can inspire the current generation of UBC forestry students to broaden their horizons and maybe, just maybe, some of those students will use that knowledge to become tomorrow's leaders in resource management issues in Canada and elsewhere.

Dr. John L. Innes is Professor in the FRBC Chair of Forest Management in the Faculty of Forestry at the University of British Columbia.

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