Just say no–to privatizing forests

John Chittick, a Director with the newly formed British Columbians For Private Forests (BCPF), has proposed a misguided privatization plan for BC’s forests. In a recent Op-ed (” Why BC’s forest should be privatized,” Van Sun, Dec 29, 2003), he proposes a scheme whereby each BC resident would be offered 5 hectares of public land for $2,000/ha. He says that this would result in 25% of BC being privatized, while “eliminating all provincial debt“, doubling the return from stumpage, and democratizing land-use decision making.

While his proposed solution is ill-advised, his analysis of the problems facing B.C.’s forest are enlightening. Chittick, with three decades of “operational forest industry” experience, makes some interesting points about BC’s forest troubles

  • His comments on rural BC are insightful: “Rural BC is in decline since people are disconnected from the land.”
  • He confirms that there is “an incestuous business relationship between the provincial government and [the]forest industry,” and that the BC industry is in “a fuedal time-warp.”
  • He almost gets it right when he says, “What is clearly missing in BC is a comprehensive, small-scale, intergenrational forest OWNERSHIP ethic.”His parroting the conventional wisdon that “ownership” is necessary undermines his point.
  • Less land dedicated to logging if organized and managed correctly can produce more timber, more jobs and more economic benefits for the public good.

Overall, Chittick’s Op-ed confirms once again that creating solutions is much harder than diagnosing problems.
Like many professional foresters, he overlooks a few important points:

  • All of BC’s forests are encumbered by Aboriginal Title and Rights and cannot be privatized without the consent of affected First Nations.
  • British Columbians love their public lands and have rejected every attempt to privatize them for decades.
  • Our public forests are the legacy we will leave our children and grand children–they will provide the economic and environmental future of our communities for generations to come.

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