An interview with Herb Hammond on changes in forest policy

Over the past decade, major changes have occurred in forest policy

Van Andruss

Over the years it has been my privilege to know Herb Hammond. Herb has devoted his career to promoting ecosystem-based forestry. He is the director of Silva Forest Foundation, located in the Slocan. His book, Seeing the Forest Among the Trees, remains an indispensable guide to the management of forestlands for health and biodiversity. He is presently the forestry consultant for the Xaxli’p Community Forest.

Herb spent a couple nights at our house while doing an ecosystem assessment of Buck Creek Watershed for the Yalakom Valley Community Society. I took the opportunity to interview him on policy changes in B.C. forestry. What follows is a summary of that interview.

VA: What policy changes have you seen in B.C. forestry?

HH: Over the past decade, major changes have occurred in forest policy. These changes have occurred in three steps. First, the government has downsized the Ministry of Forests and set up the omnibus-ministry called Forest, Lands and Natural Resources Operations, eliminating the ministry’s responsibilities for planning and for approval of industry’s plans. Now they simply process permits for industry.

That was a huge loss because now we no longer have anyone with a social conscience looking after B.C.’s forestlands, we have timber companies in charge of forestlands.

The second step has been the replacement of the Forest Practices Code with legislation known as “results-based.” Results-based anything isn’t bad if you define your results from the right values and in adequate detail to actually attain decent results. But in the Forest and Range Practices Act, the “results” are very general and the specifics are left up to industrial foresters, a practice called “professional reliance.” The problem here is that the people planning what happens on Crown land are in the employ of industrial timber companies. Meanwhile the Forest Service no longer has any planning staff or planning function.

In a third step, the concept of public consultation has disappeared because the only plans that are made public and viewed by the Forest Service are “Forest Stewardship Plans,” warm fussy words for logging by a checklist of “defaults.” No longer are there maps to show where logging and road-building will take place.

We who are old enough can remember when there was a public Annual Development Plan that showed the next five years of road construction and logging. All that is gone. On top of which, the standards of Forest Stewardship Plans are in no way permitted to hamper the economic competitiveness of the Province.

VA: How can such changes be justified?

HH: Their simple justification is that they provide “certainty” for timber companies. For this you can thank Margaret Thatcher’s and Ronald Reagan’s “trickle down” economics that says if industry is happy, then the rest of us will be happy. But this concept has been an abysmal failure.

VA: Would a forest company consider hiring you as their forester?

HH: Well, there are small ecosystem-based community forests and I work for them. We do good economics because in those situations jobs are the profits, not dollars, and the more people you employ caring for the land, that’s what the profits are.

We now confuse economics with corporate financial appraisals, profit and loss. But the only economics that have ever proved sustainable over long periods of time have been community-based, focusing on connecting people to people, providing goods and services that people need. In a community economy, people are seen as benefits, not costs.

VA: What, then, is the future of forestry in this province?

HH: In my lifetime, I’ve seen a steady slide towards conservative governments and more private ownership and control due to the sale of assets. Years ago there were ninety-eight ranger stations with a staff of foresters and planners and a much smaller area to work in. They were actively connected to communities. Under the NDP the number was reduced to around forty-eight “forest districts,” double in size and centralized. Suddenly communities were no longer a part of the planning process and landscapes were too large to manage or reasonably plan. Under the liberals, the number of district offices was reduced to thirty.

Lillooet’s a good example. First there was a ranger station with a smaller area to manage, then a forest district office with a bigger area. Now both are gone. This is hard to undo. No government is likely to buy back the real estate or recall the staff. Such is the work of corporate control and the “trickle down” theory of economics.

VA: In view of these changes, how do you keep up your spirits?

HH: One factor is my belief in education. Education has the potential to change the political system. Another is seeing positive changes arising from local communities. Community activism is the key, largely for the love of place, not for money.

Sharing knowledge, helping empower communities, those are the things that seem important to me, and I keep learning from them.

For more on ecosystem-based conservation planning, see Silva Forest Foundation website.


– Van Andruss is a resident of Moha, B.C.



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