Private Forest Companies: The New Aristocracy


So, in this neck of the woods, criticizing logging and forestry companies is like badmouthing Jesus so I will refrain from doing that. What I will say, however, may seem like finding fault with the forestry based companies and their government supporters and ‘regulators’ but it isn’t. That doesn’t mean that I’m happy with what the likes of Hancock Forest Management, TimberWest, and Island Timberlands are doing. I think that most of their logging practices are unsustainable, damage the environment, compromise watersheds and unnecessarily restrict access to forested lands. But it’s all perfectly legal. They only do what the government allows them to do. It’s not their fault.

From their websites we learn that together they own in fee simple (the same way in which you own your house and the property it sits on) some 1,500,000 acres of forest lands on Vancouver Island, mostly in the lower half of the Island but with assets all over the place. TimberWest also has harvesting rights for 700,000 cubic metres of timber per year. The Private Forest Landowners Association says that private forest lands account for only 2 percent of BC’s land mass. That’s true, but I’d like to know what percentage of Vancouver Island is private forest land. That would be more relevant to me. Even more relevant would be an indication of what percentage of forest land, not bare mountain tops or urban areas, is held privatively and how that percentage has changed over the decades.

Also according to their websites these companies are fully in compliance with all the government regulations and comply with or exceed national and global harvesting standards, something I have no doubt is entirely true.  They claim that good relations with their neighbouring communities is also a high priority as is sustainability.

That’s all fine and dandy.

I have no doubt that there are many well-intentioned people who work for the companies I note above. I actually know some of them and they’re generally good people. And I don’t really have anything to say about the fact that these companies comply with government regulations and standards. I’m sure they do.

The problem is that government regulations are so lax as to be insignificant to these companies and violations of rules and regulations often go unpunished because the government has gutted enforcement staff and doesn’t really want to prosecute forestry companies anyhow. The company websites argue that they have over 30 Acts and regulations and rules to live by, but they are somehow making the best of it and at all times and in all places operate by commonly described ‘best practices’ to maintain sustainability, environmental, wildlife and community values. If a number of recent media reports have any credence, that’s hardly the case.

I just don’t see how the public good is served by having most of the southern half of Vancouver Island owned by private companies, why governments would allow this and how we are supposed to believe what the companies say about the wonderful and sustainable ways that they cut forests down.

Forest companies are really like a new aristocracy. During the Middle Ages and beyond, aristocrats and monarchs owned and controlled great swaths of land in Europe and elsewhere allowing only limited access to the peasantry and locals. That’s what is happening here with forest companies being the new aristocrats and us being the peasants. Of course, aristocrats and monarchs didn’t want to piss off the peasants too much or they could, and did, get rather revolting. There may be a lesson here for our new aristocratic forest companies and their government cheerleaders.

Governments have given land away to private companies for decades now starting with the big giveaway by the federal government to the CPR and on Vancouver Island to Dunsmuir in the late 19th century. Social Credit, Liberal and NDP governments have all participated in the giveaway over the decades and now we are in a situation where privatization of public lands seems to have gotten to the point where there is precious little Crown Land in the mountains and valleys of southern Vancouver Island.

Governments are increasingly committed to privatization.

They privatize as many services as they can by contracting out legal, technical, medical, health care and other services without drawing too much attention to it. They privatize land too. Most privatization now happens under the public radar, incrementally and often imperceptibly. It goes largely unnoticed. Privatization removes public assets from the public domain and places them in private hands. Even regulatory enforcement is sometimes privatized or put in the hands of the affected industries by making them self-regulating.

The reality is that the public sector is shrinking in BC as are public assets which are increasingly ending up in private hands. The common good is being sacrificed more and more to the gods of profitability. Less and less control stays in the hands of the public. With regards to forest lands, the result of this is watershed damage as recently reported on the Englishman River, environmental degradation and the alienation of wealth into the hands of the few, all sanctioned and abetted by government. The Private Forest Landowners Association supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and opposes any regulation on the exportation of raw logs. It claims that there is no money in domestic value-added production for the companies it represents and log exports are the only way they make money. The TPP is aimed at gutting national sovereignty and would serve to put corporations in greater and greater control over our lives. That’s the reality no matter how much they protest otherwise. I find it extremely difficult to accept the industry argument that they are acting in the public interest and for the common good.

It’s also clear that the provincial government does not govern in the public interest. In terms of forest lands it governs for the corporations and acts to protect and enhance their private interests at every turn.

The class system is alive and well and apparently hasn’t really changed much since the Middle Ages. Oh, the ruling class looks different, but it’s really the same. The only change is that we have been convinced that we live in a democracy and that together we make the rules. Such a sad delusion.

 

 

3 thoughts on “Private Forest Companies: The New Aristocracy

  1. I agree with what you are saying, for the most part, Roger. However, assuming that the logging companies such as MacMillan Blodel back in the 1970s were public ally owned (but were they?) They certainly didn’t operate any differently. I will have do some research on this, as I’m not sure what is the definition of a publically owned logging company. Can you name any in BC from past years?

    The comparison with historical British estates (for example), and the property privately owned by BC logging companies is a bit off-base, because, as I understand the aristocrats, they did not harvest trees from their vast estates to market, but simply sat on it for their own purposes. It’s past midnight so I will leave it at this for now. I await your reply. Thanks.

    1. Forestry companies can be privately owned or publically owned. My point is that forest lands have been made private property and taken out of the public domain where licenses for harvesting can be attained but the land remains Crown land. My analogy comparing privately-owned forest lands by a few large corporations and the aristocracy is to highlight the concentration of land and power in the hands of the few. Aristocrats restricted access to their lands and so do the Forest companies that privately own forest lands.

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