Twelve Ways to Protect the Forest

4722ce852345f5bbea12e17e2a8eb164

  1. Deepen Your Love

Go wandering. Find a place where you can sit and listen quietly to the poetry of the forest. Take time to look at the different trees, to observe the way they grow. Learn the names of the ferns, wildflowers, and forest birds. Find a space to lie down and gaze up, and wonder. The forest has been here for a long, long time.

  1. Learn about the Forest Ecosystem

The forest ecosystem on Vancouver Island is 12,000 years old. Until loggers started clearcutting in the 1940s every forest was an oldgrowth forest, with trees up to a thousand years old. This is the astonishingly rich ecosystem we have lost – but it is slowly returning with each successive year that a forest is not clearcut.

The integrity of the forest is essential for the health and resilience of our watersheds and our drinking water, since the forests filter and clean the water. It is essential for all the wildlife for whom it is home. It is essential for carbon storage, making protecting the forest a key solution to the climate emergency.  If you visit Wildwood you can join a workshop or a forest tour where you can learn more about the forest ecosystem.

We also suggest these books:

  1. Find Other Forest-Lovers

 Working to protect the forest will be more effective if you can find friends who share your concern, and work with them to make a difference. It will also be more fun. These are some of the groups that are working to protect the forest here on Vancouver Island:

  1. Understand Just How Little Protection The Forest Has

When it comes to the law and regulations intended to protect the forest there are four different forest jurisdictions on Vancouver Island:

  • Crown Land. 80% of the forest on the Island, including most of the oldgrowth. This is governed by the Forest and Range Practices Act, which is ecologically very weak, and currently undergoing a review.
  • Private Managed Forest Land. Most of the forest on the east side of the Island up to Campbell River that was in the E&N Rail Grant. This is managed through the Private Managed Forests Program, which is also ecologically very weak, and currently undergoing review.
  • Community Forests. Forested land owned by a municipality, such as North Cowichan’s Municipal Forest Reserve, the management of which is governed by the elected councillors.
  • Private Forest Land. Most of the forest in developed areas along the coast is privately owned. Its management is governed by provincial laws regarding fish and water, and by Regional District bylaws. Forested land adjacent to a creek, lake or wetland gets some protection, though with weak enforcement and minimal penalties for damage done, but other private forested land has no protection at all: it has been ecologically abandoned.
  1. Ask Your Regional District to Do More to Protect the Forest

This is an area that has not been explored much, since many people believe that governments should not interfere with a private landowner’s rights. These rights are already governed by zoning laws and bylaws, however, and by Development Permit Area rules, so there’s good reason to engage with the rules. Often, where forested land is in a Development Permit Area (DPA), there are many exclusions that make the rules irrelevant. We need to discuss ways in which DPA exclusions can be reduced, and the DPAs themselves can be widened to allow logging using ecoforestry principles, while ending clearcutting.

  1. Ask the BC Provincial Government to Do More to Protect the Forest

Members of organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Ancient Forest Alliance have been working for years to try to influence government forest policy, but so far, it has been a slow, uphill struggle. In the 1990s we had success in protecting various areas completely, such as the Carmanah, parts of the Walbran, and the development of the 1990s Forest Practices Code. That was abandoned under successive BC Liberal governments, but we hope for more success under the current NDP/Green Party Alliance. Oldgrowth forests the size of 34 soccer fields are still being clearcut every day, and only 10% of the biggest old trees are left. You can send a letter to Minister Doug Donaldson here.

  1. Restore Damaged Forest Habitat

All over the world, forests are in need of restoration. This is a big topic that people study in universities. If you know of land locally that is in need of restoration, you can plant trees, making sure to install a deer-protector for each sapling. You can also ask your friends to help you clear invasive species such as broom, using advice on how and when to cut from Broombusters.

If it’s a creek or stream that needs restoration, this is a more complex matter that needs care and skills. Dave Polster has some good advice.

  1. Use Ecological Care when Altering Forested Land

If you want to build a home or a workshop, or clear a a spot for a tiny home, the most useful advice is Don’t Rush In. Live on your land for a year to see where the sun falls, where it floods in winter, which way the wind blows, and which species live where. If you cluster buildings together, there will be much less damage to the forest. You may have friends who say “It’s okay to clearcut the forest because it will grow back,” but in areas where the forest has been cleared such as Timberlands south of Cassidy, and along the Nanaimo River Road the temperature on the ground can be ten or twenty degrees warmer on hot days, compared to within the forest. Deer may eat any new trees that try to get established, and the ‘new normal’ of the climate crisis with its extended summer droughts may mean that the forest never grows back.

If you are thinking of working in a riparian area close to water it’s important to know that fish, frogs and salamanders breed in the water and spend much of their lives in riparian areas, as do many birds, invertebrates, including dragonflies, snails, slugs, and native pollinators like bumblebees and butterflies. For these reasons, it’s important to protect riparian areas:

  • Don’t clear the vegetation. What may seem messy to us is an undisturbed paradise for fish, birds and dragonflies.
  • Don’t use herbicides or pesticides near a riparian area.
  • Don’t allow livestock there, since they will cause damage by trampling and grazing, releasing sediments that could degrade spawning habitat for kilometres downstream, while their wastes can be a source of harmful bacteria like E. coli, harming downstream fish and other creatures.
  • Don’t dump grass clippings or pruned branches, since they can smother the native vegetation and introduce invasive species such as ivy, Japanese knotweed or flag iris.
  • Don’t dredge, channel or alter the water itself.
  • Don’t dig or extract soil from a riparian area.
  • Don’t build a driveway in a riparian area.
  • Don’t let a septic field drain into a riparian area.

In the CVRD, development is not allowed:

  • within 30 metres on either side of a stream, measured from high-water mark;
  • within 30 metres of the top of a ravine that’s less than 60 metres wide with a steep 3:1 slope;
  • within 10 metres of the top of a ravine more than 60 metres wide with a steep 3:1 slope.

In the RDN, riparian setbacks range from 9 meters to 30 metres depending on the slope of the land and the nature of the watercourse.

  1. Practice Ecoforestry

If you own a parcel of forest and you manage it ecologically using ecoforestry methods you will speed its restoration to its original oldgrowth character. A good way to learn about ecoforestry is to attend a workshop at Wildwood: it’s all about retaining the canopy, preserving the strong seed trees, preserving wildlife trees and protecting the soil. Here’s a short video that can get you started.

  1. Place a Conservation Covenant on Your Forested Land

If you own a parcel of forest and you want to protect it forever, you can work with a Land Trust to place a Conservation Covenant on it. This will bind future owners to protect it, with a heavy penalty for a breach of the covenant and a requirement for restoration. The downside is that it will cost you around $25,000:  $12,000 for surveying and legal work and $12,000 for the Land Trust whose staff and volunteers will need to visit the land to monitor the covenant every year or so, for eternity. One option is to write the wish that you want your land covenanted into your will, leaving money to cover the cost. On Vancouver Island, you can discuss placing a covenant on your land with these organizations:

  1. Take Action If You Learn that a Forest May Be Harmed

You have heard a rumour that a forest you love is threatened with being clearcut. What to do?

  • First, call a friend or two, so that you can discuss the problem together. Then gather as much information as you can.
  • Next, ascertain if the land is private, private managed forest land or Crown land. If it is not private, you will need to contact the Ministry of Forests and try to learn more about the rumour.
  • If it is privately owned and within a municipality, contact the municipal planning department and ask what they know about the planned activity. If it is privately owned and in a rural area, contact your Regional District and ask the same. The landowner may or may not have been required to apply for a development permit. If he or she has, you can ask to see the permit and any requirements it may contain.
  • If the chainsaws or feller-buncher machines are already at work, try to take a close look at their work, to ensure that they are doing what is required to protect the riparian area, and to stick to the rules (see #8 above). If they are not, call the 24-hour RAPP line (Report all Poachers and Polluters) to report a violation: 1-877-952-7277 or #7277 on the TELUS Mobility Network.
  1. Work Towards an Ecological Democracy in which Nature’s Rights are Protected

We need to develop a vision of the future in which Nature is respected and protected. We need to hold a clear intention that forests will be valued for all that they offer, with proper protection under the law. The trees and wetlands cannot speak for themselves: we have to speak for them: that is what ecological democracy means. And they need rights.

Christopher Stone, a law professor at the University of Southern California, has written that just as we have given legal status to non-human entities such as ships and corporations, society should also give legal rights to forests, oceans, rivers and other so-called ‘natural’ objects in the environment. Corporations cannot speak either: lawyers speak for them. In 2017, New Zealand’s lawmakers granted the Whanganui River the legal rights of a human, ensuring that it will be represented by guardians in all legal matters that concern the waterway.

Yellow Point Ecological Society, November 2019

 

 

The Forest Covenant

covenant

It sounds like a movie – perhaps a sequel to Lord of the Rings.

Remember the characters? The Hobbits, who are simple and worldly, live in Middle Earth. The Elves, who are kind-hearted, strong and wise, live on an altogether higher plane of existence. The Orcs are brutal monsters. The Dwarves are obsessed with gold. The Ents are the trees themselves, willing to battle to protect justice, goodness and nature. So let’s start.

The Hobbits’ beloved forest in Middle Yellow Point is threatened by an army of Orcs armed with horrible tree-destroying machines. The Elves show the Hobbits how they can protect the forest by using The Forest Covenant, but the Hobbits must first overcome the Dwarves, who have transferred their love of gold to a new love of legalese, with its deep impenetrable prose. As Guardians of the Obscure it is their task to ensure that the Hobbits dot every eye and cross every tee before they are permitted use of the Covenants that can save their forest. Meanwhile, the Orcs move closer every day. Can the ancient tree-people, the Ents, help the Hobbits as they struggle to reach agreement among themselves and win the Dwarves’ support before the Orcs arrive?

We Seek Advice from a Fellow Hobbit

To aid them in their quest the Hobbits sought the advice of Keith Erickson, a fellow Hobbit from the Galiano Conservancy Association who has lived among the Dwarves and knows their ways. Gathered around a cozy woodstove one winter morning in November, he told us about the eyes and the tees.

A Conservation Covenant, he explained, is a legal document stemming from Section 219 of BC’s Land Titles Act that specifies which parcel of land is to be protected, and by what means. The Covenant is registered on title, and it runs with the land in perpetuity – for a thousand years or more.

The land in question must be surveyed. A Covenant can restrict the types of activities that can occur on the land, including whether it can be subdivided or developed. If you want you can prohibit the use of pesticides, alterations to the hydrology or the removal of vegetation. You can allow activities that achieve ecological restoration, or recreational activities such as hiking on designated trails, and you can allow for the carefully defined management of the land, such as ecoforestry-based logging, or cutting a limited amount of firewood and felling danger trees.

The Dwarves Love Land Trusts

The Covenant must be held by two recognized Land Trusts, such as the Nanaimo Area Land Trust to provide additional security and stability. The organizations must be committed to monitor the land consistently with inspections every one to three years, to ensure that the landowner is upholding the terms of the Covenant. They can also be held by government entities such as the CVRD, RDN or Ministry of Forests.

A typical inspection of a small parcel of 10 to 20 acres might take a day, including a meeting with the owner and the related administrative work, which is done by trained staff or volunteers from the Land Trust, overseen by the dwarves. It is standard practice for the Land Trust to seek an endowment from the land-owner to cover these inspection and administrative costs over the long-term, ensuring their ongoing capacity to monitor and enforce the Covenant. Endowment amounts vary depending on the size and location of the land, the complexity of the monitoring and the circumstances surrounding each agreement. It is not uncommon for a land-owner to be asked to give an endowment in the range of $10-$20,000, the interest income from which, at an assumed 3 to 4% a year, covers the cost of inspections.

Saving Money by Saving the Forest

In the Gulf Islands, a Natural Area Protection Tax Exemption Program provides a 65% property tax exemption of the assessed value of land covenanted under the program, so the tax-savings from the first year could cover the cost of the survey. The Land Trusts Alliance of British Columbia, with 36-member trusts, is promoting the establishment of a province-wide Conservation Tax Incentive Program.

Property tax incentives also apply on lands classified as Private Managed Forest by BC Assessment to encourage private landowners to manage their lands for long term forest production. A minimum of 25 hectares is required, but the property may consist of more than one parcel if they are contiguous. The program requires a signed Management Commitment that is filed with the governing Council, along with yearly declarations and reporting on harvesting and other forest management activities. This does not provide protection to the forest, but simply encourages forest management. There are no provisions within this program for ecoforestry, and clearcutting is considered an acceptable method of harvesting. Owners of land with this classification are assured of the right to harvest trees, unrestricted by local government bylaws. While it does not promote ecoforestry values, the Private Managed Forest Act could be used by ecoforesters to reduce property taxes on their land.

Covenants are most effective when they are based on a standard legal template. The addition of ecoforestry clauses makes things more complicated, because the Dwarves want legal clarity down to the minutiae (a legal word they love), and ecoforestry – well, forests don’t work that way. Hard rules are easy to follow. Ecoforestry rules can potentially make things more difficult to monitor and enforce.

A Sustainable Forestry Covenant

Keith told us that they have created a sustainable forestry covenant on Galiano that allows logging using sustainable methods and an annual allowable cut of four cubic metres per hectare per year – roughly the equivalent of four telephone poles. If an increased cut is desired, a ten-year management plan acceptable to the Land Trust must be prepared by a Registered Forest Professional. Such a situation has not arisen yet, so they have no experience to go on. The BC Truck Loggers Association estimates that a typical second growth forest contains 400-600 cubic metres of timber per hectare. In a covenanted ecoforest, if harvesting was allowed at an assumed annual growth rate of 4% a year or less, this might yield 16 to 24 cubic metres per hectare per year, which would be represented in the management plan.

The advantage of ecoforestry is that it delivers a continuous timber supply from a cohesive managed forest, feeding local mills and contributing to a circular economy in which the whole landscape functions, growing wood and offering local value-added potential. The challenge is to define such harvesting in tight legal language. One possibility might be to define it negatively, allowing no harvesting that would create a clearcut larger than (for instance) 400 square metres. This is unknown territory, but the Covenant must be written in a way that will keep the Dwarves happy.

What Happens if the Orks Seize Control?

What happens if a future landowner sides with the Orks and says “I want the timber – screw the Covenant”? This is where the penmanship of the Dwarves comes in, for the Land Trust that holds the Covenant can enforce the regulations through charges (known as rent charges) or penalties that comes into effect if the covenant is in breach. The charges can be fixed or can vary according to the damage that has occurred. In the case of overharvesting, a common method is to levy a penalty of 200% of the market value of timber removed. If necessary, a covenant includes provisions that allow the holders to take the landowner to court. The covenant also can require him or her to restore the damage and restock the ecosystem, or enable the Land Trust to complete the work at the owner’s expense. Hard rules and photographs of a breach make it is easier for a Land Trust to enforce the breach, or if necessary, for the court to make its judgment.

What size parcel is best suited to a covenant? Keith replied that in most instances larger is better. A land trust with limited capacity and resources must be able to justify the expense and commitment of a covenant through the resulting ecological benefits.  On the other hand, if a group of landowners with smaller parcels live close to each other and make a cooperative arrangement, the inspections could be cheaper, with a single visit to the properties and a shared meeting – a celebratory occasion that people would look forward to each year when they would share forest wisdoms.

Another Possibility

Another possible way to protect the forest, Keith explained, is through a partnership with the local or regional government, a Land Trust, and a forest management group such as the Ecoforestry Institute Society. It would be based around the use of Section 99(a) of the Land Title Act, which allows a parcel to be subdivided creating one lot that would be transferred to the government body and a remainder lot that would stay with the landowner, with no road dedication or other typical requirements.

The notion here is that landowners wishing to protect their forest who consider ecoforestry management to be more important than private ownership could give ownership of the subdivided lot to the government body, to be protected and managed accordingly. The government would:

  • subdivide the parcel(s) to be protected under Section 99(a),
  • zone them for ecoforestry,
  • potentially place a single ecoforestry covenant on them, and
  • sign a forest management contract with an organization such as the Ecoforestry Institute Society that would manage the land in such a way that old growth composition, structure and function were gradually restored.

The landowners would surrender their ownership, but the forest would remain in their backyard forever and be managed as an ecoforest, a status which would hopefully be valued by future owners. If adjacent landowners felt the same way they could work together to create a single protected parcel of ecoforest that would be owned and managed by a single entity. It would be a complex project involving multiple partners, but it would provide a lasting guarantee of forest protection.

We Forest-Loving Hobbits Need to Gather!

What comes next? There are many forest land-owners in the Cedar-Yellow Point area, and some of us may be interested to place ecoforestry covenants on our land, or to pursue the Section 99 route. We Hobbits need to gather, and mull things over, over a mug of mulled ale.

If you would like to join us for such a gathering, at a time and place to be determined, please email us at yellowpoint2020@gmail.com

Guy Dauncey 250-924-1445