A Distorted Picture of Canadian Forests
Alison Berry?s article about Canadian forest management (?Timber Tenures,? March 2005) takes a somewhat truncated view of the situation?giving us all of the good but none of the bad.
There are some very large downsides to the timber lease and tenure structures, and those pitfalls have caused signiï¬ cant destruction of vitally important old-growth temperate rainforest over the years. One of the largest of these downsides is that many of the tenures contain ?use it or lose it? provisions. A second is that the incentives created by a provincial system that derives a signiï¬ cant proportion of funding from timber harvesting are misaligned toward over-exploitation.
A net result of these and other failures of the tenure system is that out of roughly 170 valleys on Vancouver Island, 159 have been largely or completely clearcut. Until the 1980s and 1990s these were mostly old-growth, temperate forest systems. The harvesting methods and impacts to wildlife and water quality were egregious; these had knock-on effects on the keystone species of this ecoystem, salmon. As salmon runs are wiped out through sedimentation, water quality and temperature impacts, and other effects, the species that rely on salmon also begin to disappear.
Yes, trees will grow again on Vancouver Island, but the biodiversity values of those old-growth systems will not be replaced in twenty generations, if then.
-Kent W. Gilges
Senior Program Manager, Forest Conservation
The Nature Conservancy
Rochester, New York
Alison Berry Responds:
I agree that there that there are many downsides to the Canadian timber tenure system. For example, the annual allowable cut ?the ?use it or lose it? provision that you refer to?is a minimum amount of timber that must be cut by tenure holders each year. As I mentioned in the article, this policy discourages forestry that does not include intensive logging, as does the emphasis on timber over other forest values in Canada.
My article highlighted the positive sides of the tenure system to help generate solutions for the "analysis paralysis" facing U.S. public land management agencies. It would not be necessary to incorporate the less successful aspects of the tenure system into U.S. forest policy.
Without minimum harvest levels or an emphasis on timber production, timber tenures could transfer management responsibility to the private sector, encourage local control, and open up a range of opportunities on forest lands, including the development of non-timber forest resources.
It is true that Harrop-Procter is the exception and not the rule in Canadian forestry. But Vancouver Island, too, is an unusual case where the combination of a rare ecosystem and an abundant and accessible timber supply has resulted in bitter battles over conï¬‚ icting resource values. Th e United States can learn from Canada?s timber tenure system, not just from Harrop-Procter and Vancouver Island, but from forest management across the country, where local control and more secure tenures?in terms of duration, renewability, and rights allocated?encourage responsible forest management.
Tax Yes. Subsidy, No
While ethanol (?A Kernel of Support for Ethanol,? March 2006) is one of my favorites among all the food groups, it is not my choice for displacing gasoline. Aside from the (at times huge) subsidies that are inherently political, and therefore exceptionally diï¬ƒ cult to dislodge, there are other very troublesome aspects which were given little or no attention in the PERC Reports dialogue.
The very rapid phase-out of methyl t-butyl ether (MTBE) and its replacement with ethanol will prove to be either expensive or unworkable for some months and probably several years unless the costly program of barring ethanol imports ceases. (Th is prohibition on imports is, of course, just another subsidy for ?home-grown? ethanol, enacted to get farm state votes and make Archer Daniels Midland happy.) Ethanol can be produced from sugar cane much more eï¬ƒ ciently than from corn; unfortunately the United States lacks the proper climate for growing very large amounts of sugar cane (and let?s not even begin to think about all those Northern Plains sugar beet farmers with their 110-day growing season . . .). Th e idea that ethanol can be produced in oil-reï¬ nery quantities from other sources (e.g., switch grass) is still very much a laboratory exercise, decades from reality.
The real problem is the likelihood?indeed, the probability ?that ethanol/gasoline mixtures will poison groundwater supplies. If MTBE was a problem, it was a small one compared to the mobilization of toxic components of gasoline (notably the mobilization of toxic components of gasoline (notably benzene) into drinking water supplies. (Benzene is far more soluble in ethanol/water mixtures than in water alone.) If this happens, and I believe it could, it would shut down the ethanol business instantly in some regions and disrupt transportation over much of the nation.
If we really want to ï¬ nd a replacement for petroleumbased fuels then tax them on an increasing schedule that rises, say, 5 or 10 percent a year for as long as it takes, return the added revenues to taxpayers through payroll tax reductions and get the government out of the energy selection and subsidy business?where it has an unbroken three-decade record of failure.
-Ernst Habicht Jr.
Port Jefferson, New York