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Tenure For Timber

  • Alison Berry
  • [ See Case Study Branching Out – PDF ]

    The forests of North America represent enormous natural bounty, yet in the United States this bounty is being squandered. Forests managed by the U.S. Forest Service face catastrophic wildfire, insect infestation, and invasion by alien species. Taxpayers lose money on them while the Forest Service itself suffers from “analysis paralysis” according to Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth.

    Last year, I began investigating forestry outside the United States to find innovations that might improve public forest management in our country. I found strikingly different approaches just north of the border, in Canada. Canada’s forest policies create opportunities for a variety of interests to be represented in public forest management. In particular, community-based forestry as practiced in Canada could be applied in the United States as well.

    Unlike the United States, where 59 percent of the forestland is privately owned, most forestland in Canada is public, with 70 percent of the forestland managed by provincial governments (see Figure 1). These forests passed from the British Crown to the Canadian colonies when they assumed responsibility for government (Drushka 2003, 30). Provincial forests are commonly referred to as Crown lands.

    Timber harvests from provincial forestland are managed primarily through long-term leases and licenses, also called tenures. Unlike timber sales in the United States, which give a private company the right to log a specified forest stand, Canadian timber tenures transfer major responsibilities to private companies or organizations for long periods. The tenure holder pays annual rents and harvesting fees set by the province and must comply with environmental regulations. Forest management, including planning, timber harvesting, reforestation, and maintenance, is generally the responsibility of the tenure holder.

    Timber tenures generate revenues for the provinces, in contrast to the U.S. national forests, which operate at a cost to taxpayers. For example, timber management in British Columbia generates US$2.35 for every dollar spent (British Columbia Ministry of Forests 2001- 2002), while the U.S. Forest Service loses US$0.36 for each dollar spent on timber management.

    Canadian timber tenures allow companies, nonprofit organizations, and communities to manage forests for a variety of goals. Although the majority of tenures are held by large, industrial forest companies, a growing minority is held by community organizations and indigenous groups. British Columbia, in fact, offers a tenure specifi cally designed to allow local governments, community organizations, or indigenous groups to manage the forests around them.

    The popularity of these Community Forest Agreements in British Columbia is growing. As of January 2006, 11 pilot agreements had been issued. Two of these have completed their pilot periods; one of the two has been awarded a 25-year license, and the other is negotiating an agreement. Furthermore, 90 communities have requested information about the CFA program.


    The Community Forest Agreement held by the villages of Harrop and Procter in southeastern British Columbia illustrates how these tenures can promote innovative forest management. Harrop and Procter have a total of 700 year-round residents, a rural economy, and a sizeable summer tourist industry. Since the mid-1970s the communities have tried to protect the forests around them, partly because the nearby Crown forest is the main source of the towns’ agricultural and domestic water. Residents rely largely on untreated surface water, and they fear that industrial logging could force the installation of costly chlorination and filtration systems. The community also wants to protect the wildlife around it, and many people worry that logging will disturb scenic views (Harrop-Procter Community Forest n.d.).

    When the towns failed to get the forests protected as part of a provincial park, they decided to take matters into their own hands. They formed the Harrop-Procter Watershed Protection Society. Initially, they tried to prevent any logging in the watershed, but soon realized that a Community Forest Agreement was a better approach. In 1999 Harrop-Procter received a Community Forest Pilot Agreement over 27,000 acres (11,000 hectares) of Crown forests and formed the Harrop-Procter Community Co-op to take over forest operations and economic development. The co-op’s first priority in forest management is protection of the towns’ drinking water. To work toward this goal, Harrop-Procter has successfully negotiated with the provincial government to reduce logging intensity in the area, thereby reducing impacts on the watershed (Anderson and Horter 2002).

    Because Harrop-Procter does not intend to maximize returns from timber, it must generate revenue through alternative sources. It is the only timber tenure holder in British Columbia that is actively marketing non-timber forest products and one of the few that sell value-added wood products. Every effort is made to use ecosystembased forestry techniques and to process forest products locally. The co-op supports two businesses: Sunshine Bay Botanicals and Harrop- Procter Forest Products.

    Sunshine Bay Botanicals sells dried herbs, teas, and tinctures created from forest-harvested and organically farmed herbs. Harrop- Procter Forest Products sells everything from rough-cut lumber to kitchen cabinets, all marketed as “wood with a conscience.” Future eff orts are aimed at creating an ecotourism business, further developing non-timber forest products, incorporating more local processing of timber, and marketing more value-added wood products.

    The community forest has also secured development grants and funding from venture capitalists. Harrop-Procter cuts down on management costs by relying heavily on volunteers, who supply as much as 350 hours of work per month (Anderson and Horter 2002).

    Harrop-Procter is an example of innovation in public forest management. Decisions are made based on local values, and the local communities stand to benefit from responsible forest management.

    Time will be the test of whether the Harrop-Procter Community Forest can sustain itself in the long-run. The key may be the inclusion of non-timber forest products such as recreation and forest-grown herbs in its agreement with the province. This is unusual in the Canadian timber tenure system, which is based primarily on logging. It is important for community forests that do not want to concentrate on timber production to be able to generate revenue from other sources.


    Canada’s experiment with community forest agreements should be carefully watched by the United States. A growing number of community organizations in the United States are exploring the possibilities of community-based forestry-although at the moment there is little opportunity for experimentation within the federal forest system.

    A framework for introducing new forest management policies in the United States has been off ered by Daniel Kemmis (2004), senior fellow in public policy at the Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana. Kemmis suggests reconstituting the nowdefunct Region 7 of the Forest Service, which was eliminated when the ten Forest Service regions were reorganized in 1965. Instead of a geographical region, the new Region 7 would be a grouping of discontinuous areas where alternative approaches to federal forest management could be applied on an experimental basis. These could include Canadian policies of forest management. After an initial pilot period, these programs could be evaluated and adjusted as necessary.

    This example does not mean that forest management is ideal in Canada. The annual allowable cut-the minimum amount of timber required of each forest by the provinces-discourages forestry that does not include intensive logging. Ecosystem-based and community based forests struggle to achieve their goals while also meeting their annual cut rates. Nevertheless, the combination of long-term area based tenures and the provinces’ openness to allowing those tenures to be held by nonprofit community-based organizations offers a new approach. Perhaps greater knowledge of the Canadian examples will raise awareness in the United States and help both forests and communities in the United States.


    1. Personal communication with Holly Fretwell, PERC research fellow, January 2006. Forest Service data are the average for 1998-2001.
    2. Email communication with Ron Greschner, senior timber tenures forester, British Columbia Ministry of Forests and Range, January 6, 2006.



    Anderson, Noba Gmeiner, and Will Horter. 2002. Connecting Lands and People: Community Forests in British Columbia. October. Online: CFReport/cfreport.pdf (cited January 24, 2006).

    British Columbia Ministry of Forests. 2001-2002. 2001/02 Annual Report: A New Era Update. Online: pdf (cited January 24, 2006).

    Drushka, Ken. 2003. Canada’s Forests: A History. Montreal, Canada: McGill-Queens University Press.

    Harrop-Procter Community Forest. N.d. The Evolution of the Harrop-Procter Watershed Protection Society. Online: www.hpcommunityforestorg/about/evolution.html (cited January 24, 2006).

    Kemmis, Daniel. 2004. Constitutional Conflicts on Public Lands: Re-examining the Governing Framework of the Public Lands. University of Colorado Law Review 75(Fall): 1127-1132.

    Alison Berry is a research fellow with PERC. Her essay Branching Out: Case Studies in Canadian Forestry has just been published by PERC and is available at

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