Vancouver Institute Lectures

Our forests: Asset or liability Bene, John 1958-02-08

Your browser doesn't seem to have a PDF viewer, please download the PDF to view this item.

Notice for Google Chrome users:
If you are having trouble viewing or searching the PDF with Google Chrome, please download it here instead.

Item Metadata


12708-VI_Bene.PDF [ 330.03kB ]
JSON: 12708-1.0102696.json
JSON-LD: 12708-1.0102696-ld.json
RDF/XML (Pretty): 12708-1.0102696-rdf.xml
RDF/JSON: 12708-1.0102696-rdf.json
Turtle: 12708-1.0102696-turtle.txt
N-Triples: 12708-1.0102696-rdf-ntriples.txt
Original Record: 12708-1.0102696-source.json
Full Text

Full Text

SCAM Z) 2? 3 Addressed to the Vancouver Institute, dth. february, 195g. OUR FORRSTS, ASSET OR LIABILITY John Bene The present and future role o.f our forests is of great importance to all ofus. It is freauently discussed by the press, taught in the classroom, investigated by Royal Conmissions, and controversies :about it shake governments. I feel that we have the best chance of making sound decisions on forest policy if well—informed citizens interested in all aspects of a full life will participate in shaping these policies. From the medley of voices which praise life among big trees one tune emerges. Liature was kind to British Columbia by endowing it with embensive forests. People have squandered much of this wealth, but luckily conscience, science and law have combined in time to stop the plunder. If we tend the forest and keep fire and bugs under control, we may continue to derive a large part of our living from this renewable resource. At this oint agreement ends. What we have in our forest, what we should do with it, and who should do the work are controversial issues. They are controversial because the forest means different things to different people, and because few of us agree when we try to forecast what conditions will be one hundred years hence. We hove to look so far ahead because trees grow very slowly and live a very long time. Many trees in our virgin forests are 300 — 600 years old, and old timers are found quite frequently which are 3,000 years old and older. Unlike most other living things trees keep on growing until they die. British Columbia trees put on the largest annual growth between the ages of 40 and 100 years. After that deterioration caused by old age increases, and sooner or later loss due to rot, insect dmnage and wind breakage will balance or exceed the yearly growth. The vision becomes blurred when we plan our future forests and try to look a century ahead, Looking 100 years back for guidance is not much help 100 years ago the population of our planet was 1 bifliorw it is now 2.5 billion and exoected to reach 7 — 12 billion by the year 2,050, Rapidly increasing industrialization of this globe gobbles up raw materials at an unprecedentedly fast rate, and changes in living standards have been more spectacular during the last 100 years than during the orevious one thousand. Technological development has avalanched to a state where the experts and industrial managers see increasingly more arid more details hut less and less of the over—all problem. —2— I trust that some of the figures I have mentioned will show you why we have to look so far ahead and why this is quite difficult. To draw a mental picture of what role the forest may have in B.C. a century hence, let roe first give you a sketchy outline of our present forest economy. I will first discuss the effect British Columhia1 geography has on our forest industry, then tell you about the ahilosoehy which aoverr!s how much timber is harvested, I will then review who owns the forest, how the timber is sold and utilized, and fnat bhc economic and social irelications of present nolicies are, Followinn this I will review developments abroad which are different from ours and therefore may give us some food for thought. British Columbia is a very rough country, so rough indeed that only O years pro surveyors who investigated the possibility of building a railroad from central Canada to the Pacific reported that it was iirmractical to cross the Rockies by rai.l, end even if the crossing could be achieved it would not be worth while. They ecoorted that this country could never sunoort a sa:eaole copulation. The l million people who live comfortably in British Columbia today prove that this renort was a bit exaggerated, but it is true that only two percent of our land is suitable for agriculture. About one— third is covered with forest or could support a commercial forest and nearly two—thirds of the land area of the nrcvir!ce is barren or brush land. In much of our province we have only three months out of twelve without killing frost. Only a narrow strip along the Pacific Coast benefits from the warm Jananese current. We have no maj or all—the— year—round navigable inland water ways; the country is extremely mountainous, end the only low—cost transuortation of goods which Nature has wrovided is by water through the sheltered stretch of sea between the mainland and Vancouver Island, Largely because of their inaccessibility, forests in our province fared better than those orb ich cover the more gentle hills of central and eastern Canada. It is true that large areas, particularly on the interior olateau between the Rockies and the Cascade Nounteins, have been burned, r.ncl some of the forests on the coast have been devastated by indiscriminate loging methods, hut by and large, Nature has done a good job of reforestation and noeL of the suitable lend in British Columbia is covered with trees up to the tree line. Two factors govern the amount of wood which we ewiract from the forest: market conditions and cutting restrictions made by people who are concerned with rlanning for a continuous log supply. We have th.e technical means today of moving’trees from almost every hilltop and gulley. Thether it as worth while to do so denends on the cuality, age, and species of the tree, tonogranhy of the terrain, distance to the factory, and most of all, market conditions. In a booming market when prices for the products are high we can go further afield for our logs; at other times some of our forest must be bypassed because we would lose money in harvesting it. Our forest olanners have adopted the principle of sustained yield. This means the cut;ing each year of only as much timber as the forest will grow. This is certainly progress over the old method of ?cutting out and getting our, but rigid adherence to this principle should be critically investigated. We cannot do anything about market conditions, but we should realize that the principle of sustained yield is self—imposed and could be revises at will. We may not wish to perpetuate the present forest, but substitute a different, better one grow different types of trees, and change our methods of harvesting and utilization. If our ancestors had insisted on the sustained yield management of the berry natch, agriculture would never have develooed and this planet would support hut a fraction of the uresent ropulation, and even that .rould starve We have been cutting in f3ritish Columbia bout one billion cubic feet of logs annually over the last ter years. iaen if we accept a rather conservative interpretation of sustained yield, we could increase the timber cut in heurovinoe about threefold without deoleting our forests; ban in that case we must spread the timber cut over all the province, otherwise one area or one type of timber will be cut out and the continuity of sunuly will thereby be disrupted, Only about d of the forested area in Britisn Columbia is privately owned; the balance is held by the government. Privately owned land is much tie most accessible and contains the hirhest grade timber. Most of it is located on the coast. At one time it was alienated by land grants to foster the building of railroads, or it was staked by settlers or sold for rhat sounds today a trivial sum. The sale of government—owned forest to private parties was stopped in ld96, and present legislation forbids the sale of any government forest land. Today the government sells the sustained yield of its forests, The piece of land onwhi ch logging is to take place is handed over temporarily to the nurchaser of the timber who logs the timber off, clears the area of excessive debris calied slash, and then returns the land to the government fo further management. In some instances, such as on managereent licences, the logger is given the responsibility for the growing of the next crop. Huch progress has been made lately in the utilization of timber, Twenty—five years ago only about one—enarter Of the timber volume grown was turned into saleable products such as oiling, shingles, lumber, or plywood; the balance was either burned or left on the ground to rot. - - Today about half of the wood volume grown is used. Pulp, newsprint, and building boards have become outlets for much wood which formerly went to the burner, but the volume left behind in the forest is still very great. he witness a significant development today in the gradual dis appearance of the small sawmills and the emergence of giant industrial complexes which are usually described as tintegrated plants because they first emtract from the log the luitber, plyaiood or shingles and them the byoroduct from these operations is made into pulp and uaper or fibre boards. Some of these units represent investeents of from 3O—lOO million each. It is asucied to be necessary to earmark for these mamnoth plants the log supoly of huge areas to rotect these large investments. The tendency is towards conce:atration of the industry in fewer and larger units on whose fortune the wealth of a large section of the countryside denends. One by-oroduct of this increasing concentration of industry is the working many s feeling of dependence on only one employer in the district, and the general publicts suspicion that a monopolistic position reap be abused. I believe that the existence of one employer only in a large area are;ravates many social conflicts and also creates nolitical problems, It is instructive to revjew trends in forestry and forest utliization in other arts of the world and conjencture how they may affect developments at home. Some five thousand years ago the development of agriculture caused an important change in the way of life of the human race it enabled people to grow more food on smaller areas and particularly to grow crops and harvest then, in relative safety and with less effort. As time went by new crops perticularly suited to the location and developed to fit specific rDeuirements were olantcd they were less susceptible to the hazard of weather and the crops became more resistant to fungus and insect damage. These and other developments took thousands of years in ngr:iculture but similar ones have been telescoped into a few decades in forestry. Here in Canada the nomad method of obraining timber by ‘cutting out and getting out has been replaced br sustained yield management of natural stands, This is roughly ociuivalent to the tendina of the berry oatch, a stmpe in food gathering which arececied agriculture, but in many foreiga countries today tree growing already copies the methods of agricuitire. The suitable sites arc carefully oreoared for tie Jlro o c c—o’n cc hid the rcung cron is creull tended trees are fertilized, thinned, pruned and sorayed. The vigorously—mpoi’dng trees can be harvested in a much shorter time than trees in an unmancged forest anal the quality of the timber is often superior to that from the wild forest. It nas been estimated that our coast forest in Eritish Columbia. will edrow about 75 cubic feet per —2— acre per year and the forest in the interior 25 — 30. Douglas Fir plantations in Denmark have a yearly increment of 330 cubic feet, and Poplar olantations in South Africa and the Argentine will grow up to 400 cubic fee/acre/year. Most of this timber is free from defects, easy to harvest, and it is grown neal door to the manufacturing plant. In a great many countries, capitalistic and socialistic alike, the government regulates the cut of tjnher, sets requirments for replanting, and shares with the owners the resnonsibility for the protection of the forest. Sometmos a government agency will manu facture wood products alongside urivate industry. This is usually done either to introduce new techniques which are only ine.rginally economic, or to enable more secondary producers to share in the manufacture of forest oroducts. To give you one examle, many wood working qlants in Germany own no timber at all. The federal, state and municipal governments there, as well as private forest owners, will contract for the logn-ing of timber stands just as they would contract for the building of a road, The 1ogs are then divided into small parcels according to quality and these parcels sold in auction sales. ach manufacturer has a chance to buy the logs he can use best. A great many narcels of lcgs are auctioned off and many industries can peacefully co—exist knowing that each one will be able to obtain the raw material at can use to the best advantage. This method of log disuosal also gives an oowortunity to the person who believes he has a novel and more advantageous use for the log, but no control over timber. Technology of wood utilization has made great strides all over the world, The development in laboratories of processes and techniciues is comparable almost everywhere. The application of the new techniques is not. In the Scandinevian countries and in Germany every stici. of wood is picked un in the forest. Material which is not suitable for luz:ber, for olywood, or nulp is used in gas generators or converted into wood suqars, or burned as fuel. The effluent of sulphito pulp mills is the raw arterial for alcohol and yeast, the latter a rich protein diet for animals and humans, In British Columbia the abundance of oil, ntural gas, animal proteins and sugars makes it uneconomical, or economically risky at least, to proceed so far with the utilization of wood, Therefore we still destroy a tremendous volume of timber either as slash in the forest or mill waste in the plant. I feel that it is a safe assuaotion to make that we in British Coluirfoin will always be able to grow as much timber as we can use and that other parts of this earth will likewise have an abundant supply once methods copied from agricultre are employed in forestry. Je are selling today dO percent of our wood products outside this province. In many instances we are selling to countries which —6— have develoned rapidly their own ti:aber and manufacturing industries. During the last few years most of the new pulp, paper and plywood plants have been built in countries where logs are harvested from plentations, intensively managed natural stands, or iron rapidly growing tronical forests, The cost of timber from such areas is much lower than that of most of our timber in Canada, and in many instonces manufacturing lants are considerably closer to the markets than we are. :ie in British Columbia have felt rather smug about our future just because we have extensive forests. I suggest that this is largely wishful thinkinn and the possession and perpetuation of the present forest does not assure a orivileged nosition i:o world rrkets. In order to remain competitive ire must provid.e for our industries a sunoly of low cost logs of uniform grade. In the future this will come mainly from intensively menaged stands, At present the hune stands of decaying, over—aged, mixed timber make intensive management difficult and costly. I believe we should cut this timber as ranidly as we can find markets for it. On easily— accessible, good—groiing sites we should establish intensively managed plantations to produce low—cost legs. Some peonle are so busy trying to regenerate the original forest that they find no time to question whether the same mixture of trees irill still he desirable when the new forest natures. I would like to illustrate this problem with a similar one in the fishing industry. Controversy is raging these days whether the erection of dams on the Fraser River will or will not reduce the salmon catch. fverybocty is agreed that these dams would provide a huge amount control flooding, make possible irrigation of vast stretcnes of arid land, and create low cost transportateon in a country which today is economically underorivileged be cause of the high cost of transportation, It is cuite likely that the dams would reduce the salmon catch, but it can be proven that much more low cost protein could be producrd from lake fish raised in the new storage dams and from cattle grazing on -reviously arid hillside. Similary, some of our methods of forest regeneration will undoubtedly assure continuity of the same forest cover, but whether they will yield low cost wood best suited for the future of the industry is doubtful, During the last 100 years shins of many nations have called in at our oorts to load huge Douqlas Fir timbers for masts and beams, Today laminated beams manufactured from narrow hoards make a more uniform, better macduct for the ouruose, and such bones can be manufactured from a young forest anywhere in the world. Another exemple fro tii.e plynood anaustry is Poplar olywood made from 30 year—old logs and. it cooroetes successfully with olywood made from 300—year—old choice Fir logs The pulp chips salvaged from the scrap in the sawmills are a much more economic and equally desirable raw material for the nuin mill than the huge over—aged logs from our virgin forests, a—7— We have to des]. with the widespread misconception that we are rich because we have forests, that we are giving something away because we cut our timber, and that we should conserve our old growth timber for the future • Ie should also auestion whether the integrated utilization necessarily means integrated industries in one location under singlo ownership. We must think oflr very carefully the respective roles of government and private industry. Most people in British Columbia feel today that private enterprise has done a good job for the develoaent of this province and that it should have a chance to continue to do this job. It is felt that a continuance would assure the greatest opportunity for most people.— — A decision for private enterprise is not in contradiction to a partnership with the government in developing the industry and assuring its future, and I suggest it is wise to accept the notion that the government is best fitted to act as a trustee for the future of our forests because government policy is lesé subject to pressures caused by daily fluctuations in business. In n opinion the most important role which can be assigned to our forests is to act as a reservoir for surplus labour and creative thinking, at times when our econon has not enough outlets for these human resources. .Ie are in a race to provide better living for all our citizens • ‘Se have to faco the fact that the capitalistic econcnw is cyclical and there are long periods when there is more labour and brain power than the marizet can absorb. We could and I believe we should put tho unenployed people to work on tho many projects of improving our forests, making the forest more productive, more secure from fire and disease, and more accessible to the millions of people who will want to spend their vacations there. Kore and more people, from British Columbia as well as foreign visitors come to our forests and lakes and cruise the magnificent inlets of this province. They discover the joy of a simple life close to nature and they rcturn to work with a better understanding for the real ‘ralues in living. The capacity of our campsites are overtaxed even today. In a world becoming ranidly more crowded, we can be sure that the majestic beauty of our scenory, tho deep csiet of our forests and lakes will be sought after by more and more peonle. To open this country up for the visitor is good investment in money and a still better one ingoodwill. I have spoken about a variety of subjects, and you might well ask what conclusions are. May I leavo theso thoughts with you: (1) We live in a province rich in forests, but this does not insure automatically a prosperous future. There is no reason to expect a timber shortage at home or abroad, now or in the future. (2) Only a very email proportion of our production is consumed at home. !lhethcr we will be able to remain exporters of wood products will depend on our ability to crow and harvest logs —8— at low cost and convert them completely and cheaply into saleable products. (3) Tn a cyclical economy we must use our forest as a buffer to invest in it surplus labour and creative thinking in times of unemployment and reaD the extra harvest when ready markets are available for it. (L) Bold, imaginative thinking is rccuired by government and industry alike, and often in oartnership, to keep the industry dynamic and to provide not only a living for the largest possible nuriber of people, but a challeng as well. in short, whether our forests will be an asset or a liability denends entirely on how much of oni enterprise, energy and casital we are willing end able to invest in the forest. February, 1958.


Citation Scheme:


Citations by CSL (citeproc-js)

Usage Statistics



Customize your widget with the following options, then copy and paste the code below into the HTML of your page to embed this item in your website.
                            <div id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidgetDisplay">
                            <script id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidget"
                            async >
IIIF logo Our image viewer uses the IIIF 2.0 standard. To load this item in other compatible viewers, use this url:


Related Items