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"Pretty sleek and fat" : the genesis of forest policy in British Columbia, 1903-1914 Marris, Robert Howard

Abstract

This study examines events surrounding the 1909-1910 Fulton Royal Commission to analyze the early management and exploitation of one provincial resource, timber. Since successive governments in British Columbia have sought to regulate this resource industry, it is desirable to have some understanding of the historical processes by which Crown policy and regulations have been decided upon. Furthermore, those government measures not only cover fields requiring a high level of -technical expertise and an intimate knowledge of the industry concerned, but have also shaped the very structure of those industries. By 1900 the principle of Crown ownership of the province's forest land was well established. Because of this principle, when in the early years of the twentieth centure the forest industry in British Columbia expanded greatly, the Crown was able to ensure that its forest income rose correspondingly. Changes in the terms of access to Crown timber were, in fact, aimed at increasing still further Crown forest revenues, especially after 1905. Having briefly discussed contemporary governmental policies and developments elsewhere on the continent, the thesis then examines the situation in British Columbia to 1909, and the reasons for the appointment of the Fulton Commission in that year. It is suggested that the Commission was set up at that juncture because, having achieved its primary aim of a substantial and steady flow of revenue from Crown forests, the McBride government was unsure of what other forestry goals to pursue. An exposition of themes recurrent at the hearings of the Fulton Commission is undertaken. Themes include security of tenure for those holding cutting-rights to timber on Crown land, conservation, reforestation and the regulation of logging practices, and the provision by the Crown of certain services—such as forest fire protection—to the forest industry. It is argued that the way in which these themes were treated in the Final Report of the Commission was a reflection of the McBride government's overriding concern with maintaining its high flow of forest revenues. In this context it is noted that neither the Commission's Final Report of 1910, nor British Columbia's first Forest Act of 1912, were particularly innovative or unique in terms of contemporary continental practices. The main focus of government forest policy remained fiscal throughout this period, and indeed well beyond it.

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