Policies of previous decades had been directed at building and maintaining a stable and prosperous forest sector by providing incentives and keeping costs low. Timber supply had expanded through technological advancements, opening of new areas and improved utilization, keeping pace with growing milling capacity. By the 1970s the situation had changed. Problems related to protecting the natural environment were emerging. Operations were increasingly taking place on environmentally sensitive sites. The most pressing problem had become reconciling industrial forestry with other forest uses and social objectives to realize the full range of potential values.
The 1975 Royal Commission on Forest Resources urged a reformulation of forest policy in light of current conditions and some new ideas on the implementation of sustained yield. It proposed two main objectives for forest management: the protection and enhancement of forest productivity to produce a range of industrial and environmental values, and the regulation of harvesting to produce maximum long-term economic and social benefits from the timber resource. These were different from the objectives of the 1940s in several ways. The protection of the long-term productivity of the forest would take precedence over short-term timber production, forests would be managed for more than timber, and environmental as well as industrial values were to be recognized.
The rigid assumptions and formula method to regulate harvest, adopted in 1947, were no longer appropriate. The Royal Commission recommended implementation of a new process in which various options — alternative harvest levels, strategies for transition to the second rotation, consideration of other resources and the impacts of silviculture programs — could be assessed, reviewed by the public and evaluated for their short- and long-term impacts. With a full range of options analyzed and public feedback considered, the chief forester could then select an AAC that maximized social and economic benefits.
Many of these recommendations were implemented with the introduction in 1979 of the Ministry of Forests Act, Forest Act and Range Act:
New funding measures recognized the long-term requirement to invest in forestry to protect the public’s interest and were designed to ensure continuity of funding within the annual budgeting of government. A special forestry fund — the Forest and Range Resource Fund — was set up, separate from general revenue, to be used during inevitable economic downturns. Budget planning for silviculture was done on a five-year basis. The system of appraised prices (stumpage, or the market price of timber minus its production costs) remained in place, and the government continued to bear the costs for reforestation, inventory and road-building by crediting industrial expenses against the stumpage owed the Crown.
With increasing demands for resource use, forest land had become too scarce to allow single use for timber production. The government adopted a policy of multiple use management to deal with resource use pressures. The idea was that through careful planning, a mix of uses would be possible. While there would be compromises for some users, there would be greater overall benefit to society. Alienation of forest land to single uses, such as wilderness preservation, was considered generally at odds with the goal of maximizing society’s benefits. Unless the single use proposed was thought to return a higher benefit to society than multiple use management, land would not be allocated to that use. Timber harvesting would be done within the context of multiple use planning, and decisions would be made based on the capability and suitability of the land to produce the best mix of uses. On multiple use lands where non-timber values were considered important, constraints would be placed on harvesting. Other resources were now to be considered, but within the existing paradigm of economically efficient timber production. The dominant goal was to maximize total benefits by integrating the management of numerous resources, as opposed to maximizing the production of a single resource.
Public involvement marked the beginning of a new era in forest policy-making. Forestry decisions were no longer the exclusive domain of government and industrial foresters; many new “players” with diverse values and opinions were involved. Public involvement processes were developed to both inform the public and solicit information. Legislation required formal public review and comment on key forestry decisions, such as the determination of AAC and the approval of TFL management and working plans. In addition, the public became more actively involved in local planning processes in areas where there were other significant resource values and concerns.
A review of timber supply in the early 1980s confirmed projections made in the 1979 Forest and Range Resource Analysis of a timber supply “falldown.” The timing and severity varied by region, with the greatest reductions forecast on the coast. The chief forester reduced AACs to the level currently committed to the industry and warned that, unless forest management was intensified and utilization improved, the rate of harvest would decline at the next scheduled periodic review. This stimulated effort over the next few years to secure additional silviculture funding to increase timber yields and to practice multiple or integrated resource use to minimize the alienation of forest land to other resource uses.
A severe recession in the early 1980s had significant repercussions for forest management. The yearly budgetary increases originally indicated in the Five Year Forest and Range Program did not materialize, and the Forest and Range Resource Fund was depleted only a few years after its establishment. Stumpage for much of the harvest fell to minimum rates, and credits to stumpage exceeded stumpage billings for some licencees, thus reducing their incentive to undertake silviculture activities. In 1984, the Ministry of Forests was downsized by approximately 30% and adopted a policy of “sympathetic administration” to assist the financially troubled forest industry and to buoy the provincial economy during the global recession. This latter policy resulted in the relaxation of forest management guidelines and standards of performance in some areas.
The forest sector, driven by market pressure to remain competitive, improved efficiency by mechanizing and implementing new technologies. This, however, resulted in reduced employment. The ratio of employment to volume harvested had been steadily declining since the 1960s and dropped more sharply in the early 1980s. This situation demonstrated that a sustainable timber supply alone would not ensure sustained employment.
During this period, the rate of harvest on regulated lands continued to rise despite the threat of falldown — from 62 million cubic metres in 1976 (when the issue of falldown was first raised by the Royal Commission of Inquiry), to 67 million cubic metres by 1980 and to 71 million cubic metres by 1992. Logging operations expanded, moving into more difficult and controversial areas and exerted increasing pressure on other forest resources.
Multiple use management and public involvement policies alone did not sustain the resource in the face of expanded logging operations and relaxed standards of performance during the recession. Therefore, environmental concerns of the public increased and land use conflicts escalated. Consequently, more and more public attention was directed to B.C. forest practices, locally, nationally and internationally.
The 1984 Forest and Range Resource Analysis discussed several policy issues. The most significant concerned timber supply and the adequacy of forest management, protection of non-timber resource values, management of the second-growth forest and the delegation of management responsibilities.
The report stated that the “present forest resource cannot, without significant changes in management policies and programs, continue to support current harvest rates and still meet the long-term objectives of sustained yield.” The current rate of harvest and estimates of timber supply were based on assumptions of better management performance than had occurred in the previous five years. Strategies were needed to explore the potential of harvesting marginal wood and to secure the funding necessary for forest management. An analysis of intensive silviculture indicated that a rate of harvest of 75 million cubic metres was possible with adequate funding. However, previous mechanisms — such as Section 88, the Five Year Forest and Range Program and the Forest and Range Resources Fund — had failed to secure the necessary funding.
The report also pointed out that many of the integrated resource management decisions to date had been compromises; underlying conflicts inherent in the management objectives for various resources had not yet been resolved. Temporary solutions had been negotiated by moving potentially conflicting resource uses, such as logging, to other less contentious areas. However, with increasing timber supply scarcity, harvesting in controversial areas would soon no longer be avoidable. The 1984 Forest and Range Resource Analysis warned that integrated resource use policy would “soon emerge as a central political topic.”