Botanical Forest Products Table of Contents]


Our extensive coniferous forests in British Columbia can be viewed as a rich source of commercial non-timber forest products. [1] Non-timber forest products are divided into two categories in British Columbia: special forest products, regulated under the Forest Act and the Special Forest Products Regulation, and unregulated botanical forest products. [2]

Under the Forest Act, either the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council, the Minister of Forests, a regional manager or a district manager has authority to permit harvesting of special forest products. The criteria used to determine tenure type and to designate harvest areas include: (a) demand for the special forest product, (b) species abundance and (c) potential for conflict with timber harvesting or other forest resource uses.

Special forest products by definition are derived from trees, the majority of which are taken from salvage timber. Basic information about special forest products, such as tenure type, tree species used, volume harvested and stumpage revenue to the Crown, is stored in an electronic database maintained by the Timber Harvesting Branch, Ministry of Forests. The harvest database currently contains information on about 24 different special forest products, in addition to data on harvested wood (sawlogs and pulpwood). Further information about special forest products, such as designated harvesting areas, product end use, harvester profile and resource issues, can be obtained from special tenures or small business foresters in the various forest districts.

Table 1 describes each special forest product on the basis of total volume harvested and revenue to the Crown for the fiscal year 1990-91. During this period approximately two million cubic metres of these products were harvested, worth approximately $3 million in stumpage revenue to the Crown. Table 1 also shows, for comparison, that the total volume of wood harvested in fiscal year 1990-91 was more than 74 million cubic metres, worth approximately $550 million in revenue to the Crown.

Compared to wood and special forest products, information about botanical forest products has been almost non-existent. Over the past 10 years, however, the botanical forest products industry has been increasingly debated by forest managers in British Columbia. Two particular botanical forest products, the pine mushroom and western yew bark, have stimulated the need for ecological research and for regulation of harvesting activity.

The commercial harvesting of pine mushrooms has come to the attention of British Columbia's public and the government on several occasions. In 1979, for example, the export of large commercial quantities of pine mushrooms to Japan prompted the Ministry of Agriculture to publish a brochure entitled A New Opportunity...Pine Mushrooms in B.C. The brochure included information on field identification and harvesting techniques for the pine mushroom.

It was not until 1988, however, that the growing export industry for pine mushrooms became widely recognized. During the harvest that year, competition among buyers in the Terrace and Hazelton areas (for the Japanese export market) drove the price paid to harvesters up to $100 per pound. This resulted in a "gold rush mentality" among harvesters, with many individuals reportedly leaving well-paying day jobs to pick pine mushrooms (Eligh 1989).

University mycologists, forest ecologists, the Vancouver Mycological Society and members of the public expressed concerns about the impact of harvesting on the forest environment and about conflicts among the pine mushroom industry groups. As a result of lobbying, the Premier's office formed an inter-ministry Wild Mushroom Committee in January 1989 to investigate the pine mushroom industry and to make recommendations for fall 1989.

The committee recommended that an interim licensing system be considered. A composite system of regulation using the Forest Act and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Act was recommended for the 1989 harvest season. A new, more comprehensive statute was to be prepared for the 1990 harvest season. One component of the interim recommendation was a special-use permit system for mushroom harvesters to access Crown lands. This interim measure was seen as a means to reduce conflicts with timber operations. The committee also called for development of a system to compile marketing and processing data from the buyers and marketers of pine mushrooms. None of the committee's recommendations were implemented.

During the spring and summer of 1991, the Ministry of Forests faced an increased demand for western yew bark as a raw material for taxol production. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the United States had declared the development of taxol an "emergency priority," as positive results were obtained in treating recurrent ovarian cancer with taxol. At both NCI and the British Columbia Cancer Agency, phase III trials for treatment of recurrent ovarian cancer and phase II studies for other tumor types (including breast, lung and melanoma cancers) had been initiated. Securing adequate quantities of western yew bark to support such taxol research and development thus became critical. In response to these demands and the concern for sustainable harvesting, the Ministry of Forests developed an interim policy for western yew bark harvesting and initiated research on the ecology of western yew.

The development of a botanical forest product management policy was discussed at the Ministry of Forests, Forestry Division monthly meeting in December 1991. Discussion focused mainly on developing a management policy for sustainable harvesting of western yew bark, but sustainable harvest for the full range of non-timber forest products was also considered. The Integrated Resources Branch of the Ministry of Forests took the project lead and began an overview of non-timber forest product harvesting in British Columbia.

In July 1993, the Ministry of Forests released a draft report entitled Agroforestry Industry in British Columbia: Identification of Issues, Responsibilities and Opportunities for the Ministry of Forests. The report identified all known botanical forest products and the existing administrative framework and issues associated with these products. The report concluded that the harvesting of botanical forest products has become an important issue for the Ministry of Forests, with implications for timber harvesting, silvicultural treatments, research, forest health, fire prevention and biodiversity (de Geus 1993).

Over the past year, feedback on the draft Agroforestry report has been received from many individuals, including participants in the botanical forest products industry, Forest Service staff and representatives from other jurisdictions, such as the United States. The present report is the final version of the draft Agroforestry report originally released in July 1993. Like the earlier draft, the present report provides an overview of botanical forest products harvested in British Columbia, relevant issues and recommendations for managing the industry. The present report also overviews the harvesting of botanical forest products in other jurisdictions.

At present, the Ministry of Forests does not regulate the vast majority of the more than 200 botanical products harvested in British Columbia. The Forest Practices Code of British Columbia Act, however, now enables the future development of licensing regulations for botanical forest products. As well, proposed forest practice standards under the Act will establish objectives for protecting rare and endangered plants and fungi.

In contrast to British Columbia, in the United States commercial harvesting of botanical forest products from federal forested land requires strict adherence to regulations. The harvester must obtain a permit from local federal agency offices, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service and U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. Although permit rates are subject to change, permits can be issued for three days, seven days, seasonally or annually (Thomas and Schumann 1993). Individual states also regulate the commercial harvest of botanical forest products from state lands; some of these regulations are discussed in this report.

A current total of 211 [3] recognized botanical forest products are harvested in British Columbia. These products can be grouped into eight general categories:

In the following chapters, information about each of these botanical forest product categories is summarized. This review systematically considers: the species used, harvest data and market profile for the industry in British Columbia. For the most part, relatively little is known beyond the species used, end product and market for the majority of botanical forest products in British Columbia. Where possible, regulation of the harvest in other jurisdictions is discussed.

Many plant and mushroom species native to British Columbia are poisonous or harmful. The Ministry of Forests strongly advises that before anyone consumes any wild plants or mushrooms they should consult field guides, as well as a recognized expert. This report is not a reference for using wild edible plants or mushrooms, nor does it advocate the use of such species.

The information on the eight categories of botanical forest products has been compiled from a wide range of sources. These sources include: the Ministry of Forests; the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks; other government agencies in Canada and the United States; botanical forest products industry participants; and, available literature. The report concludes with a summary of resource issues associated with the botanical forest products industry, and makes recommendations on how the Ministry of Forests should proceed with the management of these products.

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