Posted by: Dave Neads | March 23, 2008

Who Owns the Forest ?

Last night we watched “Global Currents” on T.V. They were investigating the seed industry and the fact that so much control of the world’s seed stock is owned by so few companies. The statistics are staggering, but the principle of corporate control is consistent.

In this so-called developed world we live the Religion of Profit. Our church is the stock market, the Manse is the bank, the high priests are the lawyers, and the choir is made up of corporate leaders, with government playing the organ. Sound cranky or disjointed?

Maybe, but no one can deny that the fundamental catechism of current industrial capitalism is to make profit. All else falls in behind this overarching brand of fundamentalism. In the last half of the twentieth century market after market was developed. First it was the homemaker, then the working Mom, then the teenager, then the preteen, and now we have marketing campaigns aimed at five year olds.

The monster cannot help itself, it has to feed. Now it is turning on itself, devouring its fellows as fast as it can, take over after take over. Like the beaver who cannot stop chewing because his teeth will grow into his mouth, capitalism has to grow, it is what it is.

Right now, the forest companies in B.C., looking at a future of diminished wood supply and collapsing markets due to global competition, have plans to turn themselves into energy producing companies. The take overs, the consolidations, are nearly complete. There are now just two forest companies in Williams Lake. One of them is currently under great pressure and has “temporarily” closed all of its mills.

Bigger players are buying up forest licences and closing mills. Just like the seed companies, they want control. Control of what ? The forests of British Columbia. OUR forests.

In the fifties, consolidation took place from many small family-run outfits to larger tenured companies. The idea was to put the management of forests under companies that the government could regulate. Mills were built, towns grew around them, a stable workforce was created, local economies benefited and the companies made profit.

Since then the system has gradually changed to the point that all bush work is contracted out, with only 6 to 8 months per year of employment. Now mills are closing as “rationalization” takes place. B.C. has lost 10,000 jobs in the forest sector in the last year. And what of the companies? They still have evergreen licences, and the government has continually reduced oversight so that now the companies have enormous control of forest policy.

We are now threatened with another step in the evolution of capitalist control of our forests. The new plan is to burn the trees to make electricity. Aside from the huge negative climate impacts I have described elsewhere, once tree burning plants are installed, we will lose even more control of our forests. These plants willl have lifespans of 20 to 40 years and come with a ‘force majur’ clause , which, simply put, means that they have the right to log for the trees they need irrespective of any controls. It assures the banks that the operations have a secured supply of timber, for at least 20 years.

This was not the vision of managed forest land that created local economy and jobs. This is the vision of corporations bent on profit and nothing else.

Where will it stop? It won’t until it collapses. Unmitigated growth with no social control has always been the end of any society. Like the pyramid builders, cathedral builders and builders of sun castles before them, the profit builders will eventually squeeze the system so much it will implode.

So keep your own seeds, make your own garden, fight for forests, to do whatever you can to keep a little bit of green, to keep a little bit of non-profit sanity alive. To do this is a truly sacred thing in a millennia old spiritual tradition of which all life is a part.

As I write this, the liquid silver call of the season’s first Redwings float through my open window, borne on spring’s sweet scented zephyrs.

Where is the dollar profit in that? What seeds does it sow?



  1. Dave — another thought-provoking article. Thanks.

    The answer to the question in the title is that huge cohort who our American friends call: We the people. We own it. We all do. And we assume that the people we elect manage the governance of it for us.

    Unfortunately, most of the citizens of Canada do not see the forest that they own because they live in urban areas. Some think that a wilderness experience is a trip to the cottage, or a car trip through a National or Provincial Park. When I was thrilled that the Upper Klinaklini River had achieved protected status, most people I spoke to about this, who live in nearby urban South West British Columbia, had never heard of this great river.

    Canada has vast areas of crown lands that are our heritage. And if we respect what we inherited, the land, with its associated biodiversity and minerals, will be passed on intact to our children.

    We put our governments in a very difficult position. Many of the services we expect government to deliver or support are expensive. We want the services, but we don’t like to pay the taxes. Since the government has control of our vast crown lands, and most of us are not vigilant about the activities that take place on those lands, we make it very easy for the government to sell the value that is there. We receive the services we want, and it will be the future generations who will discover that the value that we inherited is gone for them.

    As I write this, Joni Mitchell’s lyric are playing in my head, “you don’t know what you’ve got / Till it’s gone”

    Ooo bop bop bop bop

  2. Robert:
    Joni’s song was so far ahead of its time.

    I agree that governments have a tough time, however I don’t think it is their issue.

    Forests provide so much from fresh water, to oxygen, to habitat to spiritual well being. That these things are not considered in the economic equation is, due, in large part, I feel, to the fact that there are not enough people demanding full cost accounting.

    If they did, burning trees and forest for electricity would not even be considered.

    I have always argued that democracy is a bulwark only IF it has an educated, responsible electorate.

    Since about 1950, we have been educated to be consumers, not thinkers, –there is a vast difference.

    At the same time I am encouraged, there really are a lot of critical thinkers out there.

    We are after all, Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Not Homo dummy dummy.

    Time to step up and be counted, no matter how little or how much, just be counted.

    Courage, clear thinking and a little energy go a long way….


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