A Modest Proposal: Why Not Canadianize Our National Forests?

Canadian timber

Jonathan Swift, it will be recalled, suggested, in his book titled A Modest Proposal, that the poor should sell their children to the rich, the latter making use of the little tots as food.  In a somewhat similar vein, if not quite so outlandishly, I’d like to ask this blog’s subscribers to comment on a simple proposal for the reform of the beleaguered U.S. national forest system:

Why not turn over U.S. national forests to Canadian management?

After all, over 90 percent of Canada’s vast forest lands – almost a billion acres in all — is owned by federal, provincial, or territorial governments.  Canadians, moreover, would seem to embrace a strong environmental consciousness.  And yet Canada manages to make good use of its forests for timber production and other economic uses.  According to a recent estimate, for example, the net value of Canada’s forest products exports – to the U.S., to Europe, and to China and Japan — amount to about $17 billion per year.  Somehow, in other words, the Canadians have managed to combine their environmental sensibility with a productive economic life for their forests.

So why then not simply turn over our national forests to Canadian management?  We would get a substantial portion of the revenues of course – after all, they’d remain our forests.  And, presumably, the Canadian rendering of environmental values would preserve the life and health of our forests.

So, what’s wrong with this modest proposal?



21 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal: Why Not Canadianize Our National Forests?”

  1. Hey Ron,

    If you looked a little closer at Canada you would see its federal government has turned over ownership of the public forests and lands to the provinces. After looking at the state of your federal government last night in the State of the Union Address, the idea of devolving ownership to the state or group of states may not be a bad idea. But if the American states follow the Canadian model, they will in turn pass on management and part ownership to corporations in the form of tenure rights and lose over-sight on fiscal management with the losers continuing to on be the public landowner.,

    I think there are some strength to Jay O’laughlin’s ideas being tried out in Idaho along with model of charter forests. and what Washington is doing with its State forests. not only for the US but Canada.

  2. I’ve had the opportunity to fly over the international border along the Purcell Mountains in Montana as well as spend some time in the field and there is quite a difference in how the lands are managed. I would say the land in BC looks more like the private timberlands in the US, which is okay if all you’re looking at is economics but for other resources not so good. So I think national forests in the US do a better job on managing for multiple uses. They also have really intensive cattle grazing just north of the border and in this wet enviornment the streamside areas are really degraded, the difference in riparian areas across the border is unbelievable when you consider that they are in the same type of habitat.

  3. Having worked planting trees on the Idaho panhandle looking over the border, they made the USFS look like the Sierra club. Perhaps it has improved since then.

  4. Ron, Can you please explain what you mean by “beleaguered U.S. national forest system?” With our U.S. national forest system providing a bulk of our nation’s clean water, wildlife habitat, what remains of our old-growth forests, Wilderness areas and primitive, roadless areas I’m confused by what you mean when you speak of a “beleaguered U.S. national forest system?”

    Also, why in the world would American citizens want to turn over the management of our public national forests to corporations, which is an essential part of Canadian forest management?

    Finally, I think you may need to dig a little deeper on the notion that Canadian’s and the Canadian government has a “strong environmental consciousness.” True, Canadians have universal health care and don’t really kill each other with guns, but that doesn’t also mean they are the “greenest” country on the block.

    • Regarding my use of the term “beleaguered,” I’m sending you, via your email address, a pdf of Robert H. Nelson’s recent article, “Our Languishing Public Lands” (Policy Review, Feb & Mar, 2012, pp. 45-62). Nelson paints a troubled (or beleaguered) picture of the situation of our national forests that is quite different from the picture you suggest in your comment. On your point about the Canadians: I have not seen any sort of knowing description, yet, of their forestry practices in the comments in response to my post.

      • So, Ron, are you saying that America’s national forests actually don’t provide a bulk of our nation’s clean water, wildlife habitat, what remains of our old-growth forests, Wilderness areas and primitive, roadless areas?

        And if America’s public national forest system is “beleaguered” as you claim, then does that also mean that America’s National Park system is “beleaguered” too? Why or why not?

        I’m also hoping you could perhaps pin-point for us when (in your opinion) America’s public national forest system became “beleaguered?” Did this happen in the 1940s/50s? Or in the 1970s/80s? Or is this supposed “beleaguered” state more of a modern phenomenon?

        Also, seems as if a few people have offered up some of their views/perspectives/experiences with Canadian forest management. What sort of “knowing description” are you looking for?

        • What I’m suggesting is that Nelson’s article offers a good summary of the troubled situation of our national forests. I’m looking forward to the discussion of that article on this blog. I’ve elaborated on one or two of Nelson’s points in my own posts at the NWAF! blog — e.g., on our worsening wildfire situation in this post: http://countieswithnationalforests.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/forested-counties-and-catastrophic-wildfire/. If that post doesn’t suggest a troubled circumstance to readers I don’t know what will!

          No comment on national parks.

          Only off-hand comments on Canadian forestry practices have been suggested so far.

      • Ron,

        I am a professional forester in BC. I have worked both in the Interior of the province and on the coast. While much of my experience has been on the coast, the mountain pine beetle problem along with extensive forest of lodgepole pine caused much of my recent work to be in the interior. I also worked for the US Forest Service and with some of the coastal tribes in the US.

        The mountain pine beetle problem has caused overcutting on many forms of timber tenure in the interior but for the most part, given the state of the BC Forest economy over the past decade, our public lands are well stewarded by the government. It could do better but I have seen much worse in the Western States.

        As for the Canadian public not being conservationists, that is not the case. Most of the population lives in urban areas not far from the American/Canadian border and they pick up American forestry “myths” just as fast as they are germinated by US environmental groups.. This has lead to some unfortunate applications of “ecosystem management”, a poorly defined word at best. Still, In BC roughly 15% of the forest land base is protected in parks. The new boreal forest agreement (http://www.borealcanada.ca/CanadianBorealForestAgreement.php) covers some 72 million hectares of public forest in Canada. Another 3 million hectares of Coastal forest is proposed to be protected in the Great Bear Rainforest by environmental groups and the industry.

        Forest practices in BC are limited by the public purse, government priories, and environmental politics. I believe the experiment in public forestry here in Canada is at the threshold of the same circumstances that brought stewardship to a standstill in the US National Forests.

        • William,
          Back when the FS was considering certification, we looked at the requirements in Canada and interviewed folks from there as to how that was working for them.
          At the time (10 years or so ago) I reviewed their forest management plans and audits and it seemed more straightforward than the FS, while including concerns of First Nations and others and even advisory committees. Looking around, I found this http://www.weyerhaeuser.com/pdfs/businesses/sustainableforestry/Edson_SFMP_2008.pdf

          I think this is a Forest Management Agreement on government land but am not 100% sure.

          Now, if folks believe that certification makes for good forestry, then check out this graph from 2012..you can click on it to make it larger.

          Canada cert in a global context 2012 Year-end Jan 29

          • “Now, if folks believe that certification makes for good forestry….”

            Quick search finds this:

            The Forest Stewardship Council certification of nearly one million acres of the J.D. Irving company’s forest holdings, its clear-cutting practices and widespread use of pesticides, in Canada and in the state of Maine, both by Scientific Certification Systems, (SCS) of Oakland, California, exemplify the abuses and failures of the FSC certification process that have made the FSC label an unreliable guide for consumers who want to purchase wood from well-managed forests.

            When it comes to public lands, I’m more interested in good ecosystem management, than “good forestry.”

            • Hmm, I agree with many criticisms of FSC. But many environmental groups support FSC.
              So are you saying there is no set of practices currently on the books that would allow timber harvesting and be “good ecosystem management”? Or should people not purchase wood at all and use other material for furniture, flooring, construction, etc.?

            • Matthew,

              I have only visited the company’s land in Nova Scotia and found forest practices more than acceptable to BC standards. Yes, we often practice even-age management or “clear-cutting”.

              JD Irving’s’ holdings:

              The company owns and manages land in Canada’s Maritime Provinces and the Maine, including:
              •Freehold ownership of approximately 725,000 hectares in New Brunswick
              Ownership of approximately 105,000 hectares in Nova Scotia
              •1.25 million acres of freehold land in Maine, USA
              •In addition, it manages 1,000,000 hectares of public Crown License in New Brunswick and administers these lands in six separate operating districts that include: Black Brook, Deersdale, Chipman-Miramichi-St. George, Sussex, Nova Scotia, and Maine.

              Would you please define “good ecosystem management”?

          • And if we don’t like their practices, we probably shouldn’t buy their products. I attempted to use the FAS database and came up with this.. not really sure I got what I wanted. If someone could do an extract of ” what wood products did the US import from Canada in 2012″” it would be helpful.
            Here’s a link to how to use the FAS database.
            Here’s my questionable table.

  5. Good idea. Provincial governments are sort of accountable to local constituencies, much more so than the federal level for anything. Never mind that local constituencies are far more engaged and knowledgeable about what’s going on, not happening, and the consequences of each.

  6. This comment is from Gil


    1) Your article is spot on.

    2) The facts supporting your article have been explained to Matthew in countless posts. No amount of facts will convince him that our National Forest Timberlands became “beleaguered” after 1990 when misinformed “environmentalists” used emotion and aesthetics to exert the necessary political pressure to drop annual harvests by 80% and thereby removed any chance to counter global warming by maintaining effective stand densities in order to minimize catastrophic beetle attacks and wildfires. He, nor many others here, will not even consider the fact that their rash and uninformed actions have created a bigger problem. They blame these fires on global warming and past forest practices prior to 1990 rather than on the cessation of continuously improving forest management. It is their very public mantra and their pride would appear to be more important than doing what is right for the forest ecosystem and its denizens.

    See this thread for but one of the exchanges documenting your facts that he and others have ignored: https://forestpolicypub.com/2013/07/22/fighting-back-fire-from-the-denver-post/ – Especially see the graph at the top of the post and my comment immediately below the opening post.

  7. Isn’t “Province control of their forests” the same as “States control of their forests.” Lord knows how British Columbia can manage their forests “without” a benevolent federal government. Of course, cranking out endless EIS’s creates the illusion that we are protecting the environment…and that’s what this country is really about…the individual’s illusion to make him or her feel good about themselves. And when it comes down to building that second snow bird home…or that cozy retirement cabin in Montana…or the starter home for that young millennial family…we’ll let Canada build roads into it’s wilderness area…but just don’t tell me about it. After all…get real dude….it’s not like I’m gonna live in a tent or somethin. I just prefer to get my timber…sight unseen…and still proclaim to the world that I stand for truth, justice, and the environmentalist way. Oh! I’m not opposed to logging…just as long as my boards at Lowes are certified green…and we don’t cut our trees in t he U.S…..and nobody tells me about Canada….and I can wrap my self in the warm illusion that I can still be green AND live the American dream. Peace, love, hippie beads.

    I always wondered why the “environmental community” never built any…oh I shouldn’t call it a Potemkin village…but you know…a Commune where “sustainable living” could be demonstrated to the public. Ya, that’s it, remember the communes? That first failed counter culture experiment. Why not though. A “demonstration Farm,” if you will, where various “alternative housing” and energy use options could be demonstrated to educate the people. Of course we’ll have to dial back electricity use to the 60’s. You know…rammed earth homes, straw bale homes, steel and concrete homes (LEEDS recyclable!). Of course they’ll cost much more and have no resale value. Hmmm…..then again, I’ve got to think about retirement…I don’t really want to sacrifice that much for the environment do I…for something that will never catch on anyway…why should I be the only one…so, I think I’ll just forget the idea of reducing demand and settle for using Canadian timber while proclaiming loudly to all those who can hear that I oppose logging on OUR national forests. It’s certainly a “win-win” state of mind for all.

    You didn’t stop logging…all you did was move it to a different place and a different species of tree. Doesn’t it seem a bit like enviro colonial imperialism to sacrifice Canadian wilderness to save yours? Nobody lives their enviro idealism…except maybe a tribe in the Amazon. It is disappointing. Hey…at least the monks lived a life of austerity. Give somethin up man. YOU make a personal sacrifice…there’s plenty of rural communities in the Northwest that YOU volunteered to sacrifice for you (that’s kinda like paying someone to take your place when you got drafted in the Civil War). Oh well…enough…I’ll settle for recycling aluminum cans and buy certified lumber at Lowes…and just plain not thinking about it. Because it’s really not about the environment….it’s about how I feel about myself. Musings of a cynic.


Leave a Comment