Rocky Mountain Trench Society - What's New
Rocky Mountain Trench Society - What's New

June 4, 2002

Submission to the British Columbia Government’s MLA Caucus
on the Results Based Forest Practices Code
Prestige Inn, Cranbrook BC
By Maurice Hansen, Trench Society Coordinator

Thank you for the invitation to make a submission regarding the RBC. I’ll briefly describe our organization, its purpose and reason for being. My remarks on the Results Based Code will begin with some general thoughts, philosophy if you like, and I’ll finish with some comments on specific points. You will see I’m long on identifying problems and short on solutions but in 20 minutes that’s what you get.

I’m the coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Trench Natural Resources Society which is an umbrella organization representing seven other groups here in the Trench. Which are:
• EK Wildlife Association
• Kootenay Livestock Assoc
• EK Environmental Soc
• Waldo Stockbreeders
• Cranbrook Archery Club
• Windermere FarmerÂ’s Institute
• Rocky Mountain Naturalists Club

Anyone who tries to categorize us has a problem. I guess we're an NGO. Our purpose is to support establishment of an ecosystem restoration program in the Trench. What we want restored is the fire maintained ecosystem that once existed here. Fire suppression and its running mate, forest ingrowth, have combined to reduce the land health and productivity in the Trench in a serious way with grasslands being the most affected.

As you will surmise from our membership, they are a diverse lot. But the one local ecosystem element that unites them is grassland. And whether you’re a cattle grazer, elk hunter or naturalist, grasslands are fundamental to your interests and aspirations. So the perspective I’m laboring under with regard to commenting on the RBC is that of integrated resource management, a once popular term you don’t hear often now. Perhaps because the lack of achievement became an embarrassment. And to be charitable, it is tough to do.

In the Trench, without timber management you can’t have range management. Launching projects with emphasis on grassland restoration have a high degree of conflict with timber management. To fully explain that statement would alone take more than twenty minutes. But it’s my story and I’m sticking to it. So we’re interested in how the Results Based Code might affect this conflict and tension one way or the other.

A Results Based Code seems like a good idea. The process for establishing one seems theoretically sound: i.e. The adaptive management approach or continuous improvement practices.

Here is one problem as I see it:

Direction from the political arm of government is passed to the executive arm for implementation. For further delivery by the bureaucracy this politically generated idea requires fitting and shaping so it can be administered. In my experience it is very difficult to implement intact the spirit of an idea from politics to reality. We could say the problem here lies with the process rather than the people. But since people are responsible for process, well, if the shoe fits wear it. I have three local examples in mind where this translation failed:

(1) Coordinated Resource Management Planning
(2) East Kootenay Trench Ag/Wildlife Committee
(3) Commission on Resources and Environment.

The jury is still out on a fourth, the East Kootenay Trench Ecosystem Restoration Program. But in this latter case I’m still optimistic. Scratch a cynic and you’ll find an idealist.

I believe it will take some fundamental restructuring of the “system” for the Results Based Code to grow to maturity. The heavy thinkers involved already seem aware that this is something that can’t be slam-dunked but the basic problem lies in the nature of government. To explain I offer this quote from the Fifth Discipline Field Book page 495, slightly paraphrased:

“Govt. officials work in an atmosphere of investigation by various entities, part of the maneuvering for political advantage. This encourages among government employees a defensive mindset, a preference for avoiding the controversial, an emphasis on correct process at the expense of good outcomes and a strong underpinning for central “command and control” in an attempt to prevent local error. And no matter how much an individual manager may hate this the more it is viewed as inevitable and unavoidable the more it is reinforced. Designers and critics of government aspire to perfect outcomes and perfect adherence to the rules …this is not an option… but common sense will recognize that some of the rules are irrelevant. Can large governments redefine their accountability and control mechanisms in the interests of becoming more effective? Will mechanisms for building unity – such as shared vision and articulating mental models help, or does the political fixation on error undermine those too completely? This debate has particular urgency because the viability of nations and communities depends on the ability of governments to learn. If not people will seek to bypass the political process.”

I’m suggesting that without a parallel initiative to alter the bureaucratic culture in BC, a change which at least makes a start at motivating bureaucrats to become excited about good outcomes, rather than more of the same old same old, then executing a program which is counter-intuitive to the culture may be like pushing a rock uphill. I know there are some models out there that you might want to look at.

Moving to specifics, the following are land use issues that affect the grasslands of the Trench. I found it was very hard to stick to code issues only in the context of licensees. There is so much cross-over of issues between agencies and stakeholders that what we really need in this province is a Land Use Code. To only consider code responsibility of licensees misses major problems.

(1) Landscape level zones and objectives.
The Kootenay Boundary Land Use Plan NDT4 Implementation Guidelines were adopted as part of the “Kootenay Boundary Higher Level Plan”. There is a fair amount of sweat equity in those guidelines and all stakeholders are on side so in this case there is no need to reinvent the wheel. There are recommendations in the guideline document that need to be acted on and which could improve the guidelines’ effectiveness. They could also be improved by adopting “quantitative measurable objectives” re the discussion paper. How will the “new policy direction” with regard to planning from the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management affect this?

(2) Invasive Plants.
Noxious weeds are bad. They pose a threat to ecosystem restoration and grassland productivity. The long term doesn’t look good. If you want a glimpse of the future, look south of the border where most of these plants are coming from. This is an example where shared responsibility must be fostered. All it says in the discussion paper is that licensees “employ all reasonable measures to ensure occurrences … are contained” which is pretty cavalier. Weeds are of major concern to anyone that values land health, that hopefully includes most of us. How about a provincial goal, and the resources to achieve it, for invasive plants?

(3) Motorized recreation and access.
This is a big issue for lovers of grasslands. The dirt bikers, atvers and 4wd mudboggers are fond of the most delicate areas such as sand hills and saline lakes which are home to rare grasses. As it now stands these “recreationists” are almost immune from penalty for damage. It is ardently obtuse to be fixated on penalties to licensees for wrongdoing while ignoring so called “recreational” damage. Does the Ministry of Water Land and Air Protection have the legislation and resources to deal with this?

(4) Fire.
The ecosystem restoration program in the Trench, if it lives on, will conduct prescribed burns on several thousand hectares each year. The code must be crafted to not affect prescribed burning.

(5) Given that grassland ecosystems are rare, representing about 1.5% of the province's land area but containing approximately 30% of the province’s rare and endangered species, there should be recognition of grasslands and their associated values in the Results Based Code.

In closing, I can’t resist a last philosophical shot. This is from the book “Compass and Gyroscope: Integrating science and politics for the environment”. K. Lee 1993

“The tension, between the legitimacy of today’s ecosystem managers and the changes implicit in sustainable use, is an inherent diplomatic challenge of civic science. Working with those in operating organizations does not require sharing their views or goals; it requires being honest, thoughtful and inventive.”


Feb 26, 2015 – Trench Society Winter Board meeting, Steeples Room, Ministry of Environment, Cranbrook


Click here for the Rocky Mountain Trench Ecosystem Restoration Program (TRENCH ER PROGRAM) website. Learn about grassland/open forest restoration in the East Kootenay and Upper Columbia Valley.

Click here for the Trench ER Program's online RESEARCH LIBRARY.

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