Forest Tenure Changes Occurring Across the World

By Jim Hilton –

As promised, the BC Government has published a forestry discussion paper, which includes a number of questions for public input.

The link provides access to the 19-page “Interior Forest Sector Renewal Policy and Program Engagement Discussion Paper”, which can be viewed at

The online public engagement period runs from July 18 to October 11, 2019 at 4 p.m.

The report contains the following topics along with questions in each of the seven sections:

1. Forest Tenure and Fibre Supply

2. Fibre and Sustainability of Timber and Non-Timber Values.

3. Climate Change and Forest Carbon.

4. Manufacturing Capacity and Fibre Utilization.

5. Wood Products Innovation.

6. Timber Pricing and the Softwood Lumber Dispute

7. Reconciliation with Indigenous Nations.

Sections one and seven dealing with forest tenures and reconciliation with First Nations in BC should be discussed in the context of the other provinces in Canada as well as throughout the world. Since the forest industry is global in nature it may be useful to see what is happening in other countries.

The 32-page report titled, “Who Owns the World’s Forests? Forest Tenure and Public Forests in Transition” by Andy White and Alejandra Martin, published in 2002 is a good start.

As the authors point out, the statistics in the report should be used with caution since they are derived from only 24 of the many dozens of countries with forests and do not reflect the amount of forest land actively claimed by Indigenous and other local communities. The percentages of forest in each tenure category are perhaps more reliable. For example, of the global forest estate of 3.9 billion hectares, approximately 77 percent of the world’s forest (according to national law) is owned and administered by governments, at least 4 percent is reserved for communities, at least 7 percent is owned by local communities, and approximately 12 percent is owned by individuals. The four largest players, indicated millions of hectares followed by the percentage that is government owned (in brackets), are as follows. First is the Russian Federation 886.5 (100), followed by Brazil 423.7 (77.0), Australia 410.3 (70.9), Canada 388.9 (93), and United States 110.0 (37.8). Two countries close to the US are Republic of Congo 109.2 (100) and Indonesia 104.0 (99.4).

While many countries have most land in government ownership there are some important exceptions. For example, in the United States private individuals and firms own more than half of the forests, or 55 percent.

The US is joined by two other commercially important northern forested countries, Sweden and Finland at 70 percent and 80 percent, respectively, and Argentina, where some 80 percent of forests are also privately owned by individuals and firms. Other important exceptions are Mexico and Papua New Guinea, where indigenous and other local communities respectively own some 80 percent and 90 percent of forests.

The following is a summary by authors White and Martin. “There is a major, unprecedented transition in forest ownership underway. This transition presents both opportunities and challenges to the global forest community. The recognition of Indigenous rights and community ownership–and the broader rationalization of public forest tenure–present an historic opportunity for countries to dramatically improve the livelihoods of millions of forest inhabitants. But seizing this opportunity and preventing further forest degradation will require ambitious and concerted action by the global forest community. Some of the more important opportunities are listed below. Better knowledge on actual forest tenure claims, disputes, and ownership is needed. As evidenced by the difficulty in collecting information for this report, it is clear that data and information regarding who owns, and who has access to, the world’s forests are incomplete. Where they exist, they are often questionable in quality and difficult to compare. New mapping technology like the Global Forest Watch project is needed so all players will be able to better conduct informed debates on reforming forest tenure. Greater awareness of transition strategies, lessons, and best practices is needed. Many governments and supporting actors are reforming tenure systems, but the knowledge generated from these experiences is often difficult for innovators in other countries to find. While the social and political context of every country is different, some lessons can be learned, and some errors can be averted by sharing information. Collecting and disseminating information on the most effective uses of these strategies would be very valuable. Major investments will be required to facilitate this transition. Assessing community claims, mapping tenure, delimiting property, reforming legal frameworks, devising regulations, and establishing new enforcement.”

Since the publication of this report in 2002 there have been some additional community forest and Indigenous Nations licences in BC, but these changes would be very minor in the context of the global forest picture. It could be time for an updated report with specifics about what seems to be working on making positive tenure changes.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Since his retirement he has been spending his time with a number of volunteer organizations, including community forests.

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