B.C. forests in dire need of restocking

B.C. forests may not be restocked in a timely manner for future timber crops and wildlife generations according to a recent report from the B.C. Forest Practices Board.

On June 26, the board reported that approximately two million hectares of B.C. Crown land that is designated for timber harvesting is not satisfactorily restocked (NSR).

While timber harvesting companies plan to restock about half a million of those NSR hectares, the government only plans to restock another quarter million hectares. According to the report, this means that “the total area of B.C.’s provincial forests that may need to be restocked with healthy young trees could exceed current reforestation efforts by more than one million hectares.”

Concerns about timely restocking efforts come from the chair of the B.C. Forest Practices Board, Al Gorley, in the same report.

“Decisions about whether to replant areas where mountain pine beetle and fire have killed most of the trees will have an impact on the future timber supply in the B.C. interior,” says Gorley. “At a minimum, if nature is left to take its course, the eventual crop of timber in those areas will be delayed.”

Brian Fawcett, cultural analyst and author of Virtual Clearcut: Or, the Way Things Are in My Hometown, says the effects of the delay are already apparent.

“The pine beetle infestation and chronic over-cutting, particularly in the northern part of the province, has created a 50-year shortfall, and the seedling stock simply doesn’t exist,” says Fawcett.

In the 18.1 million hectares that have been affected by pine beetle — some of which is designated for timber harvesting — it is unclear what actions need to be taken.

“They could replant beetle-killed areas with spruce and other species,” says Fawcett, “and there’s a strong possibility that the trees would die. On the other hand, they could replant with pine and find that the beetles will simply kill them. Which way that will go isn’t going to be clear for about 10 years.”

The B.C. government focuses only limited efforts on restocking mature, beetle-affected Crown land, as it hopes that industry will still harvest those areas. Wherever a logging company harvests timber, it has a legal obligation to restock the land, relieving the government of that responsibility. If neither party acts soon, the depletion of B.C.’s forests will likely harm biodiversity and long-term crop growth.

In spite of the growing number of NSR forests, the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovations released a notice on July 5 stating that over $2.3 million will be invested this year in a program called Wood First. The program focuses on using more B.C. wood products in commercial and government buildings.

“Increasing the use of wood in British Columbia is a priority,” says Pat Bell, minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation.

Ken Wu, executive director of the Ancient Forest Alliance, says that the Wood First program is not a good idea when much of the wood that is harvested in B.C. is not harvested sustainably.

“The amount of NSR land in part is because the logging industry has ‘creamed out’ the biggest, best trees that grow in the valley bottoms and lower slopes,” says Wu. “It’s the industry’s unsustainable activities that drives the growth of NSR lands.”

Fawcett says that B.C.’s robust export industry also plays a part in the NSR forest issue.

“Currently B.C. exports large quantities of raw logs, which is frankly crazy when you’ve got a 50-year shortfall,” says Fawcett. He adds that B.C. should be modifying its wood products in Canada in order to add more value to them.

Jess Ketchum, chair of the Wood First advisory committee, says the Wood First program is good for B.C.

“This is a group of best-in-class leaders from their respective industry sectors, and the first set of recommendations will enhance the ability to grow the appropriate use of wood products in B.C. and beyond.”

Gorley says the issue of NSR forests in B.C. boils down to a single question.

“Should we invest money now to ensure a healthy timber supply into the future, and, if so, how will we raise and invest it? But if action is to be taken, it must be taken quickly,” says Gorley.

Fawcett believes a different question must be asked.

“The right question is whether it is viable to harvest trees at the scale we have,” says Fawcett, “and the answer is no. We’ve cut down too many trees, and the issue is the level of the cut, not how much you reforest.”

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