Growing fibre, growing concern

News Provincial

An insect five millimetres in length, roughly the size of a grain of rice, has been devastating B.C.’s pine forests for over a decade. In 2001, the government began a forest management and economic plan to counteract the mountain pine beetle and “assist forestry-dependent communities [to] diversify their economic base.”

The final stages of the governmental response, which to date has cost $884 million, have made environmental groups concerned that the next step to diversifying is opening protected land for logging within the next 20–60 years.

In a recent news release, the Ancient Forest Alliance stated that the government’s “new forestry action plan for B.C.’s Central Interior . . . would open the ‘back door’ for logging in currently protected forests.”

The release states that “by the spring of 2013 the B.C. government plans to create frameworks for a ‘science-based review’ and ‘community-engagement’ process to potentially open up forest reserves that currently protect old-growth forests.”

The Oct. 9 press release from the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations highlights a “10-year forest inventory strategy, innovative silviculture practices to grow more trees faster, and landscape fire management planning to reduce risks to the mid-term timber supply.”

Kimberley Veness, board member of the UVic Sustainability Project, explains, “Mid-term timber supply refers to the amount of harvestable timber within the next 20–60 years.”

She acknowledges that timber exports are important to B.C.’s economy and that the government wants to avoid sharper economic downturn in the mid-term timber supply.

In response to accusations that the government is putting forest reserves in danger, Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, wrote in a recent opinion piece, “Government is not advocating logging in reserves. Reserves have been set up to manage crucial wildlife habitat, biodiversity, viewscapes and old-growth forests.” He added, “If a community believes the reserves no longer serve these purposes, they can initiate a discussion with government. Only then would government consider altering any of those designations.”

In its August report, Growing Fiber, Growing Value, the Legislative Assembly of B.C. found that “since the mountain pine beetle (MPB) infestation became an epidemic in 1999, an estimated 18.1 million hectares of forest land in British Columbia have been affected. The latest projections indicate that the MPB will have killed between 53 and 70 per cent of merchantable pine by 2021.”

Veness agrees with that 70 per cent prediction. “It is down from an earlier projection of 80 per cent. The timber targeted for logging is 60 years old, which is around the same age that the mountain pine beetle prefers to attack. This is why there is such a steep loss in the mid-term timber supply.”

As long as winters remain too mild to kill off the pine beetle population, the infestation will continue.  However, as climate change drives temperatures higher, the infestation may migrate north.

“The province’s main policy in regards to the pine beetle was to ‘uplift’ the annual allowable cut.  The amount of logging in the Interior went through the roof to get the wood before the pine beetle made it unmerchantable,” says Valerie Langer, the director of B.C. forest campaigns for ForestEthics Solutions, a non-profit environmental coalition.

Part of the $884 million was meant to prepare logging-based communities for the inevitable depletion of mid-term lumber supplies.  However, in Langer’s opinion, the government has not done its job in preparing the Interior communities.

“It was predicted by the province that we would be where we are now, and they allocated millions of dollars to the Interior communities to diversify their economies,” says Langer. “The money has been spent, but apparently not on diversifying their economies and preparing for the predictable.”

The Ministry’s action plan recommends that “any harvesting in areas set aside for old growth, wildlife and scenic values only be considered if it is scientifically and ecologically sound to do so, and has the support of local communities and First Nations.”

The Ancient Forest Alliance says in its release the government is using “the guise of ‘science’ and the politically correct phrase of ‘local community input’ ” to put forests in danger.