A crisis of neglect in the province’s forests
In 1985, the rapidly growing amount of not-satisfactorily-restocked (NSR) land in B.C. forests became a crisis. This resulted in a joint provincial and federal $300-million funding plan, the Forest Resource Development Agreement (FRDA) that restocked many thousands of hectares.
A similar crisis is occurring again in B.C.’s forests, but this time the cause is not logging by irresponsible forest companies. Instead, the massive amount of NSR land is a result of fires fuelled by climate-change, diseases and beetle kill. Government policies that have stripped the ministry of employees, ended adequate inventory efforts, and handed forest management over to the corporations have exacerbated the problems.
On Feb. 16, B.C.’s auditor general released a bombshell report that sharply criticized the government’s forest policies, lack of direction, and inability to adequately manage the forests. The report concluded that the ministry has not clearly defined its timber objectives, management practices are insufficient to offset a reduction in timber supply and species diversity, and the ministry is not appropriately monitoring and reporting results in relation to its objectives.
While industry remains responsible for returning logged areas to “free growing” status, the government is under no obligation to ensure that areas denuded by fires and pests are reforested, including the growing number of plantations also denuded by disturbances. Perhaps the greatest problem identified by the auditor general is that the ministry lacks the information it needs to properly manage the forests. The inventory is woefully inadequate and what research does exist shows a high rate of damage in the plantations. There is a growing disparity between forest cover information and actual forest conditions, growth rate, and density.
As the problems multiply, the public is increasingly left in the dark as to what is happening in their forests. Ministry reports lack sufficient assessment or interpretation to effectively assess the results or make them meaningful. As a result the public has no way of knowing if the forests are increasing or decreasing in terms of volume, value, or species diversity.
Included within the auditor general’s report is the response from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources to each of the six recommendations. Typically, the ministry responded with assurances that its policies and activities sufficiently address the issues and promised to continue with efforts it sees as adequate. For some of the glaring deficiencies, such as the inadequate stocking standards and public reporting, the ministry promised to review these issues.
On Feb. 20, the Association of BC Forestry Professionals added more fuel to the growing crisis fire by releasing a report about grossly out-of-date forest inventories. The foresters, normally a very cautious group as most of them either work for industry or government, point out that the budget staffing for inventory has been cut nearly in half, while the need has increased on an “unprecedented scale” due to the impacts from wildfire, disease and insect pests.
While the focus of this current crisis is on timber values with the rapidly growing amount of NSR land and inadequate inventory, it is important to understand that the solution should not always be to mow down what is left in the beetle-killed forests with huge machines and replant with single species. Many areas now denuded are indeed recovering naturally and sometimes replanting can cause more problems than if the land was just left to recover on its own. The key is to maintain a continuous inventory that keeps track of the ratio between growth and depletion, which should be greater than one, and to make decisions about restoration that best protect all forest values.
Here in the Shuswap, the situation is not as grim, since there are fewer pine stands. However, where lodgepole pine does grow, the beetles have wiped out vast numbers of hectares, such as in the Salmon River watershed and on the hills above Adams Lake. Plus, pine has long been the preferred species in the plantations and the beetles have hit some of these.
A local forester reports that the major issue here is not the dismal state of the future timber supply, but is that companies are having problems locating enough timber to feed their mills. He explained how there is a “ribbon war” in the woods as First Nations are competing with mills to ribbon off planned cutblocks.
This comes as no surprise, as our organization, SEAS (Shuswap Environmental Action Society), did a comprehensive spatial timber modelling analysis in 1995 that showed how over-cutting then would lead to the situation we are seeing now. And that was before the beetles hit.
British Columbians need to face the facts: forestry is a sunset industry due to decades of high-grading and over-cutting, the massive climate change caused beetle kill, and now over a decade of mismanagement by the provincial government.