B.C. Reforestation Lagging

British Columbia’s reforestation effort is falling short concludes Victoria Times Colonist columnist Les Leyne after reading the Ministry of Forests 2003/04 Annual Service Plan Report released last month.

Reforestation Effort is Falling Short

B.C. isn’t keeping up with the devastation caused by wildfires and pests

By Les Leyne Times Colonist July 8, 2004

At the same time wildfires and pests are laying waste to more forest than ever before, the reforestation effort on those lands is at the lowest level in 20 years, according to the Ministry of Forests itself.

The ministry’s annual service plan review is a startling read. Most ministries run through all the performance measurements, check off all the ones they’ve achieved and then conclude they are getting the job done. The forest service plan generally takes the same tone — until it gets to the topic of “sustainable timber productivity.”

One of the key indicators on that front is the ratio of reforested area to area lost to fire and pest. That ratio isn’t where it should be, and it’s not just because fires and mountain pine beetles are destroying more than ever before. It’s because of a reduction in a specific replanting program the ministry is quite frank in acknowledging.

“Reforestation and tending of backlog and current fire and pest areas are at their lowest levels in 20 years,” the year-end report states. Hard-hit forest companies were given a break when the law requiring replanting on burned or pest-damaged lands was relaxed. They still have to replant what they logged, and the independent Forest Practices Board found in a 2002 report that companies are meeting those legal obligations.

That’s the lion’s share of the restocking effort that sees millions of seedlings planted every year. But reforestation of the backlog of not-sufficiently-restocked lands denuded prior to 1987 is increasingly limited. There is also limited replanting of areas disturbed by fire and pests between 1988 and 2002.

The ministry’s current policy is that licensees may choose to reforest those two categories of land through funding allocated under the Forest Investment Account.”However, insufficient or uncertain year-to-year funding has resulted in industry focusing on other priorities.”That account was $146 million in 2002-03, according to the official spending estimates. It dropped to $110 million last year, and $85 million this year.

The finding that the replanting effort is lagging is based on careful analysis of statistics. But the ministry also finds that the statistics are out of date and incomplete, so the situation could even be worse.Regulations require licensees to report data from 2003-04 by May 31, 2004. But the most current data available only includes reforestation and harvesting activities completed up to March 31, 2003.

The ministry also states: “Neither licensees nor government agencies are adequately tracking recent losses to the forest landbase from insects and disease, so it is likely that new not-sufficiently-restocked areas are increasing faster than natural stocking is decreasing older NSR areas lost to such factors.

In other words, fire and blights like the mountain pine beetle are killing the forest faster than it is regrowing naturally.”Consequently, provincial NSR statistics may under-estimate the current area considered not sufficiently restocked.But even the faulty, understated statistics show a falldown. For the purposes of the performance reporting it all boils down to one number the ratio of reforested land to land harvested or stripped by fire and pest. Anything over 1 means they’re gaining ground, anything under 1 means they’re losing forest faster than they’re planting it.

The benchmark figure is 1.2, established in 2001-02. The 2002-03 measure was 0.93. The latest measure for 2003-04 is 0.82.The last two years are the first time the measurement has slipped below 1 in the last 10 years. From 1993 to 1999 there was a focus on backlog reforestation through cost-sharing with the federal government through Forest Resource Development Agreements (FRDA) and other activities funded by Forest Renewal B.C.

After an intensive multi-year commitment to attack the problem, federal and provincial governments made significant headway on getting the replanting effort caught up. Ninety-five per cent of the backlog is now completed, the ministry says. Consequently, the funding dried up.

The Liberals, committed to balancing the budget, decided to take a breather. At the same time they opted to give hard-hit forest companies a break on that expense, as well. And the same time both those decisions were taking effect, Nature lashed out. Fires burned 50,600 hectares last year, more than double the average. And the mountain pine beetle epidemic turned into a full-scale disaster (the thinking now is that it will run through to “completion” in five years, meaning they’ll kill every tree in their path.

So the replanting effort on NSR and naturally deforested areas is slipping, just when the deforestation is vastly increasing. And there is no legal requirement on anybody to do much about it. It’s not a great scenario for sustainable timber productivity.