Letter to BC MLAs Urging Public Investments in Forestry

With the BC government calling for suggestions on how to spend its budget surplus forestry funding sits at its lowest level since the 80s. At the same time the reforestation backlog is rising as fire and pest denude public lands in the worst natural catastrophe seen in B.C. to date. This letter urges the Liberals to take notice.

Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association

Dear MLAs:

In writing about the state of our province’s forests, and our public investments in them, it is hard not to sound too dire. Today, British Columbia’s main renewable resource is under a protracted and catastrophic assault from both pest and fire unlike anything we have seen before. The forest health prognosis is not good. In the short term things will get worse before they get better. In the long term we face a huge task to mitigate the ensuing environmental and economic effects of this ongoing disaster.

This predicament, which is outstripping our ability to even monitor and measure it properly, comes at a time when government’s investments in forestry are at their lowest levels in two decades. For instance, in the fiscal year 2004/2005 the province’s Forest Investment Account, the prime source for public forestry funding, allocates only $2-million to silviculture, the main instrument for restoring our devastated forests. At the same time the reforestation ratio, which compares the rate of reforestation to the rate of denudation of productive forest land in B.C., is in a steep decline and about drop even further when the fire and beetle-killed forests of 2003 and 2004 are taken into the rolling average.

British Columbia has an exemplary record on forest management. Our environmental standards and practices and our track record are among the best in the world. We trade on this fact to maintain our place in the world markets. And more importantly our stewardship of public forests and lands ensures them for future generations of British Columbians.

The Liberal government has boldly reformed forest tenure in this province. It has also dealt effectively with the seemingly intractable American lumber trade dispute. And it has managed its budget in concert with the provincial economy to the point where now there is good reason to look to the horizon with more optimism then we have, perhaps, felt in years. Now then is the time for government to address the forest health problem in the province with the same commitment and conviction.

As government plans next year’s budget, as well as the next mandate’s expenditures, we recommend it consider the following forestry strategies and investments:

Reforest promptly the unsalvageable productive fire-killed forests of 2003 and 2004. The wildfires of 2003 left more than 79,000 productive hectares denuded that will not be salvaged. In that estimate are 5,000 hectares of destroyed plantations that now are government’s responsibility. Each year that these lands are left untended, restoration costs increase along with the risk of further damage to watersheds and habitat due to the long term effects of the fires. We recommend government invest $20-million in the first year to survey, sow and site prepare the damaged lands from the last two years of wildfire.

The Firestorm 2003 Provincial Review recommended that government take the lead in creating a provincial wildfire strategy to deal with the forest wildfire fuel problem and the wildfire urban interface threat in B.C. The government needs to do this to identify the areas most at risk and to develop the appropriate strategies and criteria to address this complex problem. Based on previous scientific studies done on part of the province, the WSCA estimates there are 3-million hectares of forest land that need to be treated to reduce the wildfire threat to both forest and human habitats. We recommend government initially spend $20-million to reduce this threat to British Columbians, by developing a comprehensive strategy in concert with the federal government, including the necessary mapping, capacity development, treatment research and pilot projects to ensure an effective program.

British Columbia and the federal government have invested more than a billion dollars in reforesting the old backlog of unplanted forest land in the province known as the pre-87 Not Sufficiently Restocked (NSR) Backlog. Maintenance of this investment has been marginal at best and brush is beginning to impede these stands. Approximately $50-million are needed next year to survey, brush existing plantations and establish new plantations on outstanding NSR blocks.

The scale of the mountain pine beetle disaster beggars the imagination and any budget amount we might forecast to remedy it at this point. Clearly the province needs a comprehensive strategic approach that addresses both the economic and ecological restoration this extraordinary catastrophe will require. The provincial government must work in concert with the federal government on this and a concerted effort to convince them must begin now. One advantage is that in the wake of this disaster we have an opportunity to shape the forests to avoid future catastrophes of this kind. If we don’t act effectively now we will have an ongoing mess on our hands that will last into future generations at considerable cost.

These may be difficult times, but they are certainly not end times for our forest resource. All of the public may not understand or be directly effected by the forest health problems in rural British Columbia. Nevertheless, they do understand that as owners of the land we are its stewards and that obligation must be executed diligently for our immediate benefit and for the future. I am certain that the broad citizenry of this province will support restoring the beleaguered forests of the province. I hope that the government, and you as a MLA, will see the wisdom in acting effectively to restore and sustain our forests in this crisis, since we all depend on them in so many ways.

Yours truly,

WSCA