B.C. public investments in forestry are at their lowest levels in twenty years. At the same time the reforestation backlog is roaring back in the wake of the mountain pine beetle epidemic and wildfires. This report summarizes the current funding levels including projections for what is needed to restore and reforest denuded lands.
Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association
A Summary of the State of Forestry Funding in B.C.
Draft Report of the WSCA Forestry Funding Sub-Committee 7 November 2004
The reforestation ratio indicates the trend between the rate of reforestation in the province and the rate at which forest land is being denuded as a result of harvesting and unsalvageable losses due to pest and wildfire. It is a rolling calculation over a five-year period. A value of one indicates a balance between reforestation and areas harvested or lost to wildfire and pest.
As of March 2003 the ratio was .82 indicating that the province is reforesting at a lower rate than forestland is being denuded by harvesting, wildfire and pest. In 2002/03 it was .93. In 2001/02 it was 1.2. The latest figures do not include the wildfire losses of 2003 or continuing losses due to mountain pine beetle. The B.C. reforestation ratio will probably drop like a stone when it is calculated next spring.
The ratio is a trend indicator and actual areas cannot be deduced from it. However, inferences can be made, and given the magnitude of the estimated losses, it indicates a growing backlog of considerable size. The ratio may actually be lower and the backlog even larger due to inadequate tracking by both government and industry. Only those denuded lands that are part of the operable harvest land base are considered in the ratio. Reforestation includes natural regeneration and planting.
For more information on the ratio read the Ministry of Forests 2003/04 Annual Service Plan Report at www.bcbudget.gov.bc.ca/mof/annualreports.htm The specific section on the ratio is http://www.bcbudget.gov.bc.ca/annualreports/for/for_performance_link2.htm
Repeal of the obligation to reforest:
The Forest Practices Code was amended in December 2002 repealing the requirement that district managers prepare silvicultural plans (primarily to reforest) for unsalvageable natural disturbances. It also absolved any agreement holders from existing free to grow obligations where plantations were lost to wildfire and pest. Reforesting of these lost stands became discretionary under funding from the Forest Investment Account. Now, if a plantation is lost due to wildfire or pest prior to achieving free to grow status, the Forest and Range Act provides for the holder of that obligation to apply for government funding to reestablish the plantation or relief from their obligation.
Current Fire And Pest Fund Discontinued
The Current Fire and Pest fund was discontinued in December 2002. Prior to that it represented an annual amount of approximately $2-million in public dollars dedicated to restoring unsalvageable forestland lost to wildfire and pest. It was replaced by discretionary funding under the Forest Investment Account.
The Forest Investment Account:
The annually renewed Forest Investment Account (FIA) replaced FRBC dollars in 2002 and represents the lowest level of public investment in forestry in two decades. During the 1990s under FRBC annual investments in incremental silviculture ranged between $80-million to $130-million. This fiscal year they are $2-million.
Forest Investment Account Expenditures Land Based Investment Program (LBIP)
Year 2002/03 2003/04 2004/05 (in $ millions)
Total FIA budget $146 $110 $85
LBIP total $80 $47 $21.5
Silvicultural $18 $7 $2
Info Gathering $29 $24 n/a
The above table compares the discretionary silvicultural investments made through the Forest Investment Account by licensees to the total LBIP budget and to the LBIP’s Information Gathering and Management (IGM) project. IGM is largely concerned with existing timber supply inventory. The silvicultural budgets are obviously scant and no match for the magnitude of the problems that fall under discretionary funding described above and now included in the Forest And Range Practices Act . Also note how the silvicultural share drops precipitously while industry uses its discretion to maintain the level of timber supply inventory work under the IGM project area.
The FIA program was supposed to operate under the Defined Forest Area Management (DFAM) model where licensees and other agreement holders would strategically invest public FIA forestry dollars within their collective management areas. That way it was thought industry would act in the best interest of the forest resource without being told what to do by government. It is doubtful the DFAM model will evolve or ever operate effectively in the current forest health and forest policy environment. In the meantime those spending FIA dollars seem unable to maintain a balance between FIA’s critical goals of improving the forest asset base (silviculture) and sustainable forest management planning (information gathering). FIA and DFAM do not appear to be in an effective position to cope strategically with their commitment to improve the forest asset let alone the pressing imperatives brought on by the ongoing forest health catastrophe.
Plantations Lost to the 2003 Wildfires
During 2003 5,000 hectares of plantations were lost to fire. Since they had not reached free to grow status they were eligible for funding under the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA 108). The ministry of forests estimates it will take ten years and $9.2-million to restore these plantations. Presently $2.37-million are required for 2004/05. Of that sum $1.3-million has been allocated leaving a shortfall of $1.1-million in the first year. The balance of the funding is not assured.
Unsalvageable Forest Lands Lost to the 2003 Wildfires
Estimates have varied on this since funding has fallen short of completing proper inventories. Better figures are expected this winter. Meanwhile the ministry estimates that up to one-third of the non-salvageable area destroyed by wildfires in 2003 may warrant reforestation. This amounts to approximately 79,000 hectares. Using an estimated cost of establishing a free growing stand of $1,000 per hectare, up to $79-million over a ten year period would be required to reforest these lands.
Unsalvageable Forest Lands Lost to the 2004 Wildfires
This summer roughly the same hectares burned as the previous year. I have no reforestation projections on this year’s fire-killed forests from the ministry yet. Given the similarities in hectares burnt it might not be a wild guess to assume 2004’s disturbed lands will require a similar amount to 2003. It is too early to tally any FRPA 108 claims to restore pre free to grow plantations lost in 2004.
Pre ’87 Current Fire and Pest Backlog
The ministry estimates it will take another $53-million over the next ten years to manage the pre ’87 lands lost to natural disturbances.
Fire-Killed Forest Total Needs
Including the Pre ’87 CFP backlog brings the fire-killed forests’ silvicultural needs to a $132-million over the next five to ten years if we exclude the 2004 season ($79-million?) and the FRPA 108 ($9.2-million) projections to restore plantations lost in 2003. Including the latter two figures, the total is around $222-million over the next decade.
This number would include the costs of maintaining existing Current Fire and Pest plantations, reforesting areas affected by the 2003 and 2004 wildfire seasons, and restoring watersheds to mitigate the impact of water quality and flooding. Last August a small community on Kootenay Lake narrowly avoided disaster when a sudden summer storm downpour ran off the hydrophobic soils of a 2003 wildfire in their watershed causing a major mudslide. There are likely dozens of community watersheds throughout the Okanagan and Kootenays posing similar threats. I am not sure how thoroughly this problem has been measured or recognized.
Backlog NSR Lands and Impeded Stands
In 1988/89 FRDA provided $175.4-million in backlog not sufficiently restocked (NSR) expenditures. Since then more than $1-billion has been invested in pre ’87 NSR lands. In 2003/04 FIA allocations for the backlog was $4.5-million.
In 2001the Forest Practices Branch reported that the treatable land base of backlog NSR in the province was 95,971 hectares. Since the beginning of the backlog program 931,000 hectares of NSR had been restocked by 2001. However, the ministry stated that a shift in the program was needed to bring the restocked backlog to free growing. Approximately 2.4-million hectares of the backlog land base were described as “impeded” meaning satisfactorily restocked but not yet free growing. In 2001 a Forest Renewal BC draft backlog management five-year plan was proposed to better assess, define and treat (brush) impeded stands and plant the remaining NSR. That proposal was subject to revision following the then pending FRBC review. It was soon after that the FRBC was dismantled.
There has been no update of the original 2001 Forest Practices Branch report which can be found at http://www.for.gov.bc.ca/hfp/pubsbacklog.htm There has been no planning process in place for overall backlog reforestation since the end of FRBC. The backlog program has limped along at the discretion of the FIA budget, but maintenance of the previous public investment of more than a billion dollars appears to be marginal.
The ministry projects a three-year budget of $140-million is needed to meet the backlog NSR impeded stand brushing need and to eliminate the remaining treatable backlog NSR over the next decade.
On the subject of brushing, assessable payroll figures from WCB show the brushing and weeding or spacing classification units at $23-million in 2003 compared to $60-million for treeplanting. The stand tending payrolls have declined by almost a third over five years while treeplanting remains steady. The stand-tending drop may be attributable to fading funding for incremental forestry over that time. Now with almost no public dollars going into spacing, one inference is that the relatively high activity indicated by the WCB figures is primarily brushing funded by industry consistent with their good performance on their free growing obligations. If so it shows a very determined effort on the part of forest companies to maintain their stands to free growing. By comparison we seem to fiddling on the public backlog NSR.
The Mountain Pine Beetle Catastrophe
This disaster is of course unfolding and worsening. Latest informed rumours put the bug-attacked wood at more than 10-million hectares (6-million hectares is that latest accepted number). You can do your own calculations. Assume conservatively that restoration will be required on ten percent of the affected land times, say, $1,000 per hectare. You get to a $billion dollars real quick. We need an overarching strategy, currently being worked, and probably some federal assistance in conjunction with the carbon management implications and opportunities. Unfortunately much of the carbon stuff seems too abstruse save for the most abstract policy wonks. This doesn’t rule out its merit. It just seems hard to grasp to the average policy maker on the street.
On a smaller scale, but possibly significant, are the thousands of small openings (11,331 in total) less than a hectare in size resulting from small scale salvage of beetle and fire-damaged wood across the province. Over the last ten years they add up to 138,000 hectares. They are exempt from reforestation obligations.
Wildfire Fuels Management
Gary Filmon’s Firestorm 2003 Provincial Review made many forest fuel management recommendations that hold promise for increased silvicultural activities particularly in prescribed burning and possibly in stand management. However, the government has yet to fully respond to the report which it promised to do when it was released early last winter. Rumours say that money will be directed at urban interface fuel reduction by next year. But how those funds will be allocated, whether they will be part of an overarching strategy, whether the expertize and science is in place to deliver an effective program and numerous other considerations all remain unknown. Once elements of the government’s response are made public, in some cases, as soon as this month, we can do some analyses.
Lands Lost to Oil and Gas Development
I am still trying to round up the latest figures on this. They will appear in subsequent updates.