A decade of cuts has left a priceless resource facing a homemade crisis.
There is an old saying that if the forest service is not planting trees, then it is not doing its job.
When reforestation was the law in British Columbia, the forest ministry reported in its 2000-01 annual report that the area of forestland that had been “not satisfactorily restocked” stood at 2.762 million hectares.
Since 2002, the government has gutted the Forest Act and the Ministry of Forests and Range Act of requirements for reforestation, for forest inventory and for resource planning and reporting.
As a result, reforestation of forests killed by fire and pests is no longer the law for government and, as “not satisfactorily restocked” lands attributable to small-scale salvage logging indicate, reforestation of all logged areas is no longer the law for industry.
Since 2001, the forest ministry has not reported a not-stocked statistic for forestland comparable to the one it has published for decades in its annual reports.
Outrageously, the forest ministry does not know the actual extent of not-stocked lands because its forest inventory database is too under-resourced, outdated and unreliable for it to generate a credible provincial statistic.
Since 2002, forest losses to fire (one million hectares) and to pests (more than 15 million hectares) plus non-stocked area attributable to small-scale salvage logging (more than 200,000 hectares) would conservatively add at least another six million hectares to the not-stocked area reported in 2000-01 (2.762 million hectares). That would bringing today’s estimated total not-stocked area of forestland to around nine million hectares.
To put nine million hectares of not-stocked forestland in perspective, it is well over twice the not-stocked area that precipitated the Canada-B.C. Forest Resource Development Agreements in 1985 and 1991. Put another way, it is an area equivalent to three times the size of Vancouver Island.
Given that the forest ministry estimates the forested area from which it harvests timber to be about 23 million hectares, this means that a staggeringly high percentage (possibly 25 per cent) of its forestlands available for timber are not growing trees to their productive potential.
For a ministry required by law to maximize land productivity for growing trees with an emphasis on industrial viability and on integrated resource management, to have up to 25 per cent of its timber harvesting land base as not-stocked is unacceptable by any standard of sustainability.
The government’s own performance on reforestation has been so poor, it decided to scrap the publicly reported measure in this year’s ministry service plan.
What is happening to reforestation is even worse for other silvicultural practices.
Since 2002, with the exception of broadcast fertilization, the government has not spent one nickel on enhanced silviculture (for example, brushing, commercial thinning and pruning) in any of the timber supply areas worst hit by the mountain pine beetle.
While the area of forestland being killed by the mountain pine beetle was increasing exponentially, this government cut its forest-health funding for treating the infestation at a time when more money might have made a difference.
Government has essentially turned off the taps for funding forest research and the fate of a once world-renowned program is hanging in the balance.
For representatives of the forest industry to be unconcerned about a decade of cuts to forest-management budgets displays a surprising failure to connect the dots between the government’s long-term investment in forestland and the industry’s future viability.
This government might think that by rendering the forest service dysfunctional and by not investing in the renewal of forestlands, it will eventually rationalize the privatization of provincial forests at fire-sale prices. Enclose the commons? Wake up B.C.!
If government is to restore public confidence in its handling of forest management, it has to undertake three actions:
1. Decentralize forest service personnel into forest-dependent communities so that they can get on with the job of managing local forests from local offices.
2. Give the province’s chief forester independent statutory powers for auditing forest management performed to his/her standards by local offices (forest inventory, silviculture, reforestation, forest health and timber supply) and for conducting tree breeding, research and resource analysis reporting at regional and provincial scales.
3. Restore adequate funding for forest management so as to regain a vanished reputation for environmental stewardship and sustainable forest management.
Anthony Britneff is a registered professional forester who recently retired from the B.C. Forest Service after a 39-year career that included senior positions in the forest inventory, silviculture and forest health programs.