Apr 8, 2011

A Call to Action on the Forest Front


Does the provincial government have a coherent plan to address the exponentially deepening forest health crisis in our province?

Evidently not, as outlined by two scientists in a sobering critique of provincial government forest policy (or the lack thereof) published in today’s Vancouver Sun.

Penned by Suzanne Simard, a professor of forest science at the University of British Columbia, and Kathy Lewis, a professor of ecosystem science and management at the University of Northern British Columbia, the critique notes that with the scrapping of the Forest Practices Code and its replacement with the Forest and Range Practices Act in 2002, British Columbia moved into a “results-based” world where “professional reliance” was supposed to safeguard the public interest.

The top-down, highly prescriptive Code, was replaced with an open-ended, virtually impossible to enforce set of objectives with the responsibility for meeting such objectives transferred from industry and government to individual forest professionals “purportedly with tough penalties for non-compliance.”

Nine years later, however, Simard and Lewis note that the about-face in government forest policy has failed to deliver innovative and effective forest stewardship on public or Crown lands in the province, which constitute 94 per cent of B.C.’s entire land base – a land base shared with numerous small, geographically dispersed First Nations’ communities that bear an even greater burden than most as a result of the deepening forest health crisis.

A “vast sea of clear-cuts” has spread across much of the landscape, making our forests far less able to store and moderate water flows or store carbon.

“Salvage” logging of dead pine trees attacked by mountain pine beetles has wiped out droves of younger, living trees with dire ecological and economic consequences, particularly forests that were subject to “small scale salvage” operations. Under such operations, the provincial government induced companies to do additional logging by waiving their reforestation obligations. It is now estimated that well in excess of 200,000 hectares and probably in excess of 300,000 hectares of small scale salvage lands are inadequately reforested following logging, with the number likely growing.

An over-reliance on planting single-species of trees – particularly lodgepole pine – on logged sites appears to have set the stage for a future forest health crisis as disturbingly large numbers of the planted trees die as a result of insect attacks and disease outbreaks.

And, last but not least, the area of insufficiently reforested land in the province continues to expand thanks to sharp declines in tree-planting budgets, forest fires and insect attacks.

“Results-based management and professional reliance,” Simard and Lewis note, “are only effective when backed up by strong and efficient forest laws, policies and operating rules. In British Columbia, forest laws and practices are deregulated and weak. Therefore, we are failing to meet our own stewardship goals.”

Not surprising given their commitment to sound science underpinning how we manage public forests on the public’s behalf, Simard and Lewis lament the pronounced budgetary and staff cuts in the provincial Forest Service. The cuts have resulted in a precipitous drop-off in funding for critically important forest research and inventory efforts both inside and outside government – cuts that have seriously compromised efforts to restore our future forests to a state of health, especially in light of climate change.

They end their critique by urging readers to demand that the provincial government enact new forest policies and laws “that will ultimately increase the resilience of B.C.’s environment and economy.”

It’s a call to action we’d be wise to heed.


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