Timber committee calls for scientific approach
B.C. timber authorities need a scientific approach to expand harvestable wood to end the mountain-pine-beetle-fueled blow to the economy, says a Special Committee on Timber Supply report.
After 19 public meetings, including a Merritt stop in July, the bipartisan Committee of MLAs released a 60-page report on Aug. 15 with 22 recommendations for the B.C. government about how to increase the amount of harvestable wood.
The report recommends harvesting areas that are currently protected, increasing processing of beetle-killed wood, providing area-based tenures and increasing intensive silviculture.
As the Merritt/Kamloops wood manager for Tolko Industries Ltd., Michael Bragg has seen first-hand the results of the pine beetle.
He said it’s too early to tell whether the Committee’s recommendations will improve the sector.
“They are fairly broad recommendations,” he said. “Once the rubber hits the road and you start to see the recommendations get spun out into policies or into actions, that’s really what we want to see.”
The new timber would be an increase in beetle-infested wood, which can be viable, but not always.
“The advantage in [the Merritt area] is the proximity to the coast and the demand for chips,” he said, noting beetle wood is often ground into chips. “It’s allowed them to have a market to take that wood away.”
But further into interior B.C. — including in Burns Lake and Prince Georgec which have suffered a combined 450 job losses due to two mill explosions — there isn’t much of a market for wood chips and transportation costs are daunting.
Bragg said if U.S. housing starts continue their current increase, more demand for the lower-quality wood will follow, though he was cautious about whether the short-term gains are sustainable.
Any sustained increase, he said, would encourage lumber companies to harvest wood from the marginal areas, as suggested by the Committee.
The B.C. Liberal government-appointed committee is a response to a drastic reduction in the availability of timber throughout the province, due to the mountain pine beetle pandemic.
According to Cariboo North Independent MLA Bob Simpson, more needs to be done.
“These recommendations will not support sustainable change,” he said in a release. “What I see in this report are politicians on both sides passing the buck to local communities with no long-term strategy for success.”
He went on to say the recommendations allow communities to log their own forests, “but what happens when they are gone?”
After areas are logged, and the current politicians are no longer in office, the same communities will be left with nowhere else to harvest, he added.
Simpson said the committee was correct to highlight silviculture initiatives as a priority, but they lack scope. He called for reforesting a healthy ecosystem, rather than just growing timber.
He also called for efforts to increase other economic activities, such as bio-energy and biomass, which — unlike the report — takes into consideration climate change and a changing economy.
“The government has several reports sitting in front of them outlining progressive strategies, but they haven’t acted on them,” he said. “The bottom line, and the Committee report confirms this, is that we’re going to see a dramatic timber reduction in the near term.”
The Committee, which was appointed in May, estimated 18.1 million hectares of forest has been ravaged by the mountain pine beetle. The supply of timber will be about 20 per cent below the pre-infestation levels in 20 years.
A June report from the Forest and Range Management Framework to Anticipated Effects of Climate Change, which Simpson supports, says the timber uncertainty calls for more risk analysis, rather than optimizing productivity, “with conscious efforts to manage for flexibility and resilience.”
“Where risks are increasing and forests are stressed, managers should avoid plans that are too tightly dependent on historical disturbance patterns and other assumptions,” the FRMF report states. “Using more diverse seed sources or species mixes when planting, altering rotation times and facilitating species migration will likely play important roles in adapting to altered climates over the next century.”
The report classifies Merritt as being among the most infected by mountain pine beetle.
The Committee’s 22 recommendations include:
• Consider First Nation expansion tenures when proposing changes to the tenure system.
• Assess feasibility of re-establishing the monitoring committees for land and resource management plans.
• Complete a review of the timber areas that could be harvested. This includes the marginally economic areas.
• Only consider harvesting delicate areas within the timber harvesting land base if a scientific review has been conducted and approves of such a harvest.
• Determine what areas of pine-beetle infested timber can be harvested.