The Last Word

B.C.’s Forest Practices Board keeping tabs on spruce bark beetle harvesting

By Jim Stirling

It was more of a reminder than a rebuke.

That said, the message from the British Columbia Forest Practices Board (FPB) comes through loud and clear: forest companies and government agencies working on public forest and rangelands in B.C. must adhere to the rules and spirit of provincial regulations rather than their own self interests. The FPB plans on keeping closer tabs in the future on companies harvesting forest stands impacted by the spruce bark beetle.

One of the functions of the FPB, according to its website, is to encourage sound forest and range practices that warrant the public’s confidence. Although it is a provincial government agency, the FPB reports on its activities directly to the public. This public watchdog function is further reflected in the board’s work as an auditor of individual forest company performance on publicly owned forest lands across the province. The board also investigates any complaints it receives concerning forest practices on publicly owned lands.

Board members were wearing that latter hat when they responded to a complaint they received in March 2021. The complaint was registered by what the board identified as “forest professionals”. The complainants voiced concerns about some of the harvesting activity on forest stands infected by the spruce bark beetle in sections of the Prince George, Mackenzie and Stuart Nechako natural resource districts in central and northern B.C. between 2015 and 2020. The complainants voiced concerns that harvesting activities did not always focus on the most severely infested stands, as required by the regulations. It was suggested that logging the less severely infected elements of a stand was detrimental to future timber supplies. As such, the practice was not an appropriate forest management technique, claimed the complainants.

The region of B.C. cited in the complaint, with the Omineca area at its epicentre, was first identified as the subject for concern after air and ground surveys conducted by the provincial ministry of forests. They revealed areas attacked by the spruce bark beetle had mushroomed from around 7,600 hectares of forest land in 2013 to more than 500,000 hectares in the province by 2020, with most infected areas in north central B.C.

The Ministry of Forests co-ordinated the salvage response to the beetle outbreak. The process included establishing standards for salvage harvesting priorities. Stands with a 50 per cent or higher mortality rate were the primary salvage objective.  

Several regional forest companies have responded to the beetle salvage challenge. The potential for long term harm was underlined by the experiences learned from the protracted mountain pine beetle epidemic in B.C. “The outbreak and associated salvage efforts may affect economic, biodiversity, forest carbon and wildlife habitat values across the Omineca region,” observed the FPB in its report on the complaint.

“Our investigation found that Canfor and BCTS are making progress in harvesting infected and dead spruce trees but the complainants’ concerns are still valid,” reported Gerry Grant, one of the appointed FPB members and a forester based in Quesnel, B.C. Canfor Corp was Canada’s second largest softwood lumber producer by volume in 2021 and has several operating mills in north and central B.C. BCTS—British Columbia Timber Sales—is a Crown agency which manages 20 per cent of the province’s allowable annual cut.

“The board could not determine if BCTS and Canfor’s activities are consistent with the chief foresters’ and regional executive director’s expectations for prioritizing spruce beetle harvesting,” said the report.

The FPB also examined its own role as representative of the public interest. The board would like to see a monitoring process instigated with an accompanying public report on licencees’ efforts to manage the infestation.

“Although government has conducted ad hoc analyses of spruce beetle harvests, it has not systematically monitored and reported on whether BCTS’, licencees and Canfor’s spruce beetle harvesting was consistent with government expectations.”

The Ministry of Forests has recently said it’s working on improving spruce beetle harvesting protocols to make them more transparent and effective.

The FPB represents the most positive aspect of this story. It followed through on its mandate to represent the public interest by investigating the complaint and publishing its findings. All forest companies working on Crown land and in beetle wood need to be aware they are not operating in a vacuum.

Analysis of air and ground surveys from 2021 and 2022 should provide a clearer picture of the spruce beetle infestation in north central B.C. In the meantime, regional small communities are doing what they can. The District of Mackenzie, for example, has developed a spruce beetle mitigation strategy. It includes the positioning of anti-aggregate pheromone packets on susceptible spruce trees along trails in the Mackenzie area. “These packets deter beetles from settling into a given area creating a pheromone buffer around key trees. This study will help preserve the large at-risk trees and mitigate blowdown on trails surrounding Mackenzie,” explained the district.

Logging and Sawmilling Journal

September/October 2022

On the Cover:
Adam Williams, owner of A.R. Williams Logging, of Englehart, Ontario, has been learning the ropes on some new, but also familiar, logging equipment, from John Deere, harvesting wood in northeastern Ontario, near the Timmins area. Over the past year, Williams has been demo’ing a John Deere 953MH Tracked Harvester with a Waratah 623C harvester head—and which features John Deere’s latest operator assistance control feature, Intelligent Boom Control (IBC), which the company has introduced for its 900 MH-Series Tracked Harvester. Read all about how IBC is working well for Williams beginning on page 22 of this issue. (Cover photo courtesy of John Deere).

Mercer moves into mass timber
In an interesting strategic move into the mass wood market, B.C.-based Mercer International has purchased the bankrupt Katerra Mass Timber Plant in neighbouring Washington State—which uses Canadian SPF lumber as feedstock.

On a Mission to build a new sawmill
The new $160 million (U.S.) Mission Forest Products sawmill in Mississippi draws on a wide variety of suppliers for equipment, including a number of Canadian companies.

Forest management: from planning to planting…
Silvacom’s comprehensive Forest Management System software seamlessly covers operations, from planning right through to planting.

Deere’s new Intelligent Boom Control (IBC)-equipped tracked harvester at work in Ontario
Contractor Adam Williams is having solid success working with the new IBC-equipped harvester, working in northern Ontario forests.

PAL Lumber is all fired up…
Ontario’s PAL Lumber is one busy operation these days, producing firewood for everyone from cottagers to large commercial customers, with the solid support of a tough Bells 4000 firewood processor.

Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) and FPInnovations.

The Last Word
B.C.’s Forest Practices Board is keeping tabs on spruce bark beetle harvesting, notes Jim Stirling.


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