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October 2005  - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal



Planning for a
post-beetle future

Communities in the BC Interior are being proactive, planning for what comes after the massive pine beetle epidemic—and its accompanying fibre supply meltdown—and are working towards diversifying their economies.

By Jim Stirling

The day will dawn when Canada’s worst mountain pine beetle epidemic is over. And that has many reliant on the forest industry in British Columbia worried as hell. The accelerated pine harvest now in full swing will create a fibre supply meltdown in the future. What effects that will have on the forest industry and the jobs and communities it sustains is a classic fear-of the-unknown scenario.

Some take a doomsday approach, others are more positive. People in some interior BC regions hardest hit by the beetle infestation are galvanizing into groups and attempting to develop a road map toward diversifying their economies. They want a say in life in the post-pine beetle epidemic era. And they’re wary about what the face of forestry might look like in their regions in eight, 10, 15 and 20 years from now.

The truth is, no one knows for sure. The beetle epidemic has confounded experts since its genesis about 10 years ago. The blind hope that Mother Nature would deliver historic weather patterns at critical times in the beetles’ life cycle to help contain the blight proved catastrophically misplaced. That—and generations of effective wildfire control creating vast even-aged pine stands and early government inertia to help counter the infestation— set the table for what is the nation’s most serious forest health issue ever.

Communities in the BC Interior are wary about what the face of forestry—and the forest industry—might look like once the pine beetle epidemic is over.

Statistics about the epidemic only freeze a target moving with alarming rapidity. A BC Ministry of Forests survey in 2004 estimated the infestation had covered seven million hectares of lodgepole pine stands in the province. That’s more than 10 per cent of BC’s total forested area. The beetles’ 2005 summer flights will exponentially increase the population. Alberta is on high alert. And from there, the boreal forest stretches east across the continent. The provincial government, urged strenuously by the forest industry, reacted on several fronts to the beetles’ assaults. An early strategy was to concentrate log harvesting on the green attack, outer fringes of the infestation. It failed to stop the beetle’s march. The scope of the problem has now shifted to salvaging infested wood while it retains value, for conversion to commodity lumber products.

BC’s Chief Forester has permitted uplifts to the AAC. The most recent in the central Interior was announced in the fall of 2004: a 27 per cent, 4.9 million cubic metre increase in annual logging in the Prince George, Quesnel and Burns Lake areas. (Not all of that uplift, however, has been implemented.)

Special beetle wood use forest licences have been offered and awarded. Ainsworth Lumber Ltd, has plans to build two OSB plants in the Prince George/ Vanderhoof/ Quesnel areas supported by two, 15-year 700,000 cubic metre beetle wood licences. Estimated cost: $400 million. CH Anderson and two Swedish partners plan four wood pellet plants in the Quesnel/Vanderhoof areas supported by four licences totalling one million cubic metres a year for 10 years. Estimated cost: $110 million.

The federal government was content to shuffle its feet for years with BC’s beetle problem. Now the senior government says it has a long-term plan to help, and kicked it off with a $100 million down payment. “We understand the devastating effects the mountain pine beetle is having on our forests and eco-systems in BC. More research will lead to a more comprehensive strategy to deal with the crisis, including the economic effects in our province when the current harvest boom drops off in eight years or so. Community adjustment and industrial diversification must be foremost in our collective planning and we will make sure it is,” says David Emerson, federal Minister of Industry. Emerson is a former CEO of Canfor and knows about the beetle issue and its seriousness first-hand.

Earlier federal research resulted in a Canadian Forest Service (CFS) report. It used computer modelling technology and other research methods to get a handle on the possible fibre supply downfall and its impact on regional economies. The CFS used the 15.8 per cent decrease in timber supply forecast by a provincial Ministry of Forests review in 2004 for the Prince George TSA. When—if—that kicks in around 10 to 15 years time, it would result in a loss of 2,700 jobs; revenue reductions of $587 million and labour income losses of around $100 million. Impacts for the Vanderhoof, Quesnel and Nadina TSAs are equally daunting, if not worse, when it comes to employment because forestry dominates their economies even more than in the Prince George area.

The CFS report adds that increases in the tourism sector could help offset job losses but forestry work is generally much higher paid.

“It may be possible to further mitigate negative impacts in the forestry sector by strategies to increase other existing sectors, such as mining, and through structural adjustments and the development of new products and sectors,” the report says. Those are the types of things forestry-reliant regions are examining.

Quick off the mark was the Cariboo- Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition. It’s a broad-based group comprised of the municipalities of Quesnel and Williams Lake and the District of 100 Mile House, the Cariboo Regional District along with tourism and recreation, First Nations, environmental and conservation groups.

The coalition secured an $800,000 grant from the provincial government in April, another in the fall and $900,000 is scheduled for 2006.

Donna Barnett says the coalition is“elated” the provincial government has listened to the communities and allowed them to take a bottom-up approach to leadership on preparation for and mitigation of the impacts of the beetle epidemic. Barnett is co-chair of the coalition and mayor of the District of 100 Mile House. The other co-chair is Rick Gibson, mayor of Williams Lake.

The Cariboo-Chilcotin group has developed its business action plan for 2005-06 with a draft budget of $2.53 million, says Barnett. The two single largest expenditure topics in the plan focus on communities (totalling $820,000) and timber/forestry and pine beetle issues (totalling $760,000). Other topics, each with specific projects, involve: tourism and conservation; agriculture and ranching; the Kyoto Accord; public education and awareness; a pine beetle trust fund; the 2010 Winter Olympics and administration.

The coalition has hired Keith Dufresne as interim manager. He’s president of Inland Timber Management Ltd, based in Williams Lake.

“We can take the high road to deal with the mountain pine beetle. We can look at what we can do to mitigate it and build the economy around and with the problem,” points out Barnett. She adds the coalition will work closely with government and its agencies to avoid duplication. Barnett notes the coalition will build upon and incorporate the expertise accumulated in the region during creation of the comprehensive Cariboo- Chilcotin Land Use Plan in the early 1990s.

While the landscape is changing, the ability to deal with the issues surrounding it remains. The Cariboo-Chiclotin’s lead in empowering communities to deal with the mountain pine beetle is being followed. The Omineca Beetle Action Coalition is applying a regional perspective to the beetles’ impacts between Prince George and Smithers. If it’s like the Cariboo-Chilcotin group, it will adopt a positive and proactive approach to its work.

“Through working closely with all levels of government, the Cariboo-Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition believes that our collective skills in leadership, openness, communications, innovation, positive attitude and Cariboo-Chilcotin hard work will ensure the best future for our communities,” wrote the group in a preamble to its business plan.

“After this mountain pine beetle epidemic is played out, our communities will still be here, providing the lifestyle we all enjoy and hold dear to our hearts.”


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