Foresters join warning cry over risk to forest sustainability
B.C. forest inventories are so far out of date that the foresters' professional association is questioning whether provincial forestlands can still be managed sustainably.
A report by the Association of B.C. Forest Professionals released Monday says that at a time when wildfire and insect pests such as the mountain pine beetle are on the rise, funding for inventory work has been cut almost in half.
The beetle has created "the need for inventory updates on an unprecedented scale," yet the budget for inventory work has been cut from a long-term average of $15 million a year to $8.4 million in the current fiscal year. The foresters are calling on the government to restore funding to $15 million.
Further, staffing levels have been trimmed from 40 in 2006 to 27 in 2011.
The result of less money and fewer staff is that foresters are making decisions based on data that in 40 per cent of the cases has not been updated since 1990, the report states. In 30 per cent of the cases, the inventory work was completed before 1980.
"We are doing as well as we can as professionals but that is not good enough to support our role as stewards, and accordingly, not good enough to fulfil our obligations to society," states the report tiled Assessment of the Status of Forest Inventories in British Columbia.
The report raises the question of whether inventories are sufficiently up to date for the chief forester to accurately meet his mandate of sustainable forest management. It leaves the question unanswered, suggesting more discussion is required.
Chief Forester Jim Snetsinger said up-to-date inventories are important in his determinations but that he also has other tools that he can use when inventory deficiencies are an issue.
"In an era where resources are tight, we are using that money to the most strategic advantage and putting it where we need those inventory dollars most," he said. "Would I like more? The chief forester would always like more money being put into inventory."
Snetsinger said budget and staff cuts are a reality across all governments and all departments. To make the most from fewer dollars, he said the ministry is focusing on high-priority areas to update inventory work; regions affected by the beetle and by fire.
He noted that there is a recognition within the government that inventory work needs to be updated and that he expects to see that view reflected in today's budget.
An accompanying overview document highlights the importance of inventory work by citing the January fire that destroyed Babine Forest Products sawmill at Burns Lake. The owners have made no decision yet whether to rebuild, citing concerns over the timber supply.
Without accurate knowledge of how much timber is in the region, the document states that forest professionals have difficulty advising investors on the quantity and quality of timber available.
"The question is simple: Is the current wood supply adequate to keep a reconstructed mill operating for a significant length of time. The impact of the mountain pine beetle and forest fires have exacerbated the inventory question not only in Burns Lake but in communities all over B.C."
"We'll have enough information to make the strategic decisions government needs to make about Babine Forest Products," he said.
"We have the inventory. We know how much has been affected by mountain pine beetle. We know when it was killed, where it sits now on the shelf life. We know how much wasn't affected by the mountain pine beetle."
The report acknowledges that the staff at the ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations are doing the best they can with the limited funds available, specifically by adopting a risk management approach of allocating resources to the highest priorities.
The forest professionals' report is the third report in an many months to raise the alarm over the state of the province's 22 million hectares of forestlands.
Last week auditor-general John Doyle issued a report stating that the province's forests, which he valued at one quarter trillion dollars, are entering a period of long-term decline because the province is not replanting land that has been denuded of trees because of fire or pests.
And last November the watchdog agent Forest Practices Board issued a report stating it is concerned that the province is not adequately tracking reports by forest companies on harvesting and restocking activities. The board said enough reports were incomplete, inaccurate or late "to be of concern to the board."
Casey Macaulay, a registered professional forester and resource operations specialist for the association, said the timing of the association report is "uncanny" but coincidental. It is a followup to a 2007 report, he said. The Association of B.C. Forest Professionals represents 5,456 professional foresters and forest technologists. One of its mandates is to serve and protect the public interest in the province's forestlands.
John Betts, executive director of the Western Silvicultural Contractors Association, said that his members are seeing poorly restocked forests or large swaths of land that are recovering but the number of dead snags makes them a fire hazard.
"On the ground it doesn't look great and when we try to ask questions around how many hectares have been salvaged for lodgepole pine or how much of the area is actually regenerating and to what extent, there really aren't any figures that are reliable and that is as distressing as what we see on the ground."