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Forests? Depends on who's counting

External Reference/Copyright
Issue date: 
February 2, 2012
Publisher Name: 
Times Colonist
Les Leyne
Author e-Mail: 
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B.C.'s foresters are an argumentative lot, and for the past few years, one particular disagreement has repeatedly seized their attention.

It's the question of how much forest land falls into the official category known as NSR - not satisfactorily restocked.

The Ministry of Forests has its number. But experts outside government believe the ministry's estimate is far too low. Leading that side of the argument is retired forester Anthony Britneff, who spent several decades in the ministry. He's written several briefs justifying his estimate and casting doubt on the government's numbers. They've gotten some play in the field because he's asserting the NSR problem is bigger than it's ever been, and getting worse.

It's a highly technical discussion that certainly won't be resolved in this space. But it got to the point last year where the Forest Practices Board stepped in to see if it could clear things up.

It took the unusual step of commissioning a special report designed to "clarify the status and implications of not satisfactorily restocked forest in B.C."

Foresters gathering at a silviculture conference today in Kamloops will get a taste of the verdict. A board member is scheduled to speak this afternoon on the whimsically titled topic of "NSR: A Case Study in Proofiness."

It's described as an initial report on the topic, with more to come, likely later this month.

The special report was announced in September as a way of addressing concern and confusion arising from the continuing public argument by the foresters. The objective was to clarify things, and deliver an "opinion on strategic issues arising from that clarification."

The strategic issues are many, but the central one is whether the people who own the forest can safely assume they are being managed properly.

Another is the shifting focus on restocking. It used to be about the huge backlog that built up prior to 1987, when the legal requirement to reforest logged areas was enacted.

Lately it's been more about the NSR areas created by the mountain pine beetle outbreak and large fires. The one point of agreement is that these areas are going to grow dramatically.

The board said at the outset it would summarize the facts of the matter and address what the government is doing to address the NSR areas.

It's not the first time the oversight body has waded into this argument. In 2010, as the argument was building, it released a background paper. It took readers through the range, from the government's estimate of a few hundred thousand hectares to the nine million hectares suggested by Britneff and others. It concluded: "The truth may be out there - but is likely somewhere in between."

Last November it released a separate report that obliquely raised some doubts about the government's counting methods, if not the numbers. After the B.C. Liberals junked the previous NDP government's Forest Practices Code, it put the onus on companies to report what they were doing.

So the board checked a few of their reports, noting that the ministry had dramatically reduced field staff and others responsible for overseeing forestry.

The compliance audit of companies' reporting practices found a number of shortfalls. It led the board to conclude "we do not have confidence that the forest ministry can adequately describe the current situation of the managed forest or track changes in its condition into the future."

The board said the ministry staff has been reduced to the point where the unexpected loss of one or two more people could put the entire reporting system in jeopardy.

It said there is a wealth of information about the history of forest management in the database. But there are only one or two people left who completely understand the data.

When the ministry is operating on that thin a margin, after divesting so much responsibility to licence-holders, it's an open question whether they have a firm grasp on the situation.

Just So You Know: Premier Christy Clark is planning a major announcement on energy policy Friday. It's expected to cover, among other things, the use of natural gas to power industrial projects, including the LNG plants at Kitimat, and the idea of importing electricity, something that current energy policy is aimed at eliminating.


Extpub | by Dr. Radut