Beyond the Beetle: An action plan for healthy forests

a clear strategy to help our forests recover from the damage done by the mountain pine beetle infestation

VICTORIA – With the release of ‘Beyond the Beetle: A Mid-Term Timber Supply Action Plan’, we have outlined a clear strategy to help our forests recover from the damage done by the mountain pine beetle infestation.

Unfortunately, the release of the action plan has led to the spread of misinformation and it’s important for your readers to know the facts.

Government is not advocating logging in reserves. Reserves have been set up to manage crucial wildlife habitat, biodiversity, viewscapes and old growth forests. Those reserves are important and need to be kept.

If a community believes the reserves no longer serve these purposes, they can initiate a discussion with government. Only then would government consider altering any of those designations. Along with having community support, any proposed changes must be ecologically sound and supported by science. Any such proposals will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Managing our forests is a complex issue, but the outcome we all want is simple: an industry that continues to support workers and communities. In coming up with this plan, we’re building on the $884 million we have spent since 2001 fighting the infestation and its environmental and economic impacts.

We’re advocating for better use of the wood in beetle-affected areas, as opposed to increasing the number of trees cut. Not all beetle-damaged timber will supply sawmills, but it will supply the growing wood bioeconomy sector. Any areas harvested will be reforested with improved seed and start to contribute ecological values sooner than they might otherwise.

The action plan includes a 10-year forest inventory plan, with the first five years focused on re-inventorying the hardest-hit mountain pine beetle areas – work which is already well underway. Critics say this work should have started sooner, but while the pine beetle epidemic was at its peak, the ever-changing landscape of the beetle’s destruction made it difficult to carry out a comprehensive inventory.

We are investing in innovative silviculture practices to grow more trees and grow them faster, and are working with licensees on comprehensive plans that cover the entire timber supply areas. These plans contribute to growing fibre but they are equally about growing healthy forests to preserve water, wildlife, visuals and other values. These five-year plans include our latest knowledge about the effects of climate change and fire management planning.

The action plan also proposes legislation to convert volume-based forest licences to area-based forest licences – but these conversions would only occur through local conversations and after consultation. We will also create a new supplemental forest licence to increase bioeconomy opportunities.

In 2001, our government inherited a forest industry that demanded reform – mired in out-dated and inefficient policies that were oblivious to a global marketplace. Despite unprecedented challenges, including the crash of the U.S. housing market along with the pine beetle infestation, we’ve implemented innovative and progressive measures to reclaim a position as a global leader in sustainable forestry.

Working together with communities, First Nations and industry, our accomplishments are many and varied, including new markets in Asia, a burgeoning bioeconomy sector, increased local participation in forestry through community forests and First Nation tenures, and new value-added wood building products like cross-laminated timber.

Based on the unanimous recommendations of an all-party legislative committee, ‘Beyond the Beetle: A Mid-Term Timber Supply Action Plan’ will position communities, First Nations and workers so they can prosper from a post-beetle forest industry in B.C.’s Interior.

* Steve Thomson is  Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations for the Province of Columbia