Slow response to pine beetle in B.C. exacerbating problem

The mountain pine beetle has been a concern since the mid 90’s, but only since the last decade has the provincial government taken action against this pest. With climate change and increases in logging, the pine beetle has been able to survive previously dire conditions. What used to be a natural disturbance, has now become a pressing issue for the central interior of British Columbia.

Policy regimes must emphasize protection as British Columbia is home to the largest biodiversity in Canada. This is not only an environmental concern; decisions made to control the pine beetle outbreak have economic and social ramifications as well.

The provincial government has focused more attention on the hunt for timber instead of forest health. While the epidemic ensues, BC’s pine forests are bearing the brunt of these effects due to salvage logging and clear cutting. If the government does not provide more resources toward preserving and protecting old growth forests within BC, other species will be threatened.

This is already occurring to the Caribou population. The rapid clear cutting of trees has altered these mammals’ habitat and left them vulnerable to predators. Premier Gordon Campbell introduced the Forest and Range Practices Act which limits clear cutting to 60 hectares, but does not apply to salvage logging, which has no upper limit. Logging costs are rising as forests killed by the pine beetle are quickly being harvested to retain value. The epidemic has killed 710 million cubic metres of commercially viable pine timber which is an estimated 53% of all the pine trees in the province. The forest industry is over exerting itself trying to harvest as much timber as possible in order to make a profit, while timber supplies dwindle dramatically.

This will eventually lead to job loss in this sector, something that the BC government needs to take into account. The solution to harvest and kill trees, fails to address issues of conservation and long term sustainability. If the government continues to concentrate on salvage logging, pine forests will die, the mountain pine beetle population will exponentially grow, and more importantly, this rich ecosystem will decline.

According to the David Suzuki foundation, “the current outbreak is a crisis because it’s more of a socioeconomic challenge rather than an ecological crisis”. Forest managers need to design a planning process to protect the environment during sanitation harvests that rid many trees. Increasing the allowable annual cut (AAC) cannot be sustained over time and will result in the loss of jobs, revenue, and social and economic disruption. The AAC must be decreased and monitored to allow for forests to grow while minimizing risks to the ecosystem.

More funding needs to be put into this sector of environmental protection, especially in research to find other ways to reduce the pine beetle epidemic. This could be in the form of a natural pesticide to maintain the number of insects, without bringing harm to the environment. The David Suzuki Foundation states that efforts and resources should be put toward:

A. Specifying alternative management strategies and opinions about their efficacy;

B. Using different policies and practices in different places, as well as using the same policies and practices in different places;

C. Recording management decisions and their intended outcomes;

D. Designing and implementing monitoring programs of forest structure, beetle abundance and distribution, timber values, wildlife, and a host of other variables of interest to forest managers, and;

E. Implementing a well-articulated processes of integrating monitoring information with decision-making.

Forestry has to be sustainable in order to steward the rest of the environment. If the solutions stated above are not met, BC’s ecosystem and its species will face degradation.