B.C.'s chief forester painted a mountain pine beetle picture both good and bad Thursday for silviculturalists gathered in Kamloops.
The good news is the historic infestation that destroyed Interior pine stands through the middle of the last decade wasn't as destructive as first feared.
"In 2006, we were projecting a mountain pine beetle kill of 80 per cent of pine by 2013," Jim Snetsinger told a convention of the Western Silviculture Contractors' Association. "Our 2011 models . . . now tell us mountain pine beetle will kill about 61 per cent of susceptible pine by 2021."
Snetsinger was more guarded in his outlook than Interfor's chief forester, who predicted "a golden era" is at hand.
The bad news, Snetsinger said, is that the beetle continues to kill lots of lodgepole pine. More than half of merchantable pine in the Interior has been lost to date, even though the mortality peaked in 2004-05.
The central region of the province, an area extending from the Kamloops forest district north to Mackenzie, was hardest hit; Merritt Forest District to a lesser degree. A more homogenous forest type, less broken terrain and consistent wind patterns are thought to have been key factors here.
"In the southeast, it hasn't materialized the way it was projected," though the infestation continues in the areas of Cranbrook and Invermere, he noted. "The perimeter doesn't seem to be growing that much.
"Mountain pine beetle is increasing further into the northwest, and I think this is just symptomatic of some of the climate change we're seeing."
Other forest pests, such as the spruce bark beetle, spruce budworm and Douglas fir tussock moth, are increasing in the Southern Interior, though to a far lesser degree than pine beetle.
An "uplift" in the annual allowable cut, which has since been scaled back, was intended to enable the industry to harvest beetle-killed timber before its value declined.
As for what remains of the Interior forest industry, Snetsinger was less certain. There are too many variables — harvesting levels, lumber markets and the emergence of the bio-economy — to paint an accurate picture, he said.
A substantial industry opportunity rests with what he termed the mid-term harvest. That spells business for silviculturalists in the business of forest regeneration. Sometime in 2013, the seven billionth tree will be planted in B.C.
"If the economy's right, if the market cycle is right, if the bio-economy comes on strong, we can harvest that in the next 10 years."
The bio-economy is not to be confused with bio-fuels, which represent just one facet, said Ric Slaco, chief forester of Interfor.
"From my perspective, we're in a very interesting time right now," Slaco said. "I think we're on the verge of a golden era for our sector."
The UN has pinpointed sustainable forestry and wood products as the largest single opportunity to mitigate climate change, he said. Trees sequester carbon, forming the basis for the bio-economy. Wood products do the same.
"A lot of people in the general public are not really aware that we have a miracle resource . . . Every time a load of logs is going down the road or into the lumber yard, 50 per cent of that is carbon by weight."
While investment in research and development is limited in B.C., markets such as China have realized the vast potential of innovative wood products to save energy.
"We're only in the very early stages of trying to tap into that."
Addressing climate change a moral imperative, MLA says
The bio-economy is the value-added future of B.C.’s forest sector, an independent MLA said Thursday.
In the new carbon economy, forestry would produce a broad range of fibre-based products including clothing, not just wood products.
“I think we have an obligation to future generations to address this beast known as climate change,” said Bob Simpson, who represents Cariboo North. To not act would be immoral, he added.
“This isn’t optimal; this is a must-do.”
Forestry, together with marine resources and agriculture, represent the province’s strongest potential to create sustainable jobs, he said. There is no so-called “ethical oil” or sustainable mining.
Yet in order to build the new economy, government must take the bull by the horns and show leadership.
He called the existing Pacific Carbon Trust a distortion of public policy that doesn’t effectively foster reductions in carbon emissions overall.