Upon learning there is presently a shortage of tree seedlings south of the border, I wondered if the same situation exists here in B.C. A quick google search led me to John Betts, Executive Director of the Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association. This morning I phoned John to ask if there was a seedling shortage in B.C. He burst out laughing before adding “we can only wish”. At the same time, John viewed a super cycle in seedling demand in Oregon – with production of seedlings reportedly at “full capacity” – as a ‘good news’ story. By the time he’d finished telling me about the woeful state of restoration and reforestation here in this province, I fully understood why.
The Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic degraded or destroyed approximately 18 million hectares of forest in B.C. This affected area is not distributed evenly of course. Of an estimated two million hectares that urgently need to be replanted, the government plan calls for just 400,000 hectares to be replanted over the next 20 years. Allowing for natural regeneration is evidently the “extremely optimistic”, preferred approach of the provincial government according to John. Public dollars going to reforestation evidently dropped to “about zero” in the depths of the economic downturn. Funding is gradually inching up but it is still “hardly adequate”.
John questioned the priorities of corporations where long term forest health is concerned. “What is their commitment?” he asked. In his opinion, the potential shift from volume-based to area-based tenure in B.C. will only serve to “consolidate control” of the forest. He talked about our “social contract with the future”, before lamenting the “lack of commentary” about what’s happening. “No one is talking about it”. Even the environmentalists have gone noticeably quiet. Still, the dire situation demands intervention (in the form of thinning existing stands, and “taking fuel out of the forest” as example) over the traditional environmental message of conservation. I was told that the increasing probability of forest fires unlike any other would be “the slate cleaner”. With the degraded forests having dried out the past 10 years, the severity and intensity of such a burn could damage the soil and severely hinder species regeneration.
In light of the news stories circulating this week suggesting that the “Wood First” initiative is flawed, talking with the Executive Director of the Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association is a conversation I won’t soon forget.