Saturday, July 24, 2010

A good forester will not let this tree grow old

Almost fifty years ago, a group of freshmen forestry students were given one day introduction to a European Forestry School. In the afternoon, they headed to a local park filled with trees from many parts of the world for some tree identification. The professor made a special point of introducing the students to trees from British Columbia. Douglas Fir, Hemlock, Sitka Spruce, Western Red Cedar,and several balsam or true firs from BC had become important forest crops in Europe. The professor noted that most of the trees from BC grew well and had long life spans. He singled out Lodge Pole Pine as a fast growing straight pine tree of considerable application in forest management.

The professor went on to note that Lodge Pole Pine was an example of a tree that tended to experience decline in health and vigor as it grew old. "A good forester will not let this tree grow old".

It's 2010 in BC, and we have experienced a major epidemic of mountain pine beetle that is killing more than 13 million hectares of Lodge Pole Pine. The economic loss is in the $100 Billion range. This means a loss of thousands of jobs in communities in the interior of BC.

Public relations efforts by the BC Government and forest industry has led the public to understand that mild winters associated with climate change has enabled mountain pine beetle populations to survive through the winter. This is a true, easy to understand explanation. However it is not the whole story or the most important part of the story.

The most important part of story of the mountain pine beetle epidemic is that Lodge Pole Pine becomes susceptible to attack when it gets about 80 years old. Huge areas of Lodge Pole Pine in the interior of BC had been allowed to get very old.

Lots of good foresters in BC were aware of the problem and that there was a high likelihood of a major epidemic but they were not able to stop the speeding train. We have public forests in BC so we could have professional forest managers rather than greedy timber barons driving the train. The train did get hijacked by greed. The Government, the trustee of our forests wanted economic development so it enabled forest companies to cash in on our forests.

The harvesting rights awarded to forest companies in the interior of BC were volume based. Forest companies could choose the timber it wished to harvest. Lodge Pole Pine was less desirable in terms of profitability, so it was under-harvested. Fire fighting services provided by Government became increasingly effective in controlling forest fires in the interior. This saved Lodge Pole Pine forests from fire. The result was large areas of aging pine forests that were becoming susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack.

Our centralized system of forest management, with the Government sharing forest management with forest companies, motivated mainly by short term economic considerations acts collectively like a very poor forester that ought to be fired. The public, the affected people in forest dependent communities should realize that they are the shareholders of the public forest. Your managers have just wasted $100 Billion of your assets and tried to cover it up as climate change.

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