By Tom Fletcher
VICTORIA – The B.C. government doesn’t have enough information about its forest management to deal with the long-term results of widespread beetle kill and fires, B.C. Auditor General John Doyle concludes in a report released Thursday.
Doyle’s report also criticizes the province’s shift of responsibility for replanting logged Crown land from the ministry to logging companies.
Since 2004, logging companies have been responsible for replacement trees until they reach “free growing” height, which takes seven to 20 years depending on species. The audit found the policy tends to reduce species diversity.
“Reforestation is a cost to forest companies, not an investment,” Doyle writes. “In managing their business, forest companies tend to take the least-cost, least-risk approach to meet reforestation regulations, which means planting lower-cost, faster-growing species.”
Doyle also concluded that the forests ministry has fallen behind in a long-standing commitment to reforest areas damaged by natural disturbances before 1987, when industry first became responsible for replacing harvested areas.
Opposition MLAs pressed Forests Minister Steve Thomson in the legislature Thursday.
“The ministry is degrading the forest,” said NDP forests critic Norm Macdonald.
Thomson replied that the government has invested $236 million in its Forests for Tomorrow program since 2005, when it was set up in response to the pine beetle epidemic in the B.C. Interior. That program calls for 14.5 million seedlings to be planted in 2012-13 and another 21.5 million in 2013-14.
Speaking to reporters, Thomson rejected Doyle’s conclusion that the ministry is falling behind in reforestation. But he acknowledged that the current estimate of 733,000 hectares “not satisfactorily restocked” is likely to be revised upward once an ongoing update of B.C. forest inventory is complete.
“We’re working through the harvesting of the mountain pine beetle,” Thomson said. “What we have to do is make sure that we know where areas are being harvested or not harvested before we go in and do the reforestation work, because we don’t want to put resources into areas that still need to be available for potential salvage harvesting.”
Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson said the auditor’s findings show why the government does not know whether there is sufficient timber supply in northwestern B.C. to justify the reconstruction of the Burns Lake sawmill that was destroyed by fire in January.