B.C. forestry staff say their timber inventory is like a 20-year-old pickup truck, dated, but good enough.
That was the simple answer to Bulkley-Nechako mayors and rural directors worried Victoria lacks the data needed to safely judge whether it should relax some logging rules in its quest to save forestry jobs in B.C.’s interior from the pine beetle epidemic.
“Whatever we do, we, as a ministry, will have to present balanced information, the scorecard, about the pro’s and con’s of any change,” Kevin Kriese, the assistant deputy minister to B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations said during the Bulkley-Nechako Regional District meeting last Thursday.
Kriese said forestry staff are busy shooting new aerial photos to get a better picture of how much saleable timber is left in B.C.’s most beetle-affected areas.
“It would have been pointless to do them five years ago, because we would have been taking photos where there are still trees dying from the pine,” he added.
Pat Martin, a forests inventory manger, said crews are doing lots of field work in Bulkley-Nechako this summer, including a “massive program” to re-photograph the entire Lakes and Vanderhoof timber areas.
In the Bulkley timber supply area, Martin said staff are reviewing existing inventory to see what needs to be done.
Unlike the Lakes area, where the inventory is based on aerial photos taken in the late 1980s, new photos of the Bulkley were taken in the early 2000s and mapped according to the province’s most up-to-date data standard.
Vanderhoof mayor Gerry Thiessen said he was glad to get an update from the ministry, noting whatever decisions the provincial government makes about forestry rules should be based on good science, not political agendas.
“I don’t want to be sold something,” he said.
“I want to know the truth.”
In April, Thiessen and other RDBN leaders voted unanimously to get advice on timber supply from independent experts, rather than rely entirely on B.C.’s forests ministry.
Their concern was sparked by a recent Auditor General’s report that said the ministry lacks clear timber goals. It also raised flags about how accurate its inventory is, noting that in 20 per cent of sampled areas, the dominant tree species is not what forestry staff expected.
A recent report by the Association of BC Forestry Professionals raised similar concerns.
While the ministry has done a good job in lean budget years, the report noted that the current inventory budget of $8.4 million is well below the long-term average of $15 million, and staffing is at its lowest level in a decade.
In response, Kriese said, “Certainly, our ministry, like all others, has taken pretty substantial budget reductions.”
Still, he added, “I think overall they gave the inventory program high marks for being focused on priorities.”
Kriese and other ministry staff also pointed out that while an updated inventory is important, it’s not the number-one issue when it comes to timber supply.
“The real thing, in my own opinion, has been the issue of shelf life,” Kriese said. Interior sawmill managers are finding that beetle-killed pine stands are falling apart years earlier than expected, he said, deteriorating to a level where they are too dangerous to send loggers in to work.
This week, the province is expected to announce a round of public consultations with B.C. towns and First Nations about how to mitigate job losses after the pine beetle epidemic has peaked.
“I’m happy to hear that,” said Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach, following the RDBN meeting.
“To a large extent, our community in Smithers has fewer implications,” he added, but noted all Bulkley-Nechako towns will be affected in some way.