The B.C. government announced $150 million in spending Friday February 17 to “treat” forests to reduce wildfire hazards, rehabilitate forests damaged by fire and disease and increase B.C.’s carbon sink.
While that treatment will include tree planting, it will also include tree cutting.
The money will go to the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C., which was created last year with $85 million.
To date, $5.6 million has been awarded to various projects, most of them aimed at addressing forest fire hazards and cleaning up the still-standing dead wood left from the Mountain pine beetle infestation.
The funding announced Friday is in addition to the $85 million in funding provided last year. The new funding is to be added in the 2016-2017 provincial budget, which comes down on February 21.
The funds will be managed by the Forest Enhancement Society. Some of the funding will go towards tree-planting, which Premier Christy Clark described as a significant climate change initiative, since young forests absorb considerably more carbon dioxide than mature forests.
“Over the next ten years, we’re going to invest $800 million in B.C.’s forests,” Clark said. “In that time, these programs are going to create 20,000 jobs – most of them in northern and rural communities – and it will represent a reduction of 11.7 megatonnes of greenhouse gases.”
She added that represents “more than all the cars, all the trucks, all the planes and all the motorcycles in this country.”
The actual reductions in GHGs from forestry actually depends on how the trees that are cut are used, however. If used to make lumber, then the carbon is sequestered and there is a net benefit.
But much of the dead pine beetle kill that will be harvested is too poor in value to be turned into lumber, so some will be chipped for the pulp and paper industry, and some may be used to create wood pellets, which are used as a fuel. There is less benefit, from a GHG reduction perspective, when wood is burned.
Although tree-planting is part of the projects that will be funded, cutting trees is also a big part of the plan.
Jim Snetsinger, vice-chairman of the Forest Enhancement Society, said that forestry companies with Crown forest licences have already made good use of much of the pine beetle kill. But some of the stands of beetle kill timber is still standing, because there’s little profit to be made in harvesting it.
“It’s basically coming to the end of its shelf life from an industrial perspective,” Snetsinger said.
“So what we’re trying to do is come in and provide some support to get those areas harvested and get the fibre utilized, now that the licensees just can’t make a go of it from an economic perspective.”
The Forest Enhancement Society will fund a variety of projects initiated by First Nations, municipalities, and regional districts to go in and conduct harvesting in forests with low value timber.
One project already approved for funding is the Quesnell area. That project will produce 46,000 cubic metres of timber from pine beetle kill, Snetsinger said.
“The first phase of that treatment is to remove the damaged stands and utilize that fibre as best as you possibly can, and then we’ll come in and replant those areas and get healthy green forests growing again,” he said.
British Columbia lost about half of its merchantable timber to the Mountain pine beetle, which peaked around 2006. The long-term forecast for B.C.’s annual allowable cut is to decrease over the coming decades.
Friday’s funding announcement was welcomed by the Truck Loggers Association (TLA), which represents independent logging contractors.
"Investing in a healthy forest for tomorrow also ensures jobs in B.C.'s rural communities,” said TLA executive director David Elstone.
“TLA members live and work in these communities and they appreciate the government making this investment in our renewable resource to ensure we can all share in the prosperity of B.C.'s working forest."