Madam Chair, I am pleased to rise tonight and participate in this discussion about the mountain pine beetle. As previous members have commented, this is an issue that certainly falls within provincial jurisdiction, but I would argue that there is a very strong role for the federal government here.
We need an industrial strategy that not only looks at the science of it, because certainly we have alluded to the fact that the pine beetle is a natural occurrence, but it also needs to deal with the socio-economics of it.
There is no doubt that we are in the middle of an epidemic of these tiny beetles. There is also no doubt, as I have talked about, that it is part of the natural ecosystem of British Columbia and Alberta and that the beetle and the lodgepole pine survived together for many thousands of years before harvesting of timber began.
I want to emphasize that it is partly because of the commercial value of this standing forest that this epidemic of mountain pine beetles is much more of a problem. If we were not talking about people's livelihoods, we probably would not be having this kind of debate.
The beetle is part of our boreal forest. It goes through a part of a cycle and in fact contributes to the overall health of a forest in an ecosystem that we look at in a holistic way. But these trees in British Columbia are commercial trees and, according to some areas, 25% of the timber harvested is actually the lodgepole pine. Estimates vary, but at the high end, over $6 billion of lumber could be lost.
Our concern in the NDP is with the communities and workers affected by this epidemic. Like trees, communities cannot just up and move. When an epidemic like this hits a community, it needs a lot of help to weather the epidemic. This is why we are calling for an industrial strategy.
Many agree that there are two factors affecting this epidemic. The lack of cold snaps early in the winter means more beetles survive to the next summer, and of course, as has been alluded to, the forest fire control measures help to create the ideal ecosystem for the beetles to thrive. Since we have had fire suppression, it has created a different kind of ecosystem.
It is truly unfortunate that the main mitigation measure has been sanitation. What this translates to is clear-cutting of huge swaths of land. It is unfortunate that we are using this as the main mitigation measure because it is a short term solution with long term consequences.
In some areas of British Columbia, these sanitation measures mean timber companies are harvesting well above sustainable levels. This puts the nearby communities in a terrible situation. All the potential work of harvesting is happening in a very short period of time, which means that there will be no jobs for workers and communities once this harvesting is finished.
To harvest these affected areas, some of which are in remote areas, timber companies have to build logging roads. These roads are some of the worst consequences of logging. They create a break in the habitat, allowing predator species to travel while disrupting migration flows of other species.
We cannot log in isolation. These roads allow invasive species to travel into the heart of a wilderness and increase soil erosion and runoff into water courses. The timber companies know this and have taken steps to reduce the impact of logging roads on areas, but they cannot eliminate the damage. We are building these roads and ecosystems with trees that are already stressed by the pine beetle and further stress the system by clear-cutting all of the trees whether they are infected or not.
Another problem with this approach is that it does not respect other policies that have been put in place to protect certain areas. For instance, wilderness areas that have been protected from any exploitation are now threatened under this clear-cutting sanitation approach to the beetles.
The B.C. Parks website states:
Forestry experts and entomologists agree that you can't “stop” a beetle expansion such as we now see across British Columbia. Only nature can do this through two consecutive very cold winters. However, management activities are planned and implemented to try to slow the rate of expansion until cold winters can stem the rapid expansion of beetle populations.
This speaks to the need for that comprehensive strategy that I alluded to earlier. The David Suzuki Foundation has published a scientific paper looking at alternatives to sanitation measures to deal with the mountain pine beetle. Its paper, “Salvaging Solutions”, looks at the options that are available to mitigate this epidemic without destroying local economies through over-harvesting or creating the conditions for an epidemic in the future. Again, we have seen so many times that what we do is a quick-fix simple solution. We do not think about the long term consequences.
I would like to quote from this report because there are alternatives out there. I need to emphasize that some of these measures are already being used by B.C. parks to mitigate the beetle within their borders and these measures are working. The measures are as follows:
Establish a comprehensive management strategy for the mountain pine beetle to adequately conserve and manage the ecosystem. This strategy should focus on proactively managing the host lodgepole pine trees rather than the beetles. The strategy should entail policies and practices for:
i. prevention of an outbreak and reduction of long-term lodgepole pine susceptibility and risk;
This is the science that we have been talking about. It continues:
ii. suppression during population buildup of mountain pine beetles to strive to contain and suppress initial outbreaks, especially when small;
This is saying to get it early. It continues:
iii. salvage activities for ecosystem recovery after the outbreak to resersity attore ecosystem div all spatial and temporal scales.
We need to “distinguish clearly between sanitation and salvage harvesting in forest policy”, says the Suzuki report.
Again, this is from the Suzuki report:
Subject salvage operations to full planning requirements and environmental regulations.
This is really critical. They need to be done in a well planned way.
Design a planning process to ensure that environmental values are protected during sanitation harvests....
Use existing harvest capacity first for insect suppression....
Mimic natural disturbance processes when harvesting by retaining remnant patches of forest and coarse woody debris and employing a diversity of silvicultural systems....
Vary amount and pattern of retention with forest type and natural disturbance pattern....
Ensure that reduced stumpage rates do not subsidize salvage in stands that would be more valuable if retained for environmental values or for future harvest....
Allocate harvest according to local variation in disturbance regime....
Keep harvest rates low to maintain future options until long-term consequences of harvest rates are better understood.
Commit to long-term planning, research, and proactive mountain pine beetle management.
This problem keeps coming up. The current outbreak is 13 years, but it has happened through cycles. The mountain pine beetle outbreaks will happen again in the future once we get this one under control. Therefore, we need the research and planning during periods of low abundance to help avoid this kind of panic approach that has such devastating impacts on our community.
B.C. Parks' current policy provides for a few different methods of beetle control. We talk about how what we need to do is go in and clear-cut, but there are other methods. Part of it is allowing the natural process to prevail, the “do nothing” approach, which I do not think anybody would support. There is a method of pheromone baits and traps. The beetles are attracted to other trees where beetles have successfully burrowed. There is individual tree fall and burn on site, which requires that comprehensive management plan that I was talking about, and then there is the prescribed burn.
Finally, we need to talk about the precautionary principle. Even after decades of large scale clear-cutting, we do not know all the effects on the forest ecosystems. We have seen many forestry companies go to much smaller scale clear-cuts. We have no idea what effect this kind of large scale massive clear-cutting will have on the environment.
Forests have a lifespan and life cycle much longer than the life of Parliament, of a government or even of a forestry company. We do not have adequate research to understand how clear-cutting affects our systems, but we know a few things. Forestry companies usually replant a clear-cut with a single variety of tree. That leads to an even-aged stand of trees, which makes them even more susceptible to pest infestations or diseases.
We know that a clear-cut destroys habitation for all other species that call a forest home. It removes the biomass that is an integral part of an ecosystem. Clear-cuts increase erosion, silting watercourses and destroying salmon habitat.
We cannot use only one mitigation measure to deal with infestation, especially when that measure creates other environmental problems.
In conclusion, what we have here is a complex problem and what we do not need is simplistic thinking. We need a commitment at the federal government level to demonstrate leadership which will come up with a comprehensive plan that looks not only at the environmental impacts but at the impacts on our societies and communities. I would urge all members to take that into consideration during this debate this evening.