Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, I am delighted that we are having this debate tonight so we can outline the comprehensive program we have put in place in conjunction with and working with the B.C. government over the last few years: the pine beetle initiative and various programs under that.
It should be noted that Canada's Constitution clearly indicates that the forest land management and indeed the management of all natural resources fall within the provincial mandate. Additionally, under British Columbia's forest legislation, as I said earlier, major forest licence holders are required to carry out reforestation at their own expense.
The role of the federal government in forest matters is confined to the areas of science and technology, aboriginal affairs, national reporting, consensus building, international trade and relations and the management of federal lands. However, it should also be noted that the federal government is putting a large effort toward assisting the province of British Columbia, while staying within the federal mandate, in the mountain pine beetle battle.
In 2002 a $40 million six year program, the mountain pine beetle initiative, was introduced. This initiative complements the province's mountain pine beetle activities and is consistent with the federal mandate, a principle that was established at the outset of discussions with B.C. officials. One would think from listening to the debate tonight that those discussions had never occurred, but they did.
The mountain pine beetle initiative includes a suite of programs assisting beetle control and forest rehabilitation of federal lands: first nations reserve lands, federal parks and three large blocks of federal forest lands, as well as private non-industrial forest lands.
The member for Cariboo—Prince George has been quoted in the media as saying that the mountain pine beetle outbreak is as much a natural disaster as the Quebec ice storms and he feels the federal government should be providing funding to rehabilitate Crown forests that are being attacked by the beetle. That has been said this evening as well.
The beetle infestation is huge and the situation is serious, but whatever the government does must be consistent with its mandate. It should be remembered that in the ice storm situation, to which the hon. member has referred, federal funding did not go to rehabilitate provincial crown lands, but to assist private landowners, as is being done in the current situation in B.C.
The mountain pine beetle initiative was developed as a response to a provincial request for federal programming in this area. It also includes a research program focused on reducing current infestation impacts and the risk of future beetle epidemics. This meshes nicely with the province's 10 year wood salvage plan.
I want to mention that under the $40 million initiative, there are a number of programs. Some are research and some are reforestation, as I have just mentioned. All those programs are working and in place.
In that plan, the research initiative has four sections to it. The first is to estimate the commercial lifespan of beetle killed timber. The second is to how best utilize the large volume of dead timber, and that falls in line with the industrial strategy ideas that were raised earlier this evening. The third is the research we are doing on the impacts of the timber flow changes on forest dependent communities, of which there are a number in B.C. and other parts of Canada. The NDP raised tonight the need for us to address those communities, and we are doing that. The fourth idea, in which I know the NDP would be interested in, is our research on the ecological impacts of managing the beetle killed stands. The NDP raised that issue tonight.
The B.C. ministry of forests recognizes that mountain pine beetle initiative research is addressing the high priority information requirements and that this effort is supplying critical information to the province in support of its 10 year plan. Additionally, federal officers have been located in the beetle epidemic region of Prince George and Kamloops to facilitate the delivery of the mountain pine beetle forest programs. I mentioned that earlier this year.
Perhaps the member for Cariboo—Prince George is unaware that in his own riding of Prince George the mountain pine beetle initiative has awarded nearly $1 million in funding to research scientists at the University of Northern British Columbia and the B.C. ministry of forests.
This funding is to produce answers to research priorities identified by hundreds of forest land managers during a series of regional forums, including three sessions in Prince George. These forums were undertaken by the Canadian Forest Service to ensure the mountain pine beetle initiative's research agenda would not only be scientifically sound, but also focused on the information needs of those directly battling the beetle. That falls in line with what a number of people raised tonight about local consultations.
Scientists from the University of Northern British Columbia and the Canadian Forest Service are working together to discover, among other things, the dispersal patterns of beetle populations, the factors contributing to the rate of decay in beetle killed timber, the hydrological changes in forest stands killed by the beetle, and at what point a beetle-attacked stand no longer contributes to the outbreak expansion. This research will help forest managers decide when and where to harvest during outbreak conditions.
These projects illustrate how federal government researchers and university researchers can partner together to deal with the impacts of the current outbreak and to use that knowledge to reduce the risk from future forest pest epidemics.
I say future epidemics because we are quite certain they will occur. The mountain pine beetle is a natural part of the pine forests of western North America. As a natural part of these ecosystems, it is well adapted to these forests and from time to time its population explodes.
The federal government's experience with the insects goes back to 1914. Over the decades, through federal-provincial cooperation, many outbreaks of this pest have been tracked. However, the current outbreak has spread across an area approaching 10 million hectares, an area larger than New Brunswick. It is by far the largest mountain pine beetle outbreak on record.
Complete control of the mountain pine beetle is not possible given the scale of the infestation and the abundance of mature lodgepole pine, the insect's food source. The only thing that will bring it under control is a period of winter cold, minus 40 for a number of days, or an unseasonable fall or spring cold snap.
Other troubling aspects of the current outbreak are the early scientific results that indicate mountain pine beetle now inhabits areas where it was not previously found. It is thought this beetle migration is some of the first evidence on climate change actually occurring in Canada. The outlook is for increased beetle spread as climate change models indicate a reduced likelihood of prolonged winter cold necessary to terminate the infestations.
There is no quick or easy fix for this situation. The hon. member is greatly mistaken when he alleges that the federal government is not engaged in the issue. The Canadian Forest Service of Natural Resources Canada is deeply involved in this situation and is working in close cooperation with the province, having put financial resources and some of the best forest researchers in the country and perhaps in the world to work on this issue. The results of their research provide a sound base to the mitigation policies and programs implemented by forest managers and planners.
The B.C. ministry of forests is well aware of the contributions made by the Canadian Forest Service and the Government of Canada in this situation. Those valuable contributions should not be dismissed.
I want to talk for a few minutes now on the effects on the little guy who has been caught in this issue, particularly in British Columbia, although the pine beetle has spread to Alberta as well.
Many Canadians, specifically those in British Columbia, draw their income directly from the forest or in activities related to the forest. Commercial forestry firms, many with high technology mills across the country, produce products for domestic and export markets, contributing some $40 billion to Canada's export earnings.
There are many others, individuals or small groups, who operate on private woodlots often not as visible, but who are playing a strong role in dealing with the mountain pine beetle epidemic in B.C. They are neighbours to the crown lands managed and protected by the Government of B.C. and the forest licensees. They are interested in being good neighbours in joining the effort to respond to the natural occurrence of the beetle. I want them to know that the government has not forgotten them.
A six year, $40 million initiative was announced in October 2002. Within that initiative is a major program designed to directly assist the efforts of private woodlot operators to work on beetle control and on post-beetle rehabilitation of their forest lands.
As I said, I am interested in drawing the attention of the House to the support for British Columbia's private land owners in this important area. In addition, there is the mountain pine beetle initiative and forest rehabilitation on first nation reserves.