VICTORIA - British Columbia's independent forest practices watchdog says future timber supplies in the province are at stake and the Liberal government needs to get moving on management plans for pine beetle and fire damaged forests.
A Forest Practices Board report released Tuesday concludes up to two million hectares of Interior forests could be left insufficiently restocked for future use while the government considers replanting the forests.
"Decisions about whether to replant areas where mountain pine beetle and fire have killed most of the trees will have an impact on the future timber supply in the B.C. Interior," said board chairman Al Gorley in a statement following the release of the report.
"At a minimum, if nature is left to take its course, the eventual crop of timber in those areas will be delayed," said the statement.
Gorley could not be immediately reached for comment.
The Forest Practices Board report draws conclusions similar to those of Auditor General John Doyle in an audit of government management of forestry services last winter.
Doyle concluded the ministry has not clearly defined its timber objectives and, as a result, cannot ensure that its management practices are effective.
A leaked government report last winter said thousands of forest industry jobs in B.C. Interior communities are at stake due to timber supply issues connected to the pine beetle epidemic that destroyed an estimated 18.1 million hectares of forests — an area more than five times the size of Vancouver Island.
Gorley's report said of the two million hectares that may end up designated insufficiently replanted, industry is tabbed to restock a quarter of that, while the government will restock up to 250,000 hectares, leaving more than one million hectares unplanted.
"There is a lot of debate about exactly how much forest has been damaged by fire and beetles," said Gorley's statement. "But the important question is, should we invest money now to ensure a healthy timber supply into the future, and, if so, how will we raise and invest it? But if action is to be taken, it must be taken quickly."
Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson could not be immediately reached for comment.
Last month he announced the formation of an all-party special committee with a mandate to look for new ways to expand timber supplies, including possible changes to harvest rates, forest tenures and land use policies that include harvesting timber in protected areas.
The committee, which has been holding public meetings in Interior communities, was the government's response to the leaked forestry report that warned about thousands of job losses across the Interior and in the north due to a declining amount of wood caused by the pine beetle epidemic.
The committee has until Aug. 15 to report back to government.
Opposition New Democrat forests critic Norm Macdonald, who serves as deputy chairman of the special timber supply committee, said the report by the Forest Practices Board is further confirmation that the Liberals have mismanaged the forests.
"Regardless of the definition, roughly two million hectares of land that was once part of the working forest is no longer productive forest land," said Macdonald in a statement.
He said the government spent nearly $35 million in 1996 on forest inventory work, but for the 2012-13 fiscal year, that amount dropped to $6 million.
Macdonald said the special timber supply committee has been hearing the concerns raised in the Forest Practices Board’s report during its recent public meetings.
"The government is scrambling to find a way to increase timber supply for communities that are facing a significant drop in their future cuts," said Macdonald.
Doyle's 23-page audit last February found the forests ministry has not clearly defined its timber objectives and, as a result, cannot ensure that its management practices are effective.
The report said existing management practices are insufficient to offset a trend toward future forests having a lower timber supply, and the audit found the ministry is not properly monitoring and reporting its timber results against its timber objectives.
Doyle's report made six recommendations, including developing performance measures that can be used to evaluate progress in achieving long-term timber objectives.
Thomson said earlier he disagreed with Doyle's assessment that the government is falling behind on its management of the timber resource.