A tree too far

The total logging response to the pine beetle catastrophe means healthy trees are being felled with the dead ones. The policy needs rethinking.
June 21, 2007

Cookie-cutter responses to big problems have a way of
backfiring, with the cure often proving worse than the disease. The
response to the mountain pine beetle attack is a classic case in

The beetles' shocking tear through our forests is often portrayed
in apocalyptic terms and with good reason. The pine tree-killing
bugs have ripped through British Columbia, are now well established
in Alberta, and on the cusp of entering the continent-wide boreal

But what tends to get lost in all the accounts of millions of
hectares of forest "killed" by the beetles is that there are still
plenty of healthy trees out there. And therein lies the dilemma.

The cookie-cutter response to dealing with the infestation is to
dramatically increase logging rates and replicate the same kind of
logging virtually everywhere. Consequently, millions of living trees
fall along with the dead ones.

This is one reason why five of B.C.'s leading environmental groups
have joined with five labour organizations, including three unions
representing forest industry workers, in a call to radically rethink
the response to the infestation.

In a co-published report released today, the unions and
environmental groups point to a host of disturbing trends that have
emerged during the current beetle-fuelled salvage logging boom.

Perhaps the most significant finding is that while there is clear
evidence that the logging of beetle-attacked pine trees has
increased, live spruce and fir are also being cut. In fact, for
every two pine trees logged, one or more spruce or fir come down.

Compounding worries, in many "pine-leading" forests large numbers
of trees have survived the attack unscathed. These so-called
"understorey" trees are smaller than the surrounding dead, older
pine, and they are flourishing. When such sites are logged, all
those healthy trees are levelled in the name of salvaging economic
value from the dead pine.

This is a horrendous waste.

First, forests that sustain wildlife and moderate water flows --
helping to mitigate catastrophic floods -- are wiped away.

Second, all the years that it took those healthy understorey trees
to grow is wiped away, too. Fieldwork by provincial and federal
forest scientists suggests that if the dead pine were just left
alone on such sites, it would take as few as 20 years for the living
trees in their midst to reach a commercial size. That's far more
desirable than logging such sites today, destroying all the trees,
setting the reforestation clock back to zero, and having no economic
prospects for 80 or more years.

The same scientists say that if we left these and other sites alone
for now, only about one-quarter of forests where pine trees dominate
would make sense to log and replant.

The other troubling thing about the current logging boom is that
more and more usable wood is getting wasted. The sharp increase in
waste over the past three years correlates with changes to
provincial forest policies that essentially allowed companies to
take the best logs and leave much of the rest behind provided a
token payment was made to the province.

Thus, last year, roughly 46,000 highway truckloads of usable logs
were abandoned at Interior logging operations. Those logs could have
put another 1,300 people to work turning out products that many of
us use, products that have the added benefit of locking up carbon.
Instead, all those logs were pushed into piles and burned, releasing
another 1.5 million tonnes or so of CO2 into the atmosphere to
further mess with our already seriously compromised climate.

Environmental groups and woodworking unions have had their
differences in the past. They will have them in the future. But one
thing is certain. They both know trouble when they see it.

Which is why both say that we must put an end to salvage logging in
many forests and reduce overall logging rates.

There must also be an end to rampant wood waste and every effort
made to put people to work with the logs that come from our forests.

And there must be plans -- solid, site-sensitive, provincially
funded plans -- to rehabilitate some forests that will remain
affected by the pine beetle long after the present logging bonanza

Perpetuating the indiscriminate over-cutting of our forests and
rampant wood waste is not the way to go. It is a betrayal of the
environment, working people and resource communities.

Ben Parfitt is resource policy analyst with the Canadian Centre for
Policy Alternatives B.C. Office and author of "Overcutting and Waste
in B.C.'s Interior: A Call to Rethink B.C.'s Pine Beetle Logging
Strategy", co-published today by the B.C. Federation of Labor; B.C.
Government and Service Employees Union; CCPA-B.C.; Communications,
Energy and Paperworkers Union; ForestEthics; Pulp, Paper and
Woodworkers of Canada; Sierra Club of Canada B.C. Chapter; Sierra
Legal Defence Fund; United Steelworkers of America; Valhalla
Wilderness Society, and Western Canada Wilderness Committee.