BC’s Forest Inventory: Why it matters and what needs to be done about it.
Forest inventories are an investment to support current and future forest resources opportunities. It is the primary source of information for determining acceptable annual harvest levels while at the same time maintaining healthy forests and healthy communities. This includes maintenance of biodiversity and protection of species habitats; provision of continuous and sufficient supplies of clean water; support for recreation, tourism, hunting, fishing, and guiding.
In 2003 the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy cited the failure to account for the costs and benefits of ecosystem services as a key barrier to conservation. Also, in 2007 the Conference Board of Canada recognized the gross domestic product (GDP) should include estimates of impacts on the supply of scarce natural resources. Forest inventories are central to achieving these goals.
In 2012 the Auditor General pointedly stated the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations has the primary responsibility to set clear direction and ensure activities conducted on forest lands are achieving the aims of the legislation. He also concluded, “the ministry does not appropriately monitor and report its timber results against timber objectives” or “ensure its information systems reflect actual forest conditions in priority management areas,” or “ensure its investments in silviculture are sufficient to achieve long term objectives, and that they align with stewardship principles and are cost effective”.
To meet all these demands and manage forests effectively requires the forest inventory reflect, as realistically as possible, what is actually found on the ground, where, and when, and with a reasonable and meaningful level of detail. The current inventory is deemed by the Government itself to be sufficient for “strategic” but not “tactical” or “operational” planning purposes. It is not sufficiently accurate on a local scale to direct ground level activities; nor is it sufficiently detailed to underwrite sound silviculture investments. This also suggests the strategies themselves are predicated on a certain degree of misinformation and as such may not be a reliable guide into the future. Simply stating it is good enough for underwriting the Chief Forester’s determination of an acceptable rate of Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) does not make it so. The level of uncertainty surrounding the adequacy of current forest inventories should be enough to prompt the question as to whether it is possible to do better.
The BC Government recently announced a commitment of $8million/year for forest inventories. This is inconsistent with the 2011 Status of BC Forest Inventory report produced on behalf of the Association of BC Forest Professionals which identified a requirement of $15million/year to maintain an adequate forest inventory.
Increased investment in forest inventory would bring greater certainty to investments in silviculture, in development of new production capacity (products and facilities), and in the provision of ecosystem goods and services. Reliable inventories would assist in reconciling what was done by design or has happened by chance in the forest with what are perceived consequences within the broader context of the inventory. If the objective is to sustain the supply of goods and services over the long‐term, the opportunity to produce a more detailed, accurate, and higher resolution inventory deserves consideration as a worthwhile investment, particularly so in the face of climate change. Climate change poses potential risks, for example due to drought, and also potential benefits, for example increased growth due to more favorable growing season temperature and rainfall regimes. Both of these need to be recognized to better forecast the range of probable outcomes into the future. An improved inventory allows for tactical plans to be aligned with strategic level outcomes, and strategic level plans to be aligned with operational reality. Accepting a second best inventory is to lose comparative advantage in global markets. Such an advantage is built on the natural resources we have, and the expertise and knowledge we develop and continue to grow for the purpose of managing those resources for maximum benefit of society.
We should not be content with an inventory that is seemingly acceptable on a strategic scale but not a tactical scale. We need to increase our investment in inventory and re‐orient it toward new technologies, particularly those that have already proven themselves such as LiDAR. At the same time, there continues to be a need for a professional workforce engaged with “boots on the ground.” This means people who establish and routinely re‐measure a Provincial network of ground plots. Finally we should be fully committed to building and maintaining expertise involving the use of this information to undertake enhanced forest management and planning and to monitor and report the outcomes at the scale of individual operating units. We are not currently doing this to the best of our abilities. A
$15million/year investment in forest inventory will allow us to be a leader in forest resource management and attract increased investment in the maintenance and use of forest resources.