by Steve Mitchell, PhD RPF Associate Professor UBC Faculty of Forestry,
Published in the Vancouver Sun, June 22, 2011
The last time there was a broad public dialogue on forest policy in BC was during the Pearse Royal
Commission in 1976. Since that time, we have experienced an unprecedented mountain pine beetle
epidemic, the Kelowna and Lillooet firestorms, the ‘War of the Woods’ in Clayoquot Sound, and a
decline in the traditional forest products sector. It is time for rural and urban communities, First Nations,
professionals, conservationists, recreationists and resource users to work toward a vision that will
sustain BC’s forests as a source of wonder, pride and economic wellbeing for future generations.
The public owns more than 90 per cent of B.C.’s forests. These forests are an endowment that has
supported generations of British Columbian’s, including First Nations since time immemorial. During the
settlement period, traditional burning practices fell away and were replaced by commercial timber
harvesting. Instead of letting wildfires burn and rejuvenate the forest, the Forest Service put them out as
quickly as possible.
These changes have transformed our forests. The maturing of extensive areas of lodgepole pine
combined with warming winters led to the outbreak of the mountain pine beetle which has damaged
more than 16 million hectares of forest – an area more than five times the size of Vancouver Island.
Climate change continues to stress our forests and wildfires are becoming more difficult to control.
The political and economic context for forest management has changed radically in the past decade.
Appreciation of the high conservation value of BC’s remaining old-growth forests, recognition of First
Nations rights, changes in lumber markets and expansion of urban populations into forested lands
increase the complexity of forest management. While timber harvests may be declining, BC’s wildland is
under pressure from micro-power generation, oil, gas and mineral development, and harvesting of
timber, biofuels and non-timber forest products. This comes at a time of declining revenues from timber
harvesting, and government cutbacks in staffing of the natural resource ministries.
We need professional foresters, biologists and engineers to design and implement conservation and
stewardship plans, and we need to recruit and educate a new generation of skilled professionals to
replace the growing number of retirees. But resource managers do not act alone. In designing
conservation and stewardship plans, our professionals need clear, informed, direction from the owners
of the resource, the public, and their representatives in government.
Forest stewardship includes regenerating areas that have been harvested or damaged by insects or fire,
tending young stands and designing land management plans that are informed by up-to-date
inventories of forest land condition, up-to-date science concerning ecosystem processes, and an
Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities – Why we need a new Vision for BC’s forests S. Mitchell 2
understanding of public needs and desires. Forest stewardship in BC has been funded by revenues from
timber harvesting, but these revenues wax and wane with market cycles.
But our forests provide much more than timber and jobs. They provide clean water, clean air, carbon
sequestration, conservation of biological diversity, wilderness areas and scenic vistas, venues for
recreation, fuel, food, medicines, and a broad range of economic opportunities.
There is also a price to be paid for poor forest stewardship. Forests full of dead branches and downed
trees adjacent to communities can lead to uncontrollable wildfire. Poor management of wilderness
recreation or lack of road maintenance can lead to erosion and floods that damage public land and
British Columbia needs a new vision to guide forest conservation and management. For too long
provincial forest policy has focused on sustaining timber harvests and timber revenues, and forest
stewardship has depended on the health of the timber industry. It takes more than a healthy timber
industry to maintain revenues from forest lands and to support community stability.
The University of British Columbia Faculty of Forestry is joining with other institutions in BC to host a
series of public workshops, and we invite you to share your views. The Healthy Forests-Healthy
Communities community dialogue session in Vancouver is on Thursday June 23 at 7:00 pm in room 1005
at the UBC Forest Sciences Centre building, 2424 Main Mall, UBC.