Beetle epidemic has turned British Columbia forests into carbon emitters; industry supports study that finds province needs to prioritize carbon issues but some say it lacks economic analysis

Pauline Vu

Pauline Vu

Jan 13, 2010 – The Vancouver Sun

January 12, 2010 () – Global warming is going to force forest-rich British Columbia to rethink the way forests are managed, putting carbon storage at the top of the list, according to a new report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The report shows that the mountain pine beetle has killed a billion trees in B.C., turning the province's forests into carbon emitters instead of carbon storehouses. Warmer winters have been a factor in the beetle epidemic and it is only one of many pests on the increase in the province's forests.

Report author Ben Parfitt, resource analyst for the centre, said there is an urgent need to re-establish a carbon balance in our forests. Top recommendations in the report to restore the balance include: - Setting aside more forest land, a common theme from environmental groups. - Encouraging the use of wood products over concrete and steel as a way of locking carbon up. - Accounting for the carbon locked up in wood products in any carbon credit program. - Eliminating wood waste in logging. - Establishing "carbon plantations" where tree species are grown for their ability to capture carbon.

The report, titled Managing B.C.'s Forests for a Cooler Planet, shows that wood is by far the best alternative to steel, concrete or brick in terms of fossil fuel use. It takes three times as much fossil fuel energy to produce an equivalent amount of concrete or brick and 17 times as much energy to produce an equivalent amount of steel studs.

And once wood is manufactured into a product, even if it's just a two-by-four, it continues to act as a carbon storehouse.

"Every stick of lumber we make and put behind drywall in a house is carbon stored from the tree that it came from," Parfitt said in an interview.

The report from the left-leaning think-tank is supported by environmental groups and forest worker unions and is receiving surprisingly good reviews from industry and government.

"We agree on the focus of the report," said John Allan, president of the B.C. Council of Forest Industries. "The summary of what's going on is quite good, accurate and complete."

However, he said the report lacks economic analysis, a critical component in decision-making.

He also said there will be a cost to taxpayers in accounting for carbon in the forests.

"It's going to take effort from everyone to address these problems. They are huge and so complex."

Forests Minister Pat Bell said many of the report's recommendations, such as accounting for carbon stored in wood products, make sense. The Kyoto accord does not account for carbon stored in wood products.

Promoting wood over concrete or steel and accounting for carbon locked up in wood products are crucial in any carbon reduction plan, Bell said.

But putting carbon first in forest management is a complex question, he said, that cannot easily be answered.

Further, both Allan and Bell said the report's No. 1 proposal, protecting more land from logging, is not the answer as parks, protected areas and regulations restricting logging for other values already remove 30 per cent of managed forest lands from logging.

Carbon stored in forests accounts for nearly 1,000 times the province's annual greenhouse gas emissions, the report states. It recommends more protected areas and longer rotations between harvesting cycles, something that will affect the volume of wood products and number of jobs in making them.

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