British Columbia's initiative to grant carbon credits to companies replanting beetle, fire-damaged forests falls far short of reforestation needs, says former NDP forest critic Bob Simpson

PRINCE GEORGE, British Columbia , January 29, 2012 () – Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson is disappointed the province isn’t going far enough to heal beetle-killed pine forests.

The province announced an initiative Friday to allow companies to replant Crown forests damaged by the mountain pine beetle and forest fires in exchange for carbon credits.

Simpson, an independent MLA who formerly served as the NDP forest critic, said the proposal falls far short of the need to replant Crown forests.

“The only reason this is possible is because in 2002 the government changed the law that required the Crown to take care of forests that are damaged by fires, pests and disease,” Simpson said.

“They say they hope to do as much as 10,000 hectares a year. Even using the numbers the provided in their press release, 800,000 hectares, that’ll be 80 years to meet the demand of today.”

Under current legislation, forestry companies are legally obligated to replant forests they harvest, but forests damaged by fire, mountain pine beetles or disease which are not commercially harvestable are not required to be replanted.

On Friday, Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thompson announced the province would accept bids from private companies to do the replanting.

Thompson wasn’t available for comment, but a ministry spokesperson said the province is targeting a 300-hectare section of forest near Vanderhoof and a 700-hectare section near Quesnel in 2012.

The ministry is intending to start the program at 500 to 2,000 hectares this year, with a goal of reaching 10,000 hectares per year by 2015.

According to information released by the ministry, reforesting 1,000 hectares of forest would cost between $1 million and $1.5 million and store approximately 160,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide more than a naturally regenerated forest.

Pacific Carbon Trust has committed to purchase 100,000 tonnes of carbon credits generated from these projects.

“It’s very expensive and it’s likely not economically viable,” Simpson said. “[Through the Pacific Carbon Trust] it’s taking money from schools and hospitals and municipalities and giving it, in this case, to private businesses.”

While the province is currently estimating there is 600,000 to 800,000 hectares of damaged, unharvestable forest in B.C., the real number may be much higher than that, Simpson said.

Forestry researchers are anticipated to make an announcement next week unveiling the results of research on B.C.’s mountain pine beetle and fire-damaged forests.

“There is numbers out there by professional foresters who’re saying it’s closer to two million hectares,” Simpson said. “They [the provincial government] want to have something in their back pocket to pull out to say they have a plan to deal with that.”

B.C. Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thompson and NDP forests critic Norm MacDonald were not available for comment as of press time.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations will be accepting bids for reforestation until March 8.

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