NDP forestry critic says it will take years to undue Liberal damage
The B.C. NDP’s forestry critic said if his party wins this spring’s election, it will take up to five years to make a dent in the pile of forest-health issues created by the Liberal government.
Norm Macdonald outlined part of his party’s plans to revitalize the industry during a stop in Penticton last week in the midst of a B.C. tour during which he’s meeting with community leaders and industry representatives.
The NDP has yet to roll out its full platform ahead of the May 14 election, but it’s expected to include a five-point forest strategy, the first element of which will focus on healthy-forest initiatives. Such work has been neglected by the cost-cutting Liberal government, Macdonald said.
“What I would argue is the B.C. Liberals have made conscious decisions to create problems that are now showing up.”
The MLA for Columbia River-Revelstoke said the NDP’s priorities will be conducting a proper inventory of B.C. forests and beginning an extensive tree replanting program.
Most of the forest inventory the province is working with now is out of date because it hasn’t kept up with damage caused by pine beetles, he explained.
“”It’s a massive shortcoming. Forest professionals have told us that that’s the first priority for them, to get the data to a place they feel they can legitimately work with.”
The concern is validated by the B.C. auditor general’s February 2012 report on timber management work by the Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations. The study confirmed a detailed inventory is lacking.
“In particular, the ministry has limited information on areas affected by pests, diseases, wildfires and other natural disturbances,” the report stated.
Macdonald said it would take his party three to five years to conduct the necessary survey work “to get data one could have confidence working with.”
Forests Minister Steve Thomson said in a separate interview the province has 52 per cent of its land base inventoried according to a system that is considered a “gold standard,” and has increased funding for the work from $3.7 million in 2010 to $7.5 million this year.
“While the pine beetle infestation has been running its course, it didn’t make sense to do the detailed inventory on what was a continually changing landscape,” Thomson said.
His critic doesn’t buy that.
“Even if you accept their argument, the pine beetle situation has stabilized in many of these areas since 2009. So where’s the accelerated work now?” Macdonald said.
As for the tree planting program, the auditor general found there is 1.1 million hectares of forest within the ministry’s jurisdiction that has potential for replanting.
Macdonald said his initiative would spool up over five years, a time lag needed to conduct surveys, create plans and order seedlings. He said his government would aim to plant 50 million trees per year.
“That doesn’t solve the problem entirely; it’s a step in the right direction,” Macdonald said.
Thomson countered that government and industry in 2012 spent a combined $220 million to put 60 million seedlings in the ground across B.C..
“The Opposition have been saying we’ve been falling behind; that’s not correct,” the minister said.
Macdonald estimated his party’s tree planting program would cost up to $85 million a year, but he didn’t have a figure for the inventory work. Nor did he outline how the NDP would pay for either initiative.
“All of that will be laid out in the platform,” he said, adding some of it will be contingent upon numbers contained in the budget the Liberals table later this month.