Thursday, November 10, 2005

Pine beetle tab heading towards $5 billion

VICTORIA - The pine beetle damage numbers are leaping towards incomprehensibility.
The B.C. government has been pitching a $1.5-billion program to cope with the disaster over the next 15 years, hoping for $1 billion from Ottawa.
But new leaked documents reveal an increasing crisis and mounting costs.
"Our latest projections indicate the mountain pine beetle to be a $3-billion to $5-billion issue over 35 years," says the draft notes on a new aid pitch being rushed to the feds.
That's just the money to replant the trees, clean up the mess, encourage quick harvesting and - the toughest part - help communities prepare for a coming economic and social crisis.
On top of that figure a $2-billion annual hit to the provincial government's bottom line for years, suggests the Business Council of BC's Jock Finlayson.Forest revenues will be down and expenses up because of the beetle.
All this woe is about a decade away. The beetle is on track to kill about 80 per cent of the lodgepole pine in the province within the next few years.
The dead trees will hold their value for a while. Figure five years of frantic logging to try and grab whatever value can be had.
And then things get grim. Those trees are gone, and the next generation is decades from maturity. Towns that were built on forestry will see the available timber supply slashed. Fewer trees means fewer mills, fewer jobs mean less business for stories, a population exodus means falling property values. In a community like Quesnel industry employment could fall by 50 per cent from the beetle-harvest peak, according to the Canadian Forest Service. The impact will be much the same as if Victoria lost 35,000 jobs within a couple of years.
The leaked documents were released by the NDP, who complained that the proposal to Ottawa was being rushed together.
It was. The documents reveal work started four weeks ago, and the proposal was due in Ottawa any day now.
But if there's a chance to get a financial commitment from the Martin government as it tries desperately to solidify support for the coming election, then the province is right to grab it.
The New Democrats were on sounder ground when they charged that the document reveals a lack of planning and preparation. The work of coming up with plans would have to start quickly if the money came through, the paper says.
The province has a Pine Beetle Action Plan document, but it's stretching things to call it a plan. There are very general goals, but no details on how to achieve them.
Partly, that's understandable. The problem is vast, and much of preliminary research is only being done now.
But the coming crisis has been clear for five years or more, and the response has not come nearly quickly enough. The efforts to reduce the coming economic damage, to keep communities alive, need to start as soon as possible. The process needs to get beyond planning and into doing.
The leaked document is also encouraging. The federal and provincial focus has been short term - looking at ways to increase logging now so the resource value is maintained.The two levels of government have so far come up with about $220 million to deal with the crisis, with the emphasis on land and forest management. Less than $50 million has been committed for community economic diversification.
But the paper reveals federal Industry Minister David Emerson wants a different approach. The focus should be on socio-economic development, the planning paper says, reflecting "Minister Emerson's desire for any new mountain pine beetle ask to be placed in the context of an economic plan for B.C. Interior communities."
It's an enormously challenge, with great risks. But an economic disaster is coming towards B.C. in slow motion. The impact goes far beyond forest communities, and will damage the entire provincial economy.
And the time for an effective response is growing short.
Footnote: Thank politics for the opportunity for a new pitch.The federal government has committed $100 million so far. But with a close election on its way, seats in B.C. will be critical the Martin Liberals. A decisive response to the pine beetle crisis - in the form of money - will improve the party's chances.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to look at a copy of the "New Era" document and see what it says about the pine beetle.

For some reason the "New Era" is over on the BC Liberals website.