The mountain pine beetle is projected to kill more than three-quarters of B.C.'s marketable pine forests within the next eight years, says a report released Monday by the province's Ministry of Forests.
The report says if the pine beetle infestation continues at its current rate, it will kill the equivalent of almost 25 per cent of the province's entire volume of market timber.
B.C.'s forest industry is worth more than $4 billion to the economy.
"If the infestation continues to behave as it has over the past eight years, it is projected that 78 per cent of the pine volume or 23 per cent of the total volume on the provincial timber harvesting land base will be killed by 2015," says the report.
The 2007 government update on the devastating mountain pine beetle infestation studied the beetle's impact on 20 pine harvesting areas in the province. The areas spread from Fort St. James in the north-central part of the province to the Robson Valley in the east.
The 20 areas comprise 87 per cent of the marketable pine timber in British Columbia. So far, the mountain pine beetle has killed 530 million cubic metres of pine trees, says the report.
"This represents 40 per cent of the merchantable pine volume, and 12 per cent of the total provincial marketable volume, on the timber harvesting land base," according to the report.
British Columbia's total timber harvesting land base is 4.6 billion cubic metres. The report says the mountain pine beetle epidemic will kill more than one billion cubic metres of pine by 2015.
Forests Minister Rich Coleman said Monday the timber supply picture has changed as the pine beetle infestation has grown in size and complexity. He said the report maps out potential timber supply scenarios and provides new information for planning sustainable forests and communities for the future.
But the report concludes the many impacts of the infestation remain difficult to measure and predict.
"There is uncertainty about how the infestations will proceed, how much mortality will be experienced in the younger stands, how much of the harvest will be directed to the stands with significant beetle kill and the length of time dead pine can be used for saw logs or other products," says the report.
The pine beetle kill reached its peak in the summer of 2005, killing 139 million cubic metres of trees. But the rate of pine beetle kill should start to subside in 2009.
By 2009, the pine beetle will kill five million cubic metres annually, says the report, but B.C.'s pine forest stands will recover once the infestation ends.
Donna Barnett, the chairwoman of the Cariboo-Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition, said the report will help guide discussions and decisions on the environmental, social and economic issues surrounding the pine beetle.