Carbon offset market providing opportunity

After reading your Jan. 22 editorial it is clear that I need to set the record straight about how carbon markets work. Developing a homegrown carbon offset market will not only help transition this province into the emerging low-carbon economy, but it is already providing British Columbians with green jobs, innovations and new technologies.

People in Prince George are first-hand witnesses to the impacts of climate change. They have seen erratic weather cause a record number of wildfires, more ice jams and flooding on the Fraser and the Nechako rivers and a worsening of the mountain pine beetle epidemic. It is clear that the combustion of high-carbon fossil fuels is part of the problem.

The question is how to transition to a low-carbon economy?

Wood Biofuels, The Great Leap Backwards?

Growing up in rural British Columbia, my family, as with many others, heated our home with firewood. It is abundant, inexpensive and really does warm you twice. Despite stewarding one of the greatest forest resources on the planet, the majority of Canadians have migrated to over electricity and natural gas over the past few decades spurred on by the convenience and relative low cost of these energy choices. This transition has been helped along by the efforts of government regulations and local bylaws looking to quell smoke emissions. Rather than promoting technologies to scrub and neutralize smoke emissions, a veritable wood heat witch hunt emerged in many areas making it very difficult and expensive to have wood burning appliances approved in new construction and setting limits on use of existing wood stoves. Having some of the largest hydroelectric resources in our backyard hasn’t hurt the transition either.

Outside of the home, large industrial energy users, such as forest product manufacturers and a limited number of power stations have continued to supply some or all of their heat and electricity needs with wood waste (“hog fuels”). Saw milling operations were also the genesis for the wood pellet industry; dry, clean wood shavings have until recently been inexpensive and abundant. Running these wood fines through a hammer mill produces a dense, easy to handle, transport and store fuel. Some of these pellets are consumed domestically but most are exported to northern Europe (Sweden in particular) where large carbon taxes drive alternatives to coal-fired electrical generation.

Enter the age of the “is it hot in here or is it just the planet,” and suddenly low carbon emissions have brought about renewed interest in biomass for bioenergy. This week plans were unveiled in the southeast US for the construction of the world’s largest wood pellet plant. This operation will have the capacity to compress 750,000 tonnes of wood annually and will primarily service the demand from Europe.


New response to pine beetle

In the fight against climate change, few natural assets are as important as forests. Healthy living trees store enormous amounts of atmospheric carbon.

The same is true of many forest products: every two-by-four in a house stores the carbon that the tree it came from stored. Depending on how well the house is made, that carbon remains locked up for decades, if not centuries to come.

In British Columbia, however, we face enormous hurdles to managing our forests in ways that maximize carbon storage.


Government must act to renew forests

Few events offer as compelling an example of what climate change might mean for British Columbia as the mountain pine beetle infestation and its impact on our forests.

More than one billion dead pine trees are now spread across a swath of the province equal in size to England.

The outbreak has stunning implications for our economy and the environment. Yet judging from the planned sessions of the annual Truck Loggers Association conference in Victoria this week -- where both B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell and Forests Minister Pat Bell will speak -- the pine beetle catastrophe scarcely merits passing mention.


Mountain Pine Beetle and Forest Carbon in BC

Mountain pine beetle attacks have decimated BCs pine forests, seriously damaging their ability to store carbon and protect against global warming. An effective response to the beetle attacks will involve much more than just clearcutting dead trees.


Pine beetle ruination threatens treaty deal

The pine beetle has already taken its toll on B.C. forests.

Now it’s threatening even more.

Years of work to conclude a treaty with the Yekooche First Nation, a small remote community in northern B.C., is back to square one because the original agreement centred around a forestry industry now decimated by the beetle.


$20 million in federal money for forests

Montana forests managers got a $20 million boost Friday from the federal government to address the mountain pine beetle epidemic and general forest health.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is allocating $20 million to Montana for forest management and conservation programs.

It’s part of the same program under which last month the USDA said it was earmarking $40 million for Forest Service Region 2, where beetles have killed more than 2 million acres of pine trees in Colorado and Wyoming. Last week, the federal agency said it would spend an additional $14 million on damaged Idaho forests where the bark beetles are also boring into trees and killing them.


Time to include carbon in forest management: report

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.


Pine beetles transform B.C. forests into greenhouse enemy

In a single season, an army of pine beetles has transformed our allies in the battle against climate change into the enemy.

Now the province is in a race against nature, as one billion beetle-killed trees across the province slowly seep the greenhouse gases they had so generously stored up in their decades of growth.

Such a turnaround seemed unimaginable back in February, 2008, when Premier Gordon Campbell first seized on the value of B.C.'s forests in his campaign against global warming. Trees lock away carbon dioxide, and the province has a lot of them – 60 million hectares of forests. They seemed to offer a natural, elegant means of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.


Pine beetle blamed for B.C. forestry layoffs

More than 800 B.C. forestry workers are slated to lose their jobs by the end of January, and some say the mountain pine beetle is to blame.

In the northern Cariboo community of Quesnel, about 180 Canfor employees will be laid off Jan. 15 when the company curtails production at its sawmill. Another 120 truckers and loggers who serve the mill will be out of work as a result.

In Kitimat, on the North Coast, about 500 mill workers will lose their jobs Jan. 31 when the Eurocan paper mill shuts its doors.


Beetle Mania

One sticky afternoon last summer, I picked my way through yellow-green grass on the slopes of Humphreys Peak, close to Flagstaff, with Richard Hofstetter, a beetle expert at Northern Arizona University. Looking up the mountain, we could see the skeletal frames of dead trees amid evergreen forest. We entered a stand. The ground was a mess of lifeless branches. Douglas, corkbark, spruce—about half the conifers were dead or dying.

Hofstetter cut a neat rectangle into the spongy surface of a fallen tree and peeled back the bark. Spruce ips, a species of bark beetle, had carved a delta of channels into the underside to feed off the tree’s sap. When enough beetles take up residence, the host tree is overwhelmed and dies. Due to recent droughts, which weaken the trees, and mild winters, which bark beetles prefer, western forests covering an area the size of Maine are under invasion. In the worst-hit regions, like Colorado and British Columbia, entire forests could be reduced to grassland—victims of the largest insect infestations ever to strike North America.

Hofstetter and his colleagues believe they may have found a way to halt this plague: by driving the insects crazy. For years, entomologists have studied the chemicals that the beetles release for mating and communicating, hoping that they could be manipulated as a deterrent or used for control. This approach has had limited success. But in early 2005, Hofstetter met Reagan McGuire, a former truck driver and pool hustler who had quit his job and enrolled at NAU. McGuire had been thinking a lot about the bark-beetle epidemic, and he came up with a novel idea: perhaps a military crowd-control device he had read about, which emits powerful pulses of sound, could be used to kill the insects. Most scientists would have politely ushered him away, and Hofstetter admits he was hesitant. (“He looked at me like I was crazy” is how McGuire remembers it.) But McGuire convinced the entomologist that the idea might have merit, and the two started to collaborate, with McGuire working as a research assistant.


Alberta attacks the Pine Beetle in GP

The latest chapter in a story, which has a familiar but ominous ring for many people in BC, is being written in western Alberta.

In an effort to stop the eastward spread of the tree-killing mountain pine beetle, crews armed with chainsaws and fire are fanning out this winter, from Grande Prairie in the North, to the Crowsnest Pass in the south.

The plan is to cut down and destroy infested trees before the next generation of bugs takes flight. The jobs of thousands of forestry workers and the environmental health of watersheds, that feed rivers across the Prairies, are at stake.