Bugged Forests Bad for Climate

Northern pines are under siege from bark beetles, with some infested stands rapidly losing at least 50 to 80 percent of mature individuals. Over the next couple of decades, the decomposition of those trees is expected to release large amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, posing a potent risk to climate. A new analysis now identifies additional climate repercussions of the severe beetle outbreaks.

Chief among the problems: Even after a forest has ostensibly recovered from a beetle outbreak, it continues to suffer a long-term drop in the rate at which growing trees remove carbon dioxide from the air. That makes the forest less efficient at locking up the carbon dioxide emitted by fossil fuel burning, according to a new analysis by Eric Pfeifer, Jeffrey Hicke and Arjan Meddens at the University of Idaho in Moscow.

A forest may regain its previous biomass in seven to 25 years, but the rate at which it takes up carbon dioxide will remain diminished for much longer—in some cases well over a century, the researchers report in the January Global Change Biology.


U.S. timber industry's fickle friend

The United States and Canada are generally amicable neighbors, except when it comes to what constitutes fair trade. U.S. wood-products manufacturers are again accusing the British Columbian government of hurting them by using a flawed log-grading system to keep the province's mills running during the industry's worst slump since the Great Depression.

U.S. mill owners are pushing American trade officials to ask an international court to crack down on what they say are Canada's unfair trade practices. U.S. mills charge the province with deviously using a pine-beetle infestation as an excuse to underprice public timber, giving Canadian lumber suppliers a competitive edge.

It's the latest round in a decades-old dispute between adjoining regions with vast timberlands.

Who's looking after BC's forests?

After the massive reorganization of the natural resources ministries this fall, taxpayers may wonder who is looking after BC's forests. People have expressed concern that because government has reorganized itself with respect to BC resources, our forests are now worse off.

While it's good to ask ourselves if these organizational changes will help with natural resources management in BC, it is important not to lose sight of the reality on the ground and the role that forest professionals play. Some of the issues that forest professionals are currently dealing with include:

5.7 million hectares (twice the size of Vancouver Island) of forested land was consumed by mountain pine beetle at its peak in 2007. Silviculture policies need to be in place to ensure these trees are replaced.


BC biomass plant would use trees killed by pine beetles

A proposed biomass power plant near Hanceville, British Columbia, will run on trees killed by mountain pine beetles, if the plan is selected as a project for Phase II of BC Hydro's Bioenergy Call for Power.

Plans for the $260 million 60-megawatt plant in the Cariboo Chilcotin were developed through a partnership between Western Biomass Power Corp. and Tsilhqot'in National Government. It is one of many proposals vying for a place in the Bioenergy Call for Power, a program to provide British Columbia with clean energy and diversify rural economies.

Phase II includes a two-stream process, the first targeting larger-scale biomass projects and the second focusing on smaller-scale, community-level biomass energy solutions, according to BC Hydro. Phase I, conducted in 2008, included projects that were immediately viable and resulted in four electricity purchase agreements that were filed with the British Columbia Utilities Commission in February. The program will help the province reach its goal of becoming electrically self-sufficient by 2016.


B.C. forests no longer a carbon sink: report

British Columbia's forests, often hailed as a giant sponge soaking up harmful air pollution, have become a net producer of carbon dioxide, a government reports says.

The report indicates the mountain pine beetle, which has killed millions of trees, and massive forest fires in recent years have transformed the forests from a carbon sink into a source of carbon dioxide.

The State of the Forests Report says the pine beetle epidemic appears to have peaked, but it will still take another decade before B.C. forests return to their carbon-sink status.