Ray Schultz has taken on the job of Beetle Boss, co-ordinating the effort to tackle a huge pine beetle epidemic in the BC Interior.
By Jim Stirling
Ray Schultz has a unique job and a daunting challenge he's tackling with alacrity. Schlutz is British Columbia's beetle boss, charged with co-ordinating a provincial approach to managing the mountain pine beetle epidemic in the BC interior. He stepped aside from his position as manager of the Prince George Forest Region with the Ministry of Forests last November to take on the three-year appointment. Schultz's goal is to slow down the epidemic's rate of spread and capture as much economic value from the infested timber as possible, subject to good stewardship forest practices.
He wants the economic benefits to flow back to the communities most affected by the epidemic and minimize revenue losses to the Crown. The epidemic's scale is monstrous. Last fall, the forest industry's Mountain Pine Beetle Emergency Task Force estimated the epidemic covered an area 700 kilometres long and 400 kilometres wide.
An estimated 72 million cubic metres of timber-capable of producing $6 billion worth of lumber-are infested. This summer, the tell-tale reddening needles will reveal new areas of infestation in lodgepole pine forests, the most predominant species of commercially-harvested wood in BC. And a new generation of beetles will be flying, seeking new hosts to infest. Epidemic expansion broadly follows the prevailing southwest winds.
Schultz says one of the major tools assigned him in his task Is an emergency beetle regulation directed at cutting the red tape associated with the Forest Practices Code within the pine beetle context.
The regulation established an emergency management zone, fine-tuned into smaller units, in which silvicultural prescriptions can be exempted. This includes clear-cut patches 15 hectares and smaller and partial cutting blocks of 15,000 cubic metres and less. "That item is very significant," says Schultz. It allows forest companies and their logging contractors to move in on green attack-the wood most recently infested by the beetles-which tends to occur in small patches.
Additionally, the regulation includes a limited content forest development plan whereby companies don't have to identify in advance the specific location of these small blocks and roads. "From the red tape perspective, it means companies can move very quickly to cutting authority.
They can find it and cut it," explains Schultz. He says the government recognizes the higher costs associated with small patch logging and approved $45 million worth of cost allowances as an offset. This will be kept off the waterbed system in place in BC, so that other areas don't end up paying, says Schultz. They're trying to achieve cost neutrality so companies can be aggressive in fighting the beetle. Cost allowances are also available now in the Cariboo and Kamloops forest regions for small patch logging from 500 to 2,000 cubic metres.
Some $9.3 million of the $45 million figure is allocated to haul allowances. This allows beetle wood to go where it can be handled, not necessarily the nearest sawmill used in the appraisal process. Schultz says comparative cruising procedures have also been streamlined, a recognition that ground probing takes time. In the beetle emergency, nearby recent cruise data can be borrowed, shortening approval time by 30 to 45 days.
The Annual Allowable Cut in the hard-hit Lakes Timber Supply Area (TSA) has been raised by 1.5 million cubic metres. Much of that uplift will come from the heavily infested areas south of Ootsa Lake. But there are serious transportation problems between south Ootsa and the sawmills. Neither the roads in the area nor the industrial barges operating across Ootsa Lake are capable of handling the increasing logging truck traffic.
The public ferry across Francois Lake is a major bottleneck. The government doesn't have the money to improve the infrastructure so they're thinking in terms of a public/private partnership, says Schultz. He sees a possible combination of partners investing in upgrades and recovering revenues through road use charges for industrial traffic. Partners could include the forest companies, lake transportation companies and private highway maintenance groups. A 100,000-cubic-metre cut under the Ministry of Forest's small business program has been shifted from the province's northwest to the Lakes TSA to provide more beetle cut opportunities. It will continue to be administered from Smithers.
Schultz says he meets twice a month with personnel in the 11 forest districts affected by the beetle epidemic to try and solve any local issues and find innovative ways to wage the beetle wars. He also continues to receive suggestions from the industry's Northern Forest Products Association and Cariboo Lumber Manufacturers' Association. Given the funding, Schultz would like to develop a predictive model to prioritize the salvage effort in the growing backlog of dead and grey timber. All trees don't stay in merchantable form for the same length of time. Climate, soils, aspect and elevation are all factors.
Under grading rules, if no green needles or live bark are evident, stumpage is assessed at a rock bottom 25 cents a cubic metre. This summer, two highly trained and mobile fire-fighting crews will be deployed in proximity to the worst parts of the epidemic. Last year, that was in the Lakes and Vanderhoof Timber Supply Areas. Dead, dying and desiccated trees are prime fodder for wildfires. This fall, Schultz is planning a centralized approach to overview assessments. Examination of red tree tops indicates where green attack has likely occurred. Instead of each district doing its own assessment, it will be managed more like a single project, says Schultz.
The government has given notice it will enact results-based Forest Practices Code legislation this fall. A results-oriented approach is also being taken to hauling and milling beetle wood when the insects begin their summer flights. District managers will provide industry with a set of best practices, risk management framework and a statement of desired end results, says Schultz.
Factors considered would include a rural or urban location of a given sawmill, provision for hot milling and an obligation to monitor and contain any local beetle escapement. After his first few months on the job, Schultz says he's gained insight into the timber pricing policy in a provincial context and into the different approaches possible within the 11 forest districts affected. "Success for me is trying to make a difference on the epidemic, to be satisfied we're doing the best we can under the circumstances and to be confident we're spending our human and dollar resources in the best way possible," he concludes.
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