Last year, B.C.'s forests were praised in the climate-change fight. But the pine beetle has forced the province to rethink its forest policy
By Justine Hunter
Victoria — From Saturday's Globe and Mail Published on Friday, Jan. 08, 2010 7:54PM EST Last updated on Saturday, Jan. 09, 2010 4:31PM EST
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.
“We have few natural allies in our fight against climate change that are more important than our forests,” the Campbell government's Throne Speech read. The centrepiece of that speech was the Premier's climate action plan, which promises to reduce one-third of the province's GHG emissions by 2020.
Two months later, federal researchers published findings that exposed a fatal flaw in that great green design. The pine beetle epidemic has killed so many trees that the province's forests are now net emitters of greenhouse gases. Using computer modelling, they've determined the scales tipped in 2003, when the forests began to release more emissions than they absorbed.
By last year, the devastation wrought by the tiny, hungry beetles in British Columbia contributed more GHG emissions than all of the province's human activity put together – and nearly double the output of Alberta's much-maligned oil sands.
Twenty years ago, the war in the woods forced the provincial government to rethink how it makes forest policy. Aside from the raw economics of creating timber and newsprint, the province began to calculate environmental values. Today, it must add a third part to that equation: the carbon footprint. …