Public Influenence on Reforestation in British Columbia

History of Reforestation and Related Public Opinion

NSR as a Measure of Success

The success of the reforestation program in British Columbia is readily measured by the amount of not satisfactorily restocked (NSR) forest land that exists, particularly that which is attributable to timber harvesting. NSR is divided into current NSR, which is the acceptable delay in the restocking of a cutover or burned area, and backlog NSR, which is beyond the regeneration delay period and therefore is not acceptable. The backlog focus in B.C. has primarily been on good and medium forest sites which are accessible and economically viable to treat. A history of NSR is presented in Table 1.

Table 1
Year Total NSR - all sites Total NSR after factoring for expected regeneration Backlog NSR - G&M sites
1955 4 801 409 360 000
1976 3 888 034 342 386
1984 3 553 900 1 635 000 738 000*
1988 3 721 000 553 000*
1992 3 617 000 1 362 000 273 000*
1993 3 240 000 1 290 000 238 000*

*backlog NSR on good and medium sites harvested before 1982
Table 1. The success of the reforestation program can he measured by the amount of outstanding NSR.

Early 1900's

In the early 1900's, reforestation was minimal. The forests were seemingly endless and professional opinion was that tree planting was largely uneconomic. The first plantations in the province were established about 1930 and it wasn't until 1941 that the cumulative total trees planted surpassed 10 million.

Mid - 1900's

In his 1956 royal commission report, the Honourable Gordon Sloan found the 7 million trees planted on the coast in 1955 to be totally inadequate . Furthermore, almost all of the trees planted were a single species, Douglas fir. He suggested an annual planting program of 38.4 million seedlings to meet current reforestation needs as well as reclaim the backlog NSR on the coast (Sloan).

Sloan's recommended program never took place, however, and by 1965 planting had increased to only about 18 million trees for the entire province. In 1965 a more specific target was adopted. It was estimated that one-third of the acreage logged would require planting, which at the level of logging at the time, implied a need for 75 million seedlings annually (Pearse, 1976). The rallying cry became "75 by 75", standing for a target of 75 million seedlings to be planted by 1975. While this, theoretically, would take care of current reforestation, it did not address the backlog.

This time, total planting came close to the target with 62 million seedlings planted in 1975. But in the meantime the goalposts had changed - more area was being harvested annually and the backlog was still ever-present.

In his 1976 royal commission report, Dr. Peter Pearse noted that "Professional foresters have expressed much concern in recent years about the "backlog" of unstocked lands". He reported the total NSR in the province to be 3.9 million ha, of which 343 000 ha was estimated to be backlog NSR on good and medium sites. Pearse did not propose a specific program, other than to state that "... provisions must be made to ensure the establishment of new crops on lands denuded by logging or fire." (Pearse).

1980's - early 1990's

The first program to include funds to specifically tackle the backlog NSR was a $50 million federal-provincial funding agreement which ran from 1979 to 1984. However, because there was insufficient funding for basic silviculture, the backlog continued to grow, additions outpacing reductions.

By 1980 the environmental movement was gaining momentum and the reforestation issue was becoming commonly reported in the news media. In 1980, there were over 10 major articles related to this matter in the Vancouver or Toronto daily newspapers. Public concern seemed to diminish, however, when the severe recession of the early 1980's took control of the headlines.

The fact that the backlog was continuing to grow was confirmed in a 1984 Forest and Range Resource Analysis carried out by the Ministry of Forests. The analysis reported NSR as of December 31, 1983, to be 738 000 ha on good and medium forest sites. The report estimated the annual losses to NSR between 1979 and 1983 to be 19 000 ha per year or 9% of the average annual area logged or burned by wildfire.

By the end of the decade public concern returned to a very high level. In a 1989 poll, 82% of British Columbians responded that too few trees were being planted (Environics). In a 1991 poll, 16% of those sampled on an 'unaided' basis stated reforestation as the forest management issue of greatest concern, second only to the issue of clearcutting (B. Farrell & Associates, 1991). While not necessarily a critical issue on which the election was decided, reforestation was a key topic in the election platforms of the major political parties during the 1991 provincial election (B.C. New Democrats, 1991) .

Today

Today, the matter of inadequate reforestation in British Columbia seems to be a non-issue. The last article devoted primarily to reforestation in the Vancouver Sun newspaper was in 1992. The latest poll results in 1994 indicate that only 7% of British Columbians feel reforestation- to be the most important environmental issue facing B.C. today (MarkTrend, 1994). Interestingly, back in 1991, ahead of the change in public opinion by a year or two, 77% of B.C. professional foresters responding to a poll felt that the reforestation performance in the province was excellent (Omnifacts, 1991).

Clearly, there has been dramatic change in public opinion regarding reforestation. The next section reviews some of the factors behind this change.


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