Regeneration Success in British Columbia's Forests

Robert G. Brown, B.Sc., M.F., R.P.F.
Manager, Forest Renewal Section
Silviculture Practices Branch

Prepared for the 14th Commonwealth Forestry Conference, September 1993

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Forestry, particularly timber harvesting, is a cornerstone of the British Columbia economy. Until recently, B.C.'s forests were not being adequately replenished after harvesting. The area not satisfactorily restocked (NSR) was growing at a significant rate. However, with the introduction of new policies and legislation, a substantial increase in funding, and a tremendous improvement in knowledge through research and education, the situation has been reversed. New laws require that all harvested areas be regenerated. Seedling survival has increased significantly and the backlog of NSR (1) is being eliminated. This paper provides details of recent trends in forest regeneration in British Columbia together with information on the factors behind them.

Forestry in British Columbia (2)

Forest land covers 45.6 million hectares or 48% of the province, and supports more than 8 billion cubic metres of mature timber.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Slightly more than one quarter of the area of British
Columbia is considered forest land available for harvesting.

Twenty-six million hectares of forest land is considered available for timber harvesting. About 96% of the total forest is coniferous, giving British Columbia approximately half of the national softwood inventory. Hemlock species (Tsuga heterophylla and Tsuga mertensiana) predominate in the coastal forests, while lodgepole pine (Pines contorta var. Iatifolia) and spruce (Picea engelmannii, Picea glauca, and hybrids) are the major species of interior forests. In fiscal year 1990/91, 74.3 million cubic metres were harvested from 181 500 hectares. Harvesting on unregulated private land constituted 9% of the total volume and 15% of the total area. Ninety-two per cent of the harvest was by means of clearcutting.

In calendar year 1991, British Columbia accounted for 62% of the softwood lumber, 29% of the pulp, 16% of the paper, and 84% of the softwood plywood manufactured in Canada. British Columbia's forest industry shipments of $10.2 billion (3) in 1991 represented 44% of total manufacturing shipments in the province. Forestry exports to other countries in 1991 were valued at $8.3 billion or 54% of provincial exports.

Forestry and allied industries account for about 16% of British Columbia's gross provincial product (Ministry of Finance and Corporate Relations 1990).(4) More than 130 communities in the province are largely dependent on the forest sector (White et al. 1986).

  1. Backlog NSR is defined in British Columbia as that area not satisfactorily restocked within acceptable time periods on good and medium site managed forest land denuded prior to 1982 and that is accessible and economically viable to treat.
  2. Information in this section, unless otherwise referenced, is drawn from the following sources:
    • Ministry of Finance and Corporate Relations, 1992. British Columbia Economic and Statistical Review.
    • Ministry of Forests, Annual Report 1990 - 91.
    See Literature Cited, page 7 for complete citations.
  3. As of June 2, 1993, one British pound equals S1.96 Canadian.
  4. Includes direct, indirect and induced impacts based on 1984 data.

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Trends in Forest Regeneration

During the last 10 years, regeneration of British Columbia's forests has improved dramatically. Figures 2, 3, 4 and 5 illustrate this point.

Figure 2
Figure 2. Average seedling survival for all species and stock
types has increased from 54% in 1982 to 87% in 1990.

Figure 3
Figure 3. More area has been reforested than harvested in B.C. each
year since 1987.

Figure 4
Figure 4. Backlog NSR has decreased from 738 000 ha in 1984 to
327 000 ha in 1991. The goal is to eliminate all backlog NSR by the year 2000.

Figure 5
Figure 5. Audits of recently harvested areas show consistently over 94%
being projected as successful, or "free growing likely." It is required by
law that those areas not projected to be successful be remedied.

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Factors Behind the Trends

Forest Policy and Legislation

In late 1987 and early 1988 the Government of British Columbia introduced policy and legislative changes that have had a major effect on forest regeneration (known in British Columbia as "basic silviculture"). The changes are summarised below:

Whereas government funding provisions were previously inadequate to fund regeneration programs, the new policies not only make the full cost an industry responsibility but also make regeneration mandatory on all areas harvested. To facilitate the policy of requiring industry to produce or purchase its own seedlings, all but three of the government's 11 tree seedling nurseries were sold to the private sector.


A strong commitment to silviculture funding and to forest regeneration by both the federal and provincial governments has been fundamental to the success story. When combined with industry funding for silviculture since 1987, expenditures have risen more than 350% in the 10 years from 1982 to 1991 (Figure 6) .

Although not required by legislation, the province has also made a strong commitment to provide funding for regenerating areas that have been disturbed by fire and pests.

Figure 6
Figure 6. Funding for silviculture in B.C. has risen by more
than 350 per cent during the 10-year period, 1982-1991.


Federal-provincial funding agreements have enabled a substantial increase in research programs within British Columbia. This research has contributed greatly to the success of the regeneration program as evidenced by the increase in seedling survival rates.

The most significant of all the research accomplishments has been the development of a biogeoclimatic classification system for British Columbia. This hierarchical system uses climate, soil and vegetation to group ecosystems at regional and local levels. By providing a common language for describing and naming specific ecosystems, the classification system is an important tool for research and communication.

Fourteen biogeoclimatic zones-large geographic areas sharing a similar climate-are recognized across the province (Figure 7). Zones are divided into subzones, and ecological associations are classified within each subzone. British Columbia has over 600 types of climax ecosystems.


Advanced silviculture has been taught at the postgraduate level since 1986 through the Silviculture Institute of British Columbia. As of September 1992, almost 100 persons have successfully completed the Institute's five education modules over a 3-year period.

Forest Practices

Forest legislation and policy, funding commitments, and improved research and education have all combined to create better forest practices.

Figure 8
Figure 8. Site preparation has increased overall while prescribed
burning and site rehabilitation have given way to mechanical site

Note: Beginning in 1991, site rehabilitation is no longer recorded by the Ministry of Forests under a separate category.

Figure 9>
<EM>Figure 9. The total area treated by spacing and brushing has increased 
by<BR>approximately 500 per cent during the 10-year period, 1982-1991.</EM> <P><font 
Note: Area spaced includes both juvenile spacing and spacing in older stands.</font>
<P>An analysis of tree species diversity indicates that British Columbia's forests have 
generally maintained or increased their diversity after harvesting (Ministry of Forests 1992).
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Challenges for the 90s

While regeneration in British Columbia has come a long way over the past decade, there are still challenges to making the program even more successful. Some of these are:

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Summary and Prognosis

Regeneration of British Columbia's forests has improved dramatically over the last 10 years. New legislation demands that every area of managed Crown-owned forest land denuded in the province be regenerated. The backlog of treatable NSR will be eliminated by the year 2000. Expenditures on forest research, extension and education have paid high dividends as demonstrated by significant improvements in seedling survival. Through the application of the biogeoclimatic ecosystem classification system, pre-harvest silvicultural prescriptions are now more appropriate for the ecosystems being managed, resulting in higher survival and better growth.

New challenges will continue to present themselves in the regeneration and management of British Columbia's forests. These may include developing new silvicultural systems that use more selection harvest techniques, that simulate "natural" forests, or that improve on mixed hardwood/softwood forest management. However, there is now a solid foundation of success in forest regeneration on which to build such improvements.

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Literature Cited

B.C. Ministry of Finance and Corporate
Relations, 1990: Sectoral review of the
British Columbia economy: an input output approach. Unpublished paper,
Victoria, B.C. 10 p.

B.C. Ministry of Finance and Corporate
Relations, 1992: British Columbia
economic and statistical review. Victoria,
B.C. pp. 68-71.

B.C. Ministry of Forests: Annual reports 1982/83
to 1990/91. Victoria, B.C.

B.C. Ministry of Forests, 1992: British
Columbia's forests: monocultures or mixed
forests? Victoria, B.C. 44 p.

White, W., B. Netzel, S. Carr, and G.A. Fraser.
1986: Forest sector dependence in rural
British Columbia 1971-1981. Can. For.
Serv., Victoria, B.C. Info. Rep. BC-X-278.

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Interested in Further Information?

Additional information regarding regeneration and related topics in British Columbia is available from the B.C. Ministry of Forests.

Annual publications:

Miscellaneous publications:

Publications may be obtained by contacting:

Public Affairs Branch
B.C. Ministry of Forests
595 Pandora Street
Victoria, British Columbia
Canada V8W 3E7
Telephone: (250) 387-5255
Facsimile: (250) 387-8485
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