Good morning, everyone.
My name is Peter Henry. I'm the manager of the forest guides and silviculture section of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. I'm pleased to speak to you on behalf of the ministry in regard to Ontario's forest pest management.
Ontario certainly shares your interest in the protection of our forests in order to ensure that they continue to provide all of the benefits to society and the environment. We are blessed with a large forested landscape that we rely upon to provide economic and ecological benefits to the province, the forest sector and everyone who benefits from having the forest.
The forest sector for Ontario contributes over $15.3 billion to our provincial economy, and 150,000 direct and indirect jobs. Sustainability of the forest sector is critical to the sustainability of a huge number of communities within the province and to the well-being of the province.
Ontario is concerned about changing populations of native forest pests, such as the Jack pine budworm and spruce budworm. We are currently experiencing a Jack pine budworm infestation that has increased in size sixfold over the last year. There is about to be some public consultation happening in Ontario related to a potential pest control program for that insect, so it is very top of mind.
There were also impacts noted from past spruce budworm outbreaks in Ontario, related to the fire situation this summer. Those of you who live in Ontario have probably heard a lot about the fires. Some of that was exacerbated by past spruce budworm damage.
Finally, we're concerned about forest pests that are not yet here in Ontario. You're going to be hearing about the mountain pine beetle. We are definitely concerned about the mountain pine beetle and its potential move eastward across the country. I've been taking a number of steps, which I'll talk about.
Now I'll provide a little overview of our legislative and policy framework related to pest management, the role of science in our pest management program, and the role of partnerships.
We recognize that native insects and diseases play important ecological roles in Ontario's forests. For example, they help renew the forest by creating conditions for regrowth. Disturbance is essential for the well-being of our forests. They also provide lots of food resources for things such as birds, like warblers. When there are outbreak conditions, there are other species that benefit from that. Our policy framework recognizes the positive roles of forest pests. As well, it addresses the need to limit damage by pests.
Our framework provides for the sustainability of our Crown forests. We have the Crown Forest Sustainability Act as our key piece of legislation. The principles of that act are to conserve large, healthy, diverse and productive Crown forests, and to provide for the long-term health and vigour of Crown forests. Our pest management program works to achieve these principles, and by doing so, contributes to the sustainability of our forests.
Ontario is also impacted by invasive forest pests that are not native to Ontario's forests. Invasive pests can pose immediate and serious threats to our forests because they often arrive with no natural enemies and our trees have not adapted defence mechanisms to fight those invasive species. In 2015, Ontario passed the Invasive Species Act to enhance our ability to deal with the threats posed by invasive species.
Our forest pest management program includes structured monitoring and reporting to detect and document forest pests and their damage across the landscape; science support to ensure that we have the best available information and techniques, such as survey techniques, pest diagnostics, management options and pesticide research, and a robust public planning system for pest control programs. If a pest outbreak occurs, we consider control actions and there is a public planning process associated with that before any actions can take place.
Our pest program relies entirely on science. Science provides us with methods to detect pests and forecast population trends, and that's important to support management decisions for actions. We rely on science to develop and evaluate management techniques—how to respond to pests. That might be research into pesticides, silviculture techniques to respond to pests, or effective controls to prevent the movement of pests.
Ontario supports science activities with a range of partners, including the Canadian Forest Service, other provinces, states and academia. For example, we've been participating in a five-year Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council project entitled “Turning risk into action for the mountain pine beetle epidemic”. Ontario felt it was important to be involved in and support that project in order to address the risk of the eastward movement of the mountain pine beetle. As the mountain pine beetle moves from lodgepole pine into Jack pine forest, potentially as it moves east, the dynamics of that pest may be different.
We've been active in looking at what potential mechanisms might be going on when it moves into new hosts. We've taken material out west to see if it's susceptible. We're taking logs of our Ontario white pine out west to test whether mountain pine beetle will populate and reproduce in that. It's definitely a concern for us and we're taking active steps.
Partnerships are important because forest pests don't recognize provincial or jurisdictional boundaries, and that's certainly a challenge we face with invasive pests. There are certain federal responsibilities under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for those invasive forest pests. Native pests are under other people's jurisdictions, so we're working on those native pests. Something that falls in the cracks is mountain pine beetle, which we would say is not native to Ontario, but it's native to other parts of Canada. For CFIA, that is a native pest, and for us in Ontario, it's not a native pest. That will be a challenge.
On the positive side, when we have pest issues that we're dealing with, everybody comes to the table to try to address those issues.
Partnerships are certainly an efficient way to support science and deliver forest pest management activities. Through partnerships, we raise awareness about forest pests and their impacts. We improve our ability to detect forest pests. We coordinate actions across jurisdictional lines. In working together, we're hopefully more effective in our controls and responses.
Partnerships help to improve our scientific understanding of pest-host relationships, leading to improvements in risk assessment, which pests we should we be worrying about and when, and our monitoring and resource protection methods. We have active partnerships with quite a wide range of groups, but I'll give a couple of examples. One is the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. There's a critical plant pest management working group that operates in Ontario with those provincial and federal agencies that intersect in their needs. Forest pests are what we're looking at.
There is the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers' forest pest working group, and another is the Pest Management Regulatory Agency. We work with them in terms of potential pesticides for use in forestry.
We also have a partnership with the Canadian Forest Service. We happen to have the benefit in Sault Ste. Marie of the Great Lakes Forestry Centre just down the road, and it's right next to the Ontario Forest Research Institute. There's a lot of collaboration that happens across the parking lot on pest-related issues.
As I mentioned earlier, for the mountain pine beetle project that we partnered in, there were 13 agencies, four provinces and states, the federal government, and five universities, all trying to further our understanding of mountain pine beetle and what it might do, or how its biology might change as it moves eastward. That's really important for us, because we're quite concerned about the threat of that particular pest moving east.
Of course, one of our strongest partners in pest management, the on-the-ground activities, is the forest industry. They are out on a daily basis in the forest. They are often the first ones to be there. They're there every day to detect if something is different or if there's some damage there that they weren't expecting. They're basically the ones who often flag some of those initial issues. They're out there actively engaged in managing the forests for the people of Ontario, in our context, and their observations and insights are important for early detection and effective response activities. As we go into a planning process, they are definitely key partners in any of the activities.
I have a couple of conclusions for your consideration.
Continued support and coordination of agencies that are involved in pest management activities or impacted by pests is required to ensure that our detection and monitoring efforts are successful so that we can detect these things at a time when we can respond with some management actions.
Continued support for the development of management tools is essential so that there are effective and efficient tools available to address forest pest problems and to reduce their impacts on the forest sector.
Lastly, continued support for the infrastructure required to develop pest risk assessments for both native and non-native pests is essential to ensure that we're able to appropriately address those risks and pests accordingly.
That's a key challenge certainly for the non-native pests as we need to do a lot of work in terms of what risk they might pose to the forest, because we've never experienced them before. It's unknown with a lot of these pests what impacts they might have, but the infrastructure associated with doing science-based pest risk assessments is important for us to develop management actions and respond to those things.
I'd just like to take a few moments to outline the role that climate and climate change is playing in forest disturbances and make some special references to the mountain pine beetle, moving forward.
As Mr. Henry points out, natural disturbance is a part of forest ecosystems and indeed an integral part of forest ecosystems, and it can affect thousands to millions of hectares of Canadian forests annually. What tends to be counterintuitive to most people, however, is that the impacts in Canadian forests caused by insects actually tend to be much greater than those associated with fire. As I said, this is counterintuitive largely because, of course, fire gains so much attention in the media.
What we found is that insects cause the mortality of trees over a much greater area than fire does annually, and of course the synergies that this can play with subsequent fires is of prime concern, especially given the impacts in British Columbia over the past year with fuel loading quite likely from the mountain pine beetle outbreak that has been impacting the province for the last couple of decades.
There's evidence that disturbance from insects in forests is actually getting worse, and in fact, since about 1980, roughly 50 million hectares or more of western North America have suffered some level of mortality caused by bark beetles, of which mountain pine beetle is an example.
The question that brings forth, and one that I focus on as well as colleagues of mine—the few of us who do work on these issues—is whether climate change will exacerbate these impacts into the future.
As you might expect, this is a very difficult question to get into, but we can actually gain some lessons and insights from studies that have occurred from deep time, from millions of years in the past. Recent evidence shows, based upon fossilized evidence of insect disturbance in forests, that as temperatures warm so will that disturbance increase. We have every expectation, as our climate continues to change, that we will suffer increasing levels of insect mortality or insect disturbance across Canadian forests.
To that end, evidence is actually emerging, too, that we do have bourgeoning evidence that the mountain pine beetle, the spruce beetle and indeed the western spruce budworm in western Canada have all been affected by a warming environment. In fact, we continue to work on that as we focus further and further on the issue.
There are two primary ways in which a warming environment can affect forest disturbances. These are not mutually exclusive, but the first is that for a range-limited species, a warming environment can actually create new habitat and allow that species to move into areas that it couldn't previously occupy. The mountain pine beetle is the best example of that sort of issue.
The second is for species that are ubiquitous. In other words, they occur everywhere their host trees occur. Examples of this could be the eastern spruce budworm, or the spruce beetle, for that matter. In this particular case, we are noticing that, in a warming environment, the outbreaks themselves that are associated with these species tend to be getting worse in terms of their frequency, their severity and their duration. To this end, we have the spruce beetle in Yukon and northern British Columbia as a very good example in that particular case.
I mentioned that I was going to focus a bit on the mountain pine beetle, and I know it is an important issue and it's one that I've worked on extensively. Indeed Mr. Henry referred to the TRIA-Net. I'm actually a principal investigator and a theme leader in that particular network.
The mountain pine beetle is perhaps the first and best example of climate-related impacts in terms of forest disturbances in Canada.
It's important to point out that it's a problem that actually has arisen as a consequence of a couple of things. The first and foremost is our success at fire suppression across the west. We have become very good at putting out fires across Canada and particularly in British Columbia, to the extent that we have removed fire—aside from this past couple of years—almost entirely from the pine-dominated ecosystems. This has actually caused an increase in the amount of older trees, which would be the preferable food source for the mountain pine beetle.
In doing so, in the absence of climate change, we created a smorgasbord for the mountain pine beetle and have effectively allowed the populations to build to unprecedented levels.
On top of that, the second driver of this big outbreak has been a warming environment. This has allowed the beetles to survive better. It has allowed them to expand their range, as I mentioned earlier. This range has expanded to the point where the beetles have breached the Rocky Mountains and have begun to spread across Alberta.
In fact, in the 10 or more years since it's been on the eastern side of the Rockies, it has continued to spread across Alberta and we now have it right on the border of Saskatchewan. Indeed in the Cold Lake air weapons range, we have a population detected already. It's quite a concern.
Given the work that I have done with colleagues associated with the TRIA-Net, the NSERC-sponsored program in which I was involved, we can pretty much conclude that as long as populations remain in the outbreak phase—in other words, they remain large and they remain aggressive—eastward expansion remains highly likely. Beetles in that particular phase are capable of finding and successfully attacking Jack pine trees without too much of a problem.
The difference, though, is that if the populations are able to collapse, if we are able to slow the spread to the point where beetle populations actually return to a sub-outbreak or endemic state, then spread becomes much less likely. Indeed, some emerging evidence from my lab shows that persistence in the long run in these new pine habitats by sub-outbreak populations of the mountain pine beetle is actually highly unlikely, as a consequence of competition from other aspects of those forests.
The last point I'd like to emphasize is that the Government of Alberta has actually devoted a great deal of resources, roughly half a billion dollars, to slowing the spread of the mountain pine beetle in the last 10 or 12 years, certainly since 2006.
I recently completed a study, funded in part by the Government of Alberta, looking at whether these efforts have been effective. We can conclude that, yes, indeed, they have been effective. The efforts on the part of Alberta have slowed the spread of the mountain pine beetle significantly. This is a highly important point, especially in combination with the point I made just a moment ago in terms of the collapse of populations back to the endemic level. If we can continue to focus on the mountain pine beetle in efforts to slow its spread, then we might get lucky enough to have these populations finally collapse to this sub-outbreak phase and, in doing so, essentially reduce the likelihood of eastward spread by a considerable amount.
Finally, I'd just like to conclude by saying that you might recall that I mentioned that the mountain pine beetle is perhaps the first and best example of a climate change impact. However, it's only one of a whole series of species that are likely to respond to a warming environment by increasing their disturbances in Canadian forests. We effectively have a canary in the coal mine in so far as future disturbances are likely to occur associated with other species.
Thank you very much.
I'd like to start off first by thanking both of our guests today, Mr. Henry and Professor Carroll. I think I've spoken to you before from my riding of Yellowhead. I'd like to thank you for the work that you've been doing.
But first of all, I'd like to thank this committee for taking this study on. Since I've been elected, one of my biggest pushes in the House of Commons, when asking questions, is that we have to get something done with the pine beetle.
My riding of Yellowhead is at the eastern entrance of Jasper National Park. We've watched the pine beetle come in from the west side. I've been working with Professor Carroll and the University of British Columbia and many agencies, such as the CFS, to try to fight them.
To give you an idea how bad it's getting, folks, as Professor Carroll said, we were keeping them at bay in 2013, 2014 and 2015. We were keeping them at bay with West Fraser, the corporation, spending a lot of its own resources, and the Province of British Columbia, of course, the forestry department, fighting to hold the trees at bay, cutting down the ones that were infected. In 2017, there was a tenfold increase in the number of trees reported. That's how fast they are adapting and why I think it's so urgent that the government needs to react.
My first question is for Mr. Carroll.
What can government...and I'm not talking about the provincial governments. We know what the Province of B.C. did. They have spent millions and billions of dollars trying to combat it. We know that the Province of Alberta is spending as much money as they can in their budget each year to combat it. You're a former CFS scientist. Do you feel there's a role that the federal government has to take beyond leaving it under the control of the provinces?
I know we do the research and that's great, but we need to look at combatting it and stopping it.
Thank you both for being here. I have about 50 questions and time for maybe three or so. With again apologies to Mr. Henry, I'm going to start with Dr. Carroll.
I'm from British Columbia and the pine beetle is the big issue there in our forests. I'm from the Okanagan valley, so I've been on the edge of it, but I watched with some trepidation as that infestation moved south in 2006-07, in big flights off the Cariboo Plateau into the Thompson valley.
You just mentioned that Jasper has a dead tree problem. In British Columbia, that's mainly where we're at. It seems the really huge epidemic of the mountain pine beetle has calmed down a fair bit. In looking to the future and what roles government might have.... Mr. Henry also touched on this, so I'd let him comment at the end. What should we be doing about harvesting strategies, silviculture techniques, to reduce the chance of this happening again?
There was a historical aspect to this, as well as climate, where we had a lot of fires back 200 years ago, so we had these huge monocultures, even-age stands of old pines that contributed to it. Now we're in a replanting phase. I know the Government of B.C. is trying to replant some things, and it's behind in that scheduling. What I'm seeing is that we need more forest diversity in terms of species, structure, and age structure. Is that being done? Is that what you're seeing being done on the ground in British Columbia, that they're replanting different species?
That brings in climate as well. I've seen predictive maps of what the forests of B.C. will look like 100 years from now, and you have ponderosa pines in Vanderhoof.
It's a big question, but what are the sorts of things we should be doing for the future to reduce the chances of these really devastating epidemics of mountain pine beetle and other forest pests?
Your question is another complex one, and I'll do my best to be brief.
It's worth pointing out that the fire suppression activities came on the heels of significant disturbance, which essentially removed fire from the forest and produced a very old, contiguous pine smorgasbord for the mountain pine beetle. Indeed, some of the research I did a while back showed that we had about three and a half times as much mature pine on the landscape at the start of the outbreak as we had 100 years previously. That speaks directly to this lack of diversity, as you've mentioned.
The problem we have with these extensive mortality efforts at salvaging, which, of course, can't keep up with the number of dead trees and the fires on top of all of that, means that our hands are tied in terms of the amount of area that we can actually influence through harvesting. Remember, we are mandated in Canada across the board, as well as in British Columbia, that we replace what we remove from the forest so that we can remain sustainable in terms of our harvesting activities.
That actually is a problem as far as our reforestation activities are concerned, because lodgepole pine remains the favourite species by most companies and the most eligible species to be replaced over most of these areas. As a consequence, it is being put back, and arguably not appropriately in many of these areas that are currently being harvested, to the extent that we do run the risk of having this problem occur again in, say, 60 to 80 years.
Should we be diversifying? Yes, and that diversification is not just in terms of tree species, because we need to keep in mind what sites might look like in the future versus what they look like today. We also need to diversify in terms of the structure of our forests.
One interesting conclusion we drew from our analysis of the demographics of pine prior to the outbreak was that if we were to remove fire from the system, we needed to increase the amount of clear-cutting. In effect, and this is a hard thing to say to most people, we didn't cut enough pine prior to the outbreak. Had we done so, we would have had a more diverse landscape from the point of view of at least its age-class structure and a much lesser likelihood of a sustained, large outbreak of mountain pine beetle.
When I heard what you were studying, I was quite excited. I'm going to switch gears, though, and talk about the urban forest.
I was on Oakville town council for five years. The council in Oakville has done a lot of work around the urban forest. The tree canopy there is 27.8%, with two million trees, and the structural value is over $1 billion. That's only one municipality.
While I was on council, we were dealing with the emerald ash borer. Because of climate change, extreme weather events, and things such as the emerald ash borer, the Asian longhorned beetle, which is the next thing that may be coming, and a number of other pests that are invasive species, municipalities are left holding the bag. I know Oakville was spending over $25 million to try to deal with the emerald ash borer. We had a strategy, but Burlington was doing it differently, London was doing it differently, and as you said, Mr. Henry, bugs don't know borders.
One of my concerns is that, for something such as the emerald ash borer, my understanding is that the research came predominantly from the United States. We didn't have enough research here in Canada on the emerald ash borer to be able to deal with it properly. Do you see a role for the federal government in enhanced research on these invasive species?
Mr. Carroll, I see you shaking your head. I'll start with you.
I can. That is one of the pests that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is dealing with. Ontario is contributing quite a bit in terms of supporting all the monitoring.
It was detected near Pearson International Airport, suspected to have come in in packing materials that were not suitably treated. There was an infestation identified, thousands of trees were cut out of that area, and then there was a series of five years' worth of surveys to try to determine whether we got them all. Subsequent to that, there was another find, so we're back into another series of monitoring exercises.
One of the challenges that gets highlighted with the invasive species—and I'm thinking about research from the U.S. for emerald ash borer or from other places for Asian longhorned beetle—is that we don't know what insect might show up on our doorstep, so we can't do the research ahead of time.
The Canadian Forest Service did some fantastic work associated with one of the most effective pesticide treatments for emerald ash borer, which is being implemented in Oakville and other municipalities, and that is TreeAzin. That was developed at the Great Lakes Forestry Centre and is being used to treat street trees.
Another issue you're highlighting is that in the urban environment trees are very valuable. Management techniques are totally different from when we're out in the forest. The urban environment is a disturbed environment already, so when you take out those trees, as you indicated with buckthorn, you have a new invasive species that will come in and take over. That is probably a more prevalent issue than in the natural forest situation, because there are other species that would jump into that situation.
Good afternoon, members of the committee.
Thank you for inviting me to appear on behalf of the members of the Forest Products Association of Canada, or FPAC.
In short, FPAC provides a voice for Canada's wood, pulp and paper producers nationally and internationally. Canada's forest products industry is a $69 billion a year industry that contributes over $21 billion to Canada's GDP.
The forestry industry is one of the largest employers in Canada. It is active in 600 communities in Canada and directly employees 230,000 Canadians across the country.
I will now talk about forest pests, starting by giving you some background information.
Insects obviously play an essential ecological role in Canadian forests, but in the event of an infestation or serious outbreak, they can destroy important commercial areas. They are then considered pests.
The mountain pine beetle and spruce budworm are long-established pests—more recently in the case of the beetle—that have caused and continue to cause significant economic losses. These impacts have been felt for several decades. It is therefore imperative to take all reasonable measures to mitigate these impacts.
The responsibility for implementing forest pest control measures in Canada depends on where the infestations or outbreaks occur; this responsibility can be provincial, federal or municipal. Eighty-five percent of wood volumes are harvested in public forests. It is therefore primarily the responsibility of provincial governments to implement pest control measures.
However, provincial managers rely on available scientific information and control techniques. The Canadian Forest Service, or CFS, is the country's primary source of scientific and technological support for forest pest control.
The decision-making process based on economic, social and ecological risk assessment is the foundation of the National Forest Pest Management Strategy.
In summary, provincial governments have the primary responsibility for implementing forest pest control measures, while the main roles of the federal government are to conduct research on pest ecology; provide risk assessment expertise; and provide advice to forest managers and develop decision support tools.
FPAC has two recommendations regarding forest pests.
First, the Canadian government should continue to support research on forest pest control strategies to stabilize forest supplies.
Current projections indicate that the risk of disturbance from forest pests will increase significantly over time. Add to this the drought projections and the prediction is that conditions could double the area of fires by the end of the century. All these natural disturbances will put most Canadian forests at high risk.
Informed decision-making on forest management issues must be based on a thorough risk assessment to better assess and compare the likely impacts and cost-effectiveness of the various measures being considered.
As a result, one of the main objectives of any forest pest control strategy should be to stabilize forest supplies in the short, medium and long term.
To this end, research on forest pest control strategies is of fundamental importance and should be further supported very seriously by the federal government.
This research should include the following elements: the risks posed by all forest pests from a systemic perspective, taking into account other elements and disturbances in the ecosystem; response costs, particularly their profitability; the stability of forest supplies in quantity and quality; and they should be part of a long-term perspective, meaning for the duration of the epidemic, from the beginning and during its projected duration.
The second recommendation is that the Canadian government support and participate in a national dialogue on new approaches to sustainable forest management in the context of increasing the severity of natural disturbances and climate change.
Given its origin and magnitude, the mountain pine beetle epidemic is one of the most frequently cited examples of climate change impacts in the world.
Similarly, we are currently experiencing record years for forest fires, and these seem to be part of a “new normal” rather than exceptions.
It is therefore expected that these changes will become more pronounced, and it will be essential for the forest sector to face these challenges, to reinvent itself, in short, to adapt.
However, if we begin to rethink sustainable forest management, it will be crucial to assess the consequences of these changes on key values, such as the recovery of species at risk and the management of our forests in light of natural disturbances.
FPAC is seeking to establish a national dialogue that would bring together a group of high-level decision-makers from industry, governments, indigenous groups, environmental groups, unions, universities and research organizations. The objective of the “Forest Forward” initiative is to build a national consensus on new approaches to sustainable forest management in the context of increasing severity of natural disturbances and climate change.
With regard more specifically to forest pests, such a national dialogue could help to deepen some important issues such as the following.
Would it be appropriate to encourage the intensification of forest management in order to obtain better yields, in quantity and quality, on smaller areas, closer to the mills?
This approach is advocated by Quebec's chief forester, Louis Pelletier, in his recent opinion piece entitled: “Prévisibilité, stabilité et augmentation des possibilités forestières”. With regard to pests, on the one hand, focusing silvicultural investments would also allow make it possible to focus the necessary interventions in order to protect forest supplies. On the other hand, these pest intervention strategies, in this context, should be adapted. For example, we know that trees that grow faster are more vulnerable to pests.
Another national dialogue would be relevant to determine how the forest regime can be changed. The question arises as follows: is it still appropriate to regenerate forests harvested with the same species as those present on the site before harvesting? This is currently a legal requirement in most situations. Climatic conditions have already changed and are already affecting the distribution of some tree species in Canada. The trees that are being regenerated today will most likely experience very different climatic conditions when they reach maturity in 40, 50 and 80 years.
So, on the one hand, it would be possible to regenerate the sites with seeds from warmer regions, with different species or a variety of species. But, on the other hand, such changes in forest composition would undoubtedly have significant impacts on the habitats of the animal species that live there, and could make forests more or less vulnerable to pests.
In short, sustainable forest management in the coming decades is likely to be very different from that targeted by existing forest regimes. It seems essential to create more space for dialogue on these issues, so that we can cope with the changes under way.
To find innovative solutions to the problem of forest pests, it will be important to take a holistic approach and reflect on the links between these natural disturbances and the forest ecosystem as a whole, in a changing context.
The forest products sector is a key driver of the Canadian economy. It is imperative that the government put in place measures to promote its stability.
I will be pleased to answer your questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My name is Richard Briand. I am the Chief Forester for West Fraser's Alberta operations. I'm a registered professional forester in Alberta, with 27 years of experience working in Alberta's forests. I thank you for the opportunity to be here today.
West Fraser is a diversified North American wood products company, with 45 manufacturing facilities in western Canada and the southern United States. Our primary products include lumber, plywood, medium-density fibreboard, laminated veneer lumber, pulp, green energy, newsprint and wood chips.
We've been operating continuously in western Canada since 1955. We invested over $1 billion in our Canadian operations between 2013 and 2017, and continue to invest in 2018. We currently operate 25 mills across 10 communities in Alberta and eight communities in British Columbia. We have over 5,000 direct employees in Canada.
Due to the nature of our business, we operate in smaller communities and are often the primary employer in those communities. Communities such as Fraser Lake, B.C., with a population of 988, and Manning, Alberta, with a population of 1,183, depend on our company for employment, and we take great pride in being a stable, long-term employer.
The primary feedstock for our facilities is coniferous timber, predominantly lodgepole pine trees and white spruce trees. We are committed to sustainable forest management principles and manage for timber and non-timber values in our operating areas.
The current mountain pine beetle infestation in western Canada is having a significant negative impact on our operations. It is killing valuable timber—valuable not just from an economic perspective but also for a wide range of ecological goods and services such as water, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and carbon sequestration.
The current mountain pine beetle infestation started in B.C. in 1999 and its effects are still being felt today. The two years of record-breaking wildfires in B.C. in 2017 and 2018 are, in part, a result of this infestation. The trees killed by mountain pine beetles contributed to volatile fire hazard conditions, and those fires threatened thousands of homes and impacted the lives and livelihoods of many residents of B.C.
The salvage of economically viable beetle-killed timber in B.C. is essentially complete, and reductions in timber harvest levels are imminent. This will result in mill closures and job losses.
In 2006 and 2009, significant in-flights of mountain pine beetles into Alberta occurred, resulting in the mountain pine beetle infesting parts of northern Alberta that had never seen the insect before. Prior to 2006, most experts believed that spreading of mountain pine beetles from B.C. into Alberta over the Rocky Mountains would never happen. They also believed that Alberta's colder climate would not be suitable for mountain pine beetle survival. They were wrong.
Immediately upon learning of the mountain pine beetle's spread into Alberta, the Alberta government initiated an aggressive control program and requested that companies alter their harvest plans to focus on susceptible pine. Recognizing the wisdom in this concept, in 2006 West Fraser embraced this new approach to forest management, called the “healthy pine strategy”. As a result, the vast majority of our timber harvest in the foothills since 2006 has been in pine-dominated stands, but we have also invested significant resources into direct control of infested stands through single-tree and stand-level operations. In recent years, all of our timber harvest in the west-central region of Alberta has been in stands infested by the mountain pine beetle.
Between 2007 and 2010, the federal government contributed just over $18 million towards control efforts in Alberta. To date, the Alberta government alone has invested over $487 million in direct control efforts. Interestingly, the Saskatchewan government has recognized the potential for spread of the beetle from Alberta into their province, and they have contributed over $5 million to Alberta's control efforts to stop the spread of the beetle into their province.
In terms of pine volume, if the mountain pine beetle breaks through Alberta into Saskatchewan, there are continuous pine types that will allow it to spread across the country to eastern Canada. Pine runs all the way to the east coast. It would be decimating vast tracts of pine forest along its way.
Research is showing that the mountain pine beetle can persist in Jack pine, which means that it can get through the Jack pine and lodgepole pine hybridization zone in northern Alberta and spread east. It is truly a national threat.
As recently as 2013, Jasper National Park had very low levels of mountain pine beetle infestation. However, limited action was taken to control that infestation, and it is now feeding mountain pine beetle into Alberta. The Hinton and Edson region of west-central Alberta was inundated by mountain pine beetle raining in from Jasper National Park at record-breaking levels for over two months. Typically, this would only happen over a two-week period.
The spread of the mountain pine beetle into our operating areas is putting our businesses at risk and will eventually put the very communities we operate in at economical and physical risk from wildfire. Without aggressive control, the mountain pine beetle will spread north and south along the critical watersheds of the east slopes of the Rocky Mountains, and it will also continue its steady march east into Saskatchewan and beyond.
Some of the impacts the outbreak will have on West Fraser include increased fire risk to the forests we depend on. Significant wildfires will reduce the available timber for our forestry operations and, again, put the communities we operate in at risk.
It will also result in the production of lower-value products by feeding dry, beetle-killed logs into our mills rather than fresh, green timber. This reduces the viability of our operations.
There will be increased costs and reduced production at our facilities due to limited forest resource availability. There will be fewer trees available for harvest if the mountain pine beetle has overrun our operating areas. Increased costs for logging and hauling dead timber will also be a result. There will likely be watershed impacts, which can damage our road infrastructure. As well, we will have to invest more into our facilities to be able to handle the dry logs that will be provided to our sawmills.
The situation in B.C. is very troubling but beyond our ability to do much, other than reconcile the remaining forest inventory, consolidate businesses and close some mills.
Due to the proactive and aggressive program in Alberta, we are not in the same situation as B.C. The program is well coordinated with industry and municipalities to ensure that control treatments are aligned, which we certainly appreciate. Resources for this program, however, appear to be tight. We believe that continued support of Alberta's program would be very beneficial.
We believe we need to continue with the aggressive control efforts, and we will also need some help from Mother Nature. Control efforts will slow the spread of the mountain pine beetle and allow government and industry to work together to manage the forests and mitigate the impacts of this pest. Slower spread rates will help maintain the economic viability of the timber resource, which means that we can harvest and then reforest pine beetle-infested stands, which will then support the many values they provide. Left unharvested, many of these areas will not regenerate until a wildfire burns through them.
It is a challenging situation, but through co-operative, coordinated actions we can have a significant impact on the spread of the mountain pine beetle.
Thank you again for the opportunity to present and provide our perspective on the mountain pine beetle.
The witnesses talked to us about eastern and western Canada.
Mr. Eglinski explained earlier that the mountain pine beetle was getting closer to Ontario. We were also talking about the whole issue of Toronto's Pearson Airport and the urban environment. A crisis seems to be looming on the horizon, but that's not what I'm hearing from you.
Mr. Bélanger, you are talking about recommendations to the federal government. The first recommendation is to invest in research and development, which means more money. It is always difficult to seek money, but it is important. The second recalls the importance of nation-wide education on climate change.
Some witnesses spoke about native species and invasive species. When it comes to jurisdictional issues, it seems that the entire system needs to be disrupted. Municipalities have responsibilities, so does the province, and even the federal government has a small role to play. There doesn't really seem to be a national system. However, an infestation is looming in Canada that will affect the entire country, Ontario, Quebec and cities. However, the recommendations seem to be telling us to continue as before and be optimistic.
I won't be here as a member of Parliament in 2023 to talk about national issues in an industry as important as forestry. I would therefore like to know if it is possible to recommend a more national debate. The provinces are responsible for forest management, but I don't think they seem to want us to be sufficiently involved in this management.
Thank you both for being here.
I'll start with Mr. Bélanger, with some questioning along the lines of what I was talking about to the previous witnesses.
I'm from British Columbia. British Columbia is in a kind of post-apocalyptic phase for the mountain pine beetle, and looking to the future for ways of preventing this from happening again.
I just want to pick up on a comment you made, which was a bit of a surprise to me, and that was about a legal requirement to plant the same species that you cut. I know that in British Columbia there's a legal requirement, or the province directs companies to cut species in the same proportion that is in their timber supply area, so you can't just go in there and cut nothing but lodgepole pine or Douglas fir. You have to take things in proportion, as I understand it.
However, I didn't know there was a requirement to go back and plant all that. What we see—at least what I see on the land—is a company clear-cutting an area that might have been lodgepole pine-dominated, or half pine and half spruce, and then it's all planted to pine.
I'm wondering if you can let me know what that legal requirement is. Does it change from province to province, or is it across Canada?