Comment: Pine-beetle disaster could have been avoided

Urban and rural residents in B.C. have never been further apart. The rural-urban divide in the current government shows deep divisions.

The pine-beetle epidemic highlights some of these divisive issues.

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An environmental haven for pine beetles in Tweedsmuir Park is a telling example of the huge differences in urban and rural views of the world.

Two pine beetles had access to a mature pine forest that was due to die from old age, because pine trees 80 to 100 years old are at the end of their lifespan. The urban environmental zealots had the political will and power to enforce their view that all parks and protected areas in B.C. would not be managed to protect neighbouring resource-based land.

These two beetles began breeding at a ferocious rate. Hundreds or even thousands of beetles are required to kill one tree, and the 989,616-hectare park contained hundreds of millions of mature pine trees. An epidemic of dead pine trees rapidly spread through the park.

The Lakes District News in Burns Lake published a front-page article quoting the local provincial forest manager as saying that if the beetle was not contained in the park, the epidemic in the park would become an pandemic outside of the park.

The warning was correct. The critical mass started by those two beetles reached exponential growth. The two pine beetles, aided by the urban-environmentalist movement, won.

The hundred-million-plus dead pine trees in the park were soon dwarfed by the billion-plus dead pine trees in resource areas. The epidemic in the park was allowed to become a pandemic that has encompassed an area four times the size of Vancouver Island and has worked itself over the Rocky Mountains to Alberta and beyond.

Any serious attempt to slow the infestation would have required controlled burns and logging. The local loggers and local park users wanted determined action. It did not happen.

Knowing that loggers are a target for environmental extremists, I will give the viewpoint of a respected and active member of the Burns Lake community at this critical transition to a pandemic.

His name was Lutz Boeker. He was an avid Tweedsmuir Park user and would often make a difficult journey by air or portaging a boat to gain access to this wonderland.

Boeker was also an editorial writer for the Lakes District News, and wrote several editorials imploring the bureaucrats in Victoria to do something.

Boeker was bothered by the political inaction and disrespect of urban environmentalists for the long-term well-being of not just the park, but also the surrounding working forest that affects so many northern residents. His editorials said that the bureaucrats in Victoria would end up with their pensions, and people in the Lakes District would end up with nothing.

Sadly, Boeker died in a car accident in 2003, so was not able to see how accurate his damning editorial comments would become.

The political hot-button issues in Victoria were led by urban environmentalists, who were focused on global issues. Local managers and local people with experience and knowledge on the ground were mostly ignored.

Centralized, remote management of pine beetles didn’t work. Large parts of the Central Interior’s resource-based economies are in serious decline.

If a united province of British Columbia is to be re-established, an accord needs to be established that resources belong to everyone, and the benefits of resources, including parks, have to be mutually beneficial.

The benefits of resource extraction are found mostly in larger urban communities that have no comprehension of rural values and lifestyles.

As climate changes, we need an integrated local management that encompasses parks, protected land and resource areas. Pine beetles and forest fires do not respect park and resource boundaries on a map.

When disasters happen, they must be managed in a manner respectful to all stake holders.

Sadly, the pine-beetle devastation has not only destroyed people’s livelihoods, but has directly resulted in the deaths of four residents and severe injuries to many others.

Robert Luggi Jr. and Carl Charlie were killed, and 19 others severely injured, in the beetle-dust explosion that destroyed the Babine sawmill in Burns Lake. Alan Little and Glen Roche were killed, and 24 others severely injured, in the beetle-dust explosion that destroyed Lakeland mills in Prince George.

I would like to dedicate this piece to the memory of these four men.


Wayne Martineau lives in Fraser Lake.

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