By Cindy Filipenko
The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District has pledged $5,000 to be part of an organization dedicated to the fight against the mountain pine beetle.
“Five thousand dollars is a good investment to see what can happen in the future,” said director Ian Sutherland, mayor of Squamish.
The regional district has joined seven other regional districts and six First Nations tribal councils to form the Southern Interior Pine Beetle Commission. This is the third such commission formed in the province.
“Our coalition is different. We have involved First Nations from the start,” explained Merritt Mayor Dave Laird, who is also chair of the Pine Beetle Action Plan.
Laird said the purpose of the commission was to act as governance body to ensure that the federal and provincial funds go to affected communities to develop area-specific strategies. In January, the federal government announced a $200 million allocation to its mountain pine beetle program to minimize the consequences of the beetle infestation and assist in efforts to slow the infestation’s eastward spread.
“We want to make sure any community impacted by the pine beetle would have access to the money,” said commission member Gord Nordstrom of Kamloops.
The $5,000 from the SLRD will go into a pot that combines member groups’ money with provincial money, for a total of $95,000 worth of seed money to establish the commission and assess the needs of its members. The territory serviced by the newly formed commission ranges from 70 Mile House, south to the U.S. border and east to Alberta.
According to the commission, Premier Gordon Campbell wants coalitions to form and is interested in community-based planning that examines the socio-economic impact of the pine beetle. For the southern portion of the SLRD, the impact of the forest-destroying pest has been less visible, largely due to the composition of forests in the Sea to Sky corridor. However, in areas like Lillooet, where lodge pole pine constitutes 40 per cent of tree stock, the affects are visually apparent.
Lillooet Mayor Crist’l Roshard estimated that the damage to the trees could result in a 25 to 35 per cent loss of workforce in the beetle beleaguered area.
“Current estimates say that 80 per cent of the Lillooet pine trees will be dead in five years,” she said.
Roshard pointed out the pine beetle could have a devastating affect on tourism.
“Not too many people from Europe are going to come to see dead trees… they’re not going to want to walk in forests and have dead tress fall on their heads.”
Electoral Area A Director Mickey Macri, whose district is also feeling the affects of the mountain pine beetle, asked whether the commission would be examining the problems associated with western pine beetle infestation.
Laird said that the funds were pine beetle management specific, but acknowledged that strange things are happening in the woods.
“For the first time ever, we’re seeing mountain and western pine beetles cohabitating in the same trees.”
The mayor of Merritt equated the loss of the pine to the closure of the Atlantic fisheries, noting that the fishery, like B.C.’s forest industry, was well aware of the problem before action — and the ultimate closure of the fishery — occurred. He pointed out that B.C. has an issue with the pine pest for the past decade.
“The pine beetle infestation has a 100-year implication.”