Long lobbies for more MPB funds

West Fraser Photo

Masha Scheele

West Yellowhead MLA Martin Long earned bipartisan support for a push to allocate more provincial funds and to lobby the federal government for more money to aggressively combat the spread of mountain pine beetle (MPB).

Long stood in the Legislative Assemble on June 24 and encouraged the provincial government to implement its funding commitment of $5 million to address the problem and pointed to a promise made in the UCP platform to increase funding to combat MPB from $25 million to $30 million.

He also said the federal government needs to step up and address MPB like it has with forest threats in other regions.

“When I look at how Ottawa is tackling the spruce budworm issue on the east coast, plenty of resources are being deployed to tackle the issue,” said Long in speaking to his motion in the assembly.

“Yet when I stand in Jasper, where mountain pine beetle infected only 122 hectares in 2013 and, due to no management being taken, by 2017 over 93,000 hectares were destroyed – and now many communities in my riding are left vulnerable and are feeling powerless and helpless, yet the federal government is still unwilling to help.”

Long added that MPB destroys not only lodgepole pine, but is also a threat to other species of pine, like Jack pine, which is a major species of the boreal forest.

“In its wake are dead forests and economic ruin. Due to a lack of progress and due to a lack of consistent resource action against the beetle, British Columbia between 1995 and 2015 lost more than half its saleable pine timber. That equates to the loss of tens of billions of dollars to the provincial economy and countless jobs over the coming decades,” said Long.

Long stated that MPB mitigation costs Canadians tens of millions of dollars per year, and the loss of economic activity is even higher. 

“Our forest industry contributes $6 billion to our economy every year,” he said.

He also noted that without active forest management, the risk of infestation and wildfires increase.

“The forest industry contributes to a healthy forest and safer communities by harvesting mature trees before they become a risk to the area,” he said.

NDP MLA Heather Sweet for Edmonton-Manning stated that Alberta has invested nearly half a billion dollars since 2004 to control the pest. Early in 2018, the province provided Yellowhead County and Hinton with funding to control, suppress, and eradicate the mountain pine beetle on municipal and private lands through the mountain pine beetle municipal grant program, she added.

“I know that the Hinton Chamber of Commerce developed a new policy resolution on the mountain pine beetle that has since been adopted by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. One of the key pieces of this policy is a request for the federal government to reinstate the federal mountain pine beetle program with funds equivalent in scale to over $200 million,” said Sweet.

Since the Canadian Chamber of Commerce adopted the policy last fall, it is committed to lobbying the federal government for funding recommended in the policy and acknowledgement of the national issue. Tracy Sheppard, president of the Hinton Chamber, stated that for it to be a national issue it needs to affect at least three provinces and currently four provinces are impacted by MPB. 

Hinton Chamber representatives met with the provincial government June 25 and asked what they were going to do to work with the feds and also lobby for the funds required and the support needed to start combating the spread of the MPB.

“The Alberta government has put hundreds of millions of dollars in already, which is why we want the federal government to step up and do their share and realize this is not just BC and Alberta’s problem. Even the Saskatchewan government has given money to the Alberta government to combat this, because of course they’re next in line,” said Sheppard.

Sheppard added that beyond the negative effects on the forestry industry, the MPB has also affected tourism in the area due to the smoke.

“That’s one of the reasons we reached out to different ministers because it’s going to be an economic development issues, it’s going to be a tourism issue. It’s an environmental and forestry issue right now but it’s so far reaching, I’m sure there are so many things we haven’t even thought of,” she said.

MLA Todd Loewen for Central Peace-Notley stated that this is not a problem limited to any constituency, to Alberta, or even to western Canada, but a national problem.

“Lodgepole pine as a tree species is most impacted by mountain pine beetle, but it also affects Jack pine and many other species of pine. It’s a common sight through our nation’s great boreal forests, as are other species of pine. These trees are seen from the borders of the Yukon all the way to Halifax, and if action is not taken to control and eradicate this threat, it will continue to spread unabated into other regions of the country,” he said.

The motion put forth by Long calls for the provincial government to partner with Alberta’s forest industry and the federal government in the fight.

“I believe that the only way we will have any hope in fighting the pine beetle is to work with our world-renowned foresters across our province to develop a plan perhaps even changing existing policy if necessary and then implementing that plan,” commented Long in an email to the Hinton Voice.

Hinton Mayor Marcel Michaels commented during the regular council meeting on June 25 that it’s rare when researchers, scientists, Parks Canada, elected officials, and industry are all on the same page, but that they all agree that after a harsh winter is when more efforts should go into bringing down the population.

“The idea is that this is when we attack the pine beetle the most, after a bad winter for the beetle that’s when you really want to make that impact,” he said, summarizing what he heard at an MPB meeting last week in Edmonton.

Based on winter survival, Jasper National Park saw 98 per cent mortality this year, confirmed David Argument, Jasper National Park’s resource conservation manager.

More trees will be turning red throughout this summer from last year’s attack, but the findings by Canadian Forest Services in the park show a decreasing MPB population, said Argument.

Results in the area of Hinton for mortality or MPB forecast have not been announced by Alberta Agriculture & Forestry (AAF). 

Surveys done in nine areas by AAF were completed and reviewed by June 15 but won’t be released until mid-July said Caroline Charbonneau, wildfire info officer in the Edson Forest Area. West Fraser also conducted 20 site surveys in the Hinton area, added Charbonneau.