Striving for Sustainability and Resilience in the Face of Unprecedented Change: The Case of the Mountain Pine Beetle Outbreak in British Columbia
A massive insect outbreak in the public forests of central British Columbia (Canada) poses a serious challenge for sustainable forest management planning. Tree mortality caused by natural disturbances has always been a part of wild and managed forests, but climate change is accentuating the uncertainty around such losses. Policy responses to accelerate overall timber harvesting levels to prevent further tree mortality and to aggressively salvage value from dead wood before it deteriorates can be disruptive and even counter-productive in the long run. Current alternatives are to strategically redirect existing timber harvesting quotas to the most vulnerable areas, minimize overall uplifts in cutting activity, prolong the period over which harvested timber can be processed, avoid the harvesting of mixed species stands or those with good advance regeneration, employ more partial cutting or “selective logging” techniques, and relax standards for acceptable species and inter-tree spacing during post-disturbance stand recovery. At the same time, careful attention to species composition and evolving landscape risk profiles may facilitate adaptation to anticipated climate change and reduce vulnerability to future disturbances. Harvest levels must be set conservatively over the full planning horizon if it is important to assure continuity of the timber supply with few disruptions to regional socio-economics and less stress to ecosystems. Broader lessons in sustainability include the option to emphasize persistence, continuity and flexibility over the long term, though at the expense of maximized production and full resource utilization in the short term.
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