|Pipestone Inlet near Ucluelet, from BC Ministry of Forests, Mines and Lands|
Unnoted last week amid the political confusion, British Columbians lost a venerable institution. After a proud, 80-year history, the research branch of the Ministry of Forests and Range was disbanded. It is ironic, in the government's self-declared Year of Science, that it should dismantle such an internationally respected scientific institution.
B.C. is a world leader in many areas of forest research. Our excellent reforestation record, forest genetics program, long-term growth and yield experiments, forest growth models and ecologically based biogeoclimatic classification system were founded on sound science and are the envy of many countries.
The research was conducted collaboratively by provincial, federal, university, industrial and community institutions. Scientists from each of these institutions have distinct priorities and capabilities, and one cannot replace the other. University and industry scientists cannot provide the continuity and long-term commitment needed for some types of forest research.
The loss of a united, cohesive research branch is a loss to us all.
At a time when the need for forest research is pressing, the government's lack of support is baffling. In the past two years, the Forest Investment Account forest science program has been cut, eliminating competitive funding for forest researchers in all institutions, and the research branch suffered layoffs of approximately 25 per cent of its staff. Last week, the final blow was to disperse the remaining staff in the research branch to four separate ministries.
Climate change is already having dramatic impacts on our forests, with more likely to come and the forest industry is in an obvious state of change. B.C. needs to position itself to maintain healthy, productive forests providing sustainable ecosystems and raw materials for a diversified forest industry. This can only be achieved through sound basic and applied research and monitoring built on long-term vision.
No rationale has been given for the drastic changes within the Ministry of Forests and Range. Doubtless, government ministries, like trees, are improved by judicious pruning. A tree cut off at its roots, however, does not bear fruit.