Saturday, March 31, 2007

Is ethanol blend 'greener' than gasoline?

Does commercially available ethanol-blended fuel produce cleaner emissions than regular gasoline? Most people would think so.

The federal government has committed $2 billion in incentives for ethanol. Ethanol is made from crops such as wheat and corn.

What do the scientists say?

'Not much difference' say scientists at Environment Canada, who ran tests on four different vehicles. Looking at the tailpipe emissions from a greenhouse gas perspecive, there wasn't much difference between regular gasoline and 10% ethanol blend. They did find a reduction in carbon monoxide (which helps produce smog). Emissions from other gases, such as hydrocarbons, actually increased in some cases.

If you look at the big picture instead of just tailpipe emissions, however, there may be some benefits. Ethanol comes from a source that is a renewable resource (like forestry), and that has to be taken into account. Even at a 10% blend, that is 10% less oil and gas that has to be discovered and manufactured, which isn't a clean process itself. Almost anything that reduces the world's dependence on oil is probably a good thing at this stage of the game.

Also, if we are already at 10% blend, who is to say it can't get to 20%, 30%, etc. What will the results be then? Blended-fuel technology has to keep moving forward.

A year ago I never would have thought there would be this much public debate going on about green and environmental issues. It is one of the dominant issues in mainstream media now, probably because people are demanding change.

So in the end, it does help to look at the big picture.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Denver Post article on uses for Beetle killed trees

Interesting article from Colorado in the Denver Post - Dead trees turned to new uses

We want fires suppressed, loggers barred, our forests undisturbed. But the forest needs disturbance, says Ron Cousineau, assistant district forester for the Colorado State Forest Service.

Now we are faced with the dilemma of what to do with more than half a million dead trees on over 700,00 acres and a bare-bones logging industry. Property owners have nowhere to take infected trees. Slash piles burn everywhere.

local entrepreneurs have started turning blue-stained lumber into paneling, landscaping timbers, rails and posts - refusing to believe beetle-kill wood is worthless.

Biomass heat is one of many green options being considered for the new Grand County Courthouse due to break ground this spring.

Link to full article:

Strange Humanoid Encounter in Tofino?

Just heard about a possible 'bigfoot' sighting in Tofino. There is a short video clip of it on YouTube, which I've included below. It took place in July 2006. It's hard to make out what is in the clip, maybe a bear, but I thought I'd post it here for fun.

Humanoid encounter in Tofino

Pine Beetle education kits in BC Classrooms

Recent BC government news:

The Province and the Council of Forest Industries have teamed up to develop education kits for teaching secondary school students about the mountain pine beetle and how British Columbia is responding to the epidemic.

“Students want to know what’s happening with the mountain pine beetle,” said Forests and Range Minister Rich Coleman. “These kits provide the learning tools to teach them everything from how a beetle attacks a tree to the economic impacts of the epidemic and how to mitigate them.”

A teacher’s binder, classroom posters, video, slide show, vials containing adult beetles and larvae, and bark and wood samples are featured in the kits. The teacher’s binder includes a lesson plan, curriculum connections, activities list, glossary of beetle-related terminology, background notes, and links to other learning resources.

Students will learn through suggested activities such as research, written and oral reports, visual presentations, class discussions, guest speakers directly involved in pine beetle management, and field trips.

The mountain pine beetle education kits have been distributed to more than 90 school districts across the province.


This is a perfect opportunity to help students learn about bark beetle populations and their impacts on forests, especially while it's happening right in our own backyard. It's easier to learn something when it has a direct impact on you, or people you know.

Cariboo Chilcotin gets Mountain Pine Beetle funding

Recent news from the BC Government:

Communities in the Cariboo-Chilcotin will benefit from another $900,000 to help address the economic impacts of the mountain pine beetle infestation.

The Province is working closely with communities affected by the mountain pine beetle infestation to help them deal with the short-term effects of the infestation and encourage long-term economic stability.

The Cariboo-Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition will receive $900,000 to support economic diversification efforts. The Coalition received $1.6 million in 2005. Since then, the Coalition has worked to develop a comprehensive package of background reports and strategies to manage the beetle’s environmental, economic and social impacts. Most recently, the Coalition has developed a Secondary Wood Products Strategy, which aims to double the size of the sector by 2017.

The additional funding will allow the Coalition to complete its comprehensive Regional Community Economic Diversification Strategy for the Cariboo-Chilcotin region.

“The CCBAC is determined that our communities will not only survive the mountain pine beetle infestation but that we will prosper,” said 100 Mile House Mayor Donna Barnett, also the chair of the Cariboo-Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition. “This support and funding from the Province strengthens our ability to meet that challenge.”

The Cariboo-Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition includes representatives from the municipalities of 100 Mile House, Quesnel, Williams Lake, the Cariboo Regional District, and First Nations, and from the forest industry and conservation sectors.

The Province’s comprehensive Mountain Pine Beetle Action Plan is designed to mitigate the environmental and economic impacts of the infestation. For more information, or to download a copy, visit online.


It's great to see provincial and local governments thinking in the medium to long term. Many interior BC communities will start to feel pressure on their economies when the mountain pine beetle threat has passed, and lodgepole pine stands are depleted. Forestry drives the economic engine of many interior BC communities through mill jobs and logging jobs, and all the spinoff employment for companies that serve the forest industry. These communities should be working now to diversify their economies into non-forestry related industries, so the impact won't be so great from the expected downturn in forestry.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Mountain pine beetle benefits?

I just wanted to put out a question today and see what kind of response there is.

Is there any benefit to the mountain pine beetle?

We all know there are many negatives associated with the MPB, such as large amounts of dead forest, lost habitat for deer and wildlife, loss of pine trees in urban areas, effects on hydrology in watersheds, effects on visuals, economic effects, and so on.

Does anyone know of any instances where the MPB has had a positive impact?

The only examples I can think of are benefits to insect populations that invade the dead timber, and in turn this must provide more of a food source for birds and small mammals.

Anyone else, please comment?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

BC Government new Bill affects forest fires, forest activities

Here is some recent government forestry news that I thought was worth posting. It seems the government is focusing on three 'timely' subjects; forest fires, First Nations, and mountain pine beetle.

Announced on March 15

Under new provisions of the Forest and Range Practices Act, people causing damage that adversely affects an ecosystem, such as driving four-wheel drive vehicles in wetlands, or riding ATVs irresponsibly in alpine terrain or range lands, will face penalties of up to $100,000. Cases prosecuted in the criminal courts carry maximum fines of $100,000, up to one year in jail, or both.

Bill 18 also contains provisions to other statutes, including the Forest Act, Wildfire Act, Range Act and Forestry Revitalization Act to:

· enable local governments to reduce the threat of interface wildfires to their communities through changes to the Forestry Licence to Cut;

· streamline government’s ability to increase the volume and area of a First Nation tenure, and to protect potential Aboriginal rights and title;

· provide woodlot operators with greater operational flexibility to improve their economic stability; and

· make changes to provisions governing cutting permits to facilitate the prompt harvesting of mountain pine beetle-attacked timber.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Bald eagle nest discovered in Philadelphia

The first bald eagle nest has been found in the city of Philadelphia in more than 200 years. The location of the site is not being released because they don't want the nest disturbed. However, the site is being monitored. Officials aren't yet sure if the pair will successfully breed.

An official said that a nest within the city "demonstrates the resilience of this species and its apparent growing tolerance to human activity." Last year they had confirmed more than 100 bald eagle nests in the state of Pennsylvania for the first time in over a hundred years. Bald eagles have a threatened status in the state.

In April 2006, an eagle nest on Hornby Island in BC was broadcast over an internet webcam and attracted millions of online visitors wanting to see if the eggs would hatch.

Like the beaver in New York story earlier this year, it's great to see wildlife returning to areas where they have't been seen in a long time.

Ontario's boreal forest and global warming

A report released last week by Vancouver-based ForestEthics said continued logging of the intact boreal forest is contributing to increased carbon dioxide levels and accelerating climate change. It also suggests Ontario has to change its logging practices if it's serious about cutting harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Ontario Natural Resources minister David Ramsay countered that only two per cent of trees in northern Ontario are logged each year. Ramsay did clarify that the province does recognize the role the boreal forest can play in halting climate change, but he said the province doesn't have to change its logging practices.

Canada's boreal forest stretches across the northern part of Canada, covers millions of hectares, and contains spruce, fir, pine, and larch trees.

A few things I would consider in this debate include:

- Forestry is a renewable resource. All the areas harvested by companies must be restocked with new trees that will continue to benefit the fight against global warming. True, it takes time for the small seedlings to grow and reach the level of CO2 uptake from the previous forest. But consider that every year previously harvested areas are coming online with older forest, there is likely minimal net loss over the entire managed area.

- Wood and fibre create necessary products and jobs. This shouldn't be an overriding factor, but if there is less supply of wood to produce lumber, for example, where will companies turn to get their building materials? Steel? Cement? Plastic? Or some other chemical based product? Personally, I am more comfortable knowing that the wood I use for my own projects is coming from an area that is being managed to produce a new forest. Wood is also more easily recycled than other building materials. As for jobs and the economy, how can we fight global warming if we have a poor economy, especially due to job losses in a renewable sector?

- Harvesting below a sustainable rate leaves more forest available to insect attack and forest fire. We already know the mountain pine beetle is in Alberta, and threatening to enter the boreal forest. Spruce and fir have their own bark beetles too. Is it better to leave more aging forest standing than necessary? Older forests generally contain more fuels and are more susceptible to insect attack - while newly harvested and planted areas have a reduced fire hazard and less fuel to burn. If harvest levels are reduced, I think it could lead to more forest fires and more dead timber from insect attacks. And when wildfire and insects have passed through areas, who will restock them? Nature can take a long time to reforest areas on her own. The environmental groups? The government? It will take a lot of resources and money to reforest large areas where there has been no economic gain, and where there is standing and fallen dead timber to work around. How much CO2 is lost from forest fires and dead forest? With harvested areas, the company uses some of the revenue from the timber to manage and restock the area.

We have already seen what can happen with aging pine forests in BC in terms of insects and fire, and we will probably see more of it in summer 2007. Provincial and National Park boundaries mean nothing to fire and pests.

At this time, when global warming, insect attacks and wildfire are interacting and their effects on forests becoming more common, I would seriously consider what benefit is gained from preserving more susceptible forest in the hope that it will be there for decades to help fight global warming.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

New Leopard species discovered in Borneo

Who says there is nothing left to discover in this world?

I just read today that a new leopard species has been discovered, the clouded leopard of Borneo. It is an entirely new species that is unique to Borneo's rainforest.

Genetic tests showed that the clouded leopard of Borneo is a unique species of cat and is not the same as the leopard found in mainland Southeast Asia. Experts have known about the leopard for years, but never thought it was unique.

Another interesting fact about the clouded leopard is they have the longest canine teeth relative to body size of any cat.

In addition to the leopard, scientists recently identified over 50 new species of animals and plants in Borneo.

A total of 5,000 to 11,000 clouded leopards are estimated to live in the jungles of Borneo, and the total figure in Sumatra could be 3,000 to 7,000 individuals.

When I read a story like this, I wonder what else exists in our forests and oceans that still remains unknown?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Mountain Pine Beetle news

News out today has forestry specialists commenting on mountain pine beetle activity in BC. I would say some of the information reported is commonly known by most in the forest industry, but I thought it was still worth noting.

Attacking earlier: The pine beetles used to start their flight in July and August to begin their attack on pine trees. Now with the warmer winters, they start their flight as early as May, and may have more than one flight per year. When the flight started later in the year, attacked trees used to hold their green foliage over winter and start to turn red the following summer. When the attack starts earlier in the year, the foliage turns red in the same year.

Attacking younger pine stands: It used to be that the pine beetle would only attack mature pine, which generally have larger diameter and are 80 to 100+ years old. Researchers have found that the beetle now attacks younger and smaller pine trees. This means that areas with younger pine stands that were once thought to be safe are actually vulnerable.

Past the point of no return in BC: Researchers said that the pine beetle is now very well established and has spread too far for there to be any way to stop them. The populations have built up and the only thing that will end the infestation is the lack of pine forests. Unless there is some unforeseen event that stops the beetle, they will continue to attack the majority of the remaining pine forests in BC.

Hope for Alberta: Researchers said that although the pine beetle has become active in Alberta, it is still possible to suppress them if enough resources are employed.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Heavy rainfall, floods and washouts in BC

I guess it is that time of year again.

Heavy rainfall over the past weekend has caused flooding and washouts in the lower mainland and southeast parts of the province. A number of highway closures are in effect. Rainfall was measured at up to 200mm over a two day period around Vancouver.

Rivers around Vancouver were rising at a rate of 10 to 13cm per hour on Sunday. Environment Canada issued a flood warning for the Coquitlam and Nicomeckl rivers.

The weather has now changed with a dryer forecast ahead, but this is a good reminder to check the highway and weather reports if you are doing any traveling in BC at this time of year. Especially if there has been a period of continued rainfall. For example, two highway sections near Hope were closed for rockslides and mudslides. The highway between Golden and Revelstoke was closed for similar concerns.

Spring appears to be coming early, and snowpacks in the mountains are at their highest levels in years, if not decades. If we have a prolonged period of warm weather and rains, we could be in for another round of high water levels and debris slides.

As a side note, the logging industry usually slows down at this time of year, because roads become too soft and rains are more likely to cause runoff and sedimentation. Activities like ground based harvesting and hauling are normally shut down until dryer weather comes and forest roads firm up.

Friday, March 9, 2007

New Energy - Ground heat, Waste wood, Underground CO2

Every time you turn around these days you learn of new technologies being developed to encourage cleaner energy and less waste. A year ago I never would have thought that clean energy would be such a hot topic in mainstream media.

Just today, three stories on seperate news channels caught my eye.

The first was a story about a former BC environment minister who is building a house in BC. Instead of using only natural gas or electricity to heat the house, which would cost hundreds of dollars per month (it's a 9000 sq ft home), they are using ground geothermal heat. Once you get a few feet underground the temperature remains constant year round, and well above freezing. Basically, they are digging trenches in the back yard about 6 feet deep, laying pipes that contain liquid, and the system will be used to heat the home at a cost of under $100 per month. And the ground heat is always there, an endless source of clean energy. I've heard of this being done in the US, but not in BC. If this were done on a large scale imagine the energy savings, both in dollars and environmentally.

The second story was about using waste wood, say from mountain pine beetle killed timber, or wood scraps from sawmills, as a source for clean energy. They are developing ways that wood can be used to create energy without causing the harmful smoke and CO2 emissions normally associated with wood burning. We have a huge potential supply of waste wood as a result of harvesting in BC. This is wood that is not large enough to mill, or has rot, leftover pieces from mills, and wood that is not suitable for cutting or wanted by pulp mills. Currently, we use the wood that is economic and the rest is discarded, burned, or left on site. Forest operations could become more efficient in the future - we'll continue to use what's conventionally economic, waste wood can go to create clean energy, and a new forest gets established on logged areas that will help to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

The third story involved the oil industry. Again, new technology is coming along that will allow CO2 emissions produced by the oil industry to be pumped underground. The news story said once the CO2 is underground, it would stay forever. As a bonus, the CO2 can also be used to help extract oil deposits - which may put less pressure on water or natural gas, two compounds that are used now to help extract oil but can not afford to be wasted.

I am not a specialist on these new clean energy strategies, but I look forward to seeing them used on a large scale.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Mountain pine beetle and hydrology

Just heard on the news today - researchers have reported how the mountain pine beetle epidemic is affecting hydrology in our watersheds.

Researchers have shown that when pine trees are killed, more light reaches the ground which in turn kills mosses on the forest floor. Mosses are responsible for retaining up to 50% of moisture that falls through the forest canopy. When the mosses are gone, the excess water runs off hillsides, creating more erosion and sedimentation than previously occurred. This will have serious impacts in areas where watersheds are used for drinking water, or where fisheries values are high.


For my own side note, when pine forests are killed off their root systems no longer act to soak up moisture from the ground. This causes water tables to rise and compounds the problem identified by the researchers. That is the benefit of harvesting these pine stands where possible - forest companies are legally required to reforest areas they have logged, so forest cover will return sooner and hydrology will gradually improve. If areas of dead pine are left on their own, a new forest can take many more years to establish, plus you have the threat of a high amount of dry forest fuels that could lead to wildfire.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Pine Beetle infestation doubles in Alberta

Recent news reports that the mountain pine beetle infestation has doubled in Alberta, from 1.5 million trees to 3.0 million trees, in just the past year.

The increase is blamed on strong winds last summer that helped carry beetles from BC into Alberta. Also, warmer winters are no longer able to kill off enough of the beetle population.

At that rate, you have to question what the Alberta government can do to mitigate the problem. How fast can they plan to build roads, harvest areas, and utilize the wood? Do they have the resources to deal with huge wildfires that will likely occur in the dead, dry forests that can't be harvested? Human resources are already tight in Alberta due to the oil boom, so where will the forestry workers come from?

What's more alarming is that infested trees have been found near Slave Lake, which is close to the boreal forest. If the beetle is able to advance farther north and east, they could spread all the way to Newfoundland and Labrador.

Forestry is the third lasgest industry in Alberta, behind oil and agriculture, and the continued spread of mountain pine beetle will have massive impacts on forest companies and communities that depend on the forest resource.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Careers in Forestry - shortage of workers

What is the future of the forestry worker?

From everything I've heard, we will have a huge shortage of forestry workers in BC in the coming years. How did this come about?

Firstly, many people currently working in forestry are nearing retirement. Those baby boomers are starting to hit the retirement age, and there are lots of them! As they leave the workforce, they will create many openings. This is also happening in other industries and will be a Canada-wide problem.

In the early 2000's, the forest industry entered one of it's cyclical downturns. There were too many workers and not enough work. Many people exited the industry and found jobs in other areas of the economy. The future outlook was bad. Young people entering college and university didn't see forestry as a viable career. Who wants to graduate and not find work, when there are so many other options?

Declining enrollment in forestry programs has now led to many educational institutions cancelling or cutting back their forestry faculties.

So now we are left in the position of a huge retirement wave coming, along with lesser capabilities of producing the qualified, educated forestry workers the industry will need. Right now it seems that we are just at the beginnning of this scenario, and already I'm seeing and hearing about companies that can't find extra workers. I believe the worst is still to come.

A similar case can be made for the workers who actually go out and build roads, cut trees, and haul wood. Who will replace them when they enter their well-deserved retirement years? Interesting, on one road building crew last year I met one individual who was well into his later 60's, if not 70's, but he is still there because he loves the forestry life!

Thursday, March 1, 2007

2007 Gypsy Moth Treatment Planned in Courtenay, BC

I just read a news release on a planned gypsy moth treatment in BC. I've included parts of the release below, in between the dashed lines. With environmental awareness the highest it's probably ever been, aerial spray programs usually get people concerned about the pros and cons.


The Ministry of Environment has approved aerial spraying for an isolated infestation of gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) in Courtenay this spring.

The planned treatment consists of three aerial applications of Foray 48B between April 15 and June 30, 2007 to control the moth. Foray 48B contains Bacillus thuringiensis var. Kurstaki (Btk), a naturally occurring, soil-based organism that only impacts caterpillars that eat sprayed leaves. Btk is naturally present in urban, forest and agricultural soil around the province. It has been approved to control gypsy moth larvae since 1961.

Treatment dates are weather-dependent and will be advertised closer to the first application date. Each treatment application will be completed before 7:30 a.m. The Ministry of Forests and Range will advise of spray dates one week and 24 hours before spraying begins.

Large gypsy moth populations defoliated sections of forests and residential areas in Ontario and the eastern U.S. in recent years and pose a threat to the province’s forests, orchards and urban trees. The moths are unintentionally brought to B.C. on vehicles, trains and materials from affected areas in eastern North America on an ongoing basis. The presence of moths can pose a quarantine threat and in 1999 resulted in the U.S. threatening to refuse shipments of trees and plants from B.C.’s nurseries without additional certifications.


According to wikipedia, Bt is included in specific insecticides under trade names such as Dipel and Thuricide. Because of their specificity, these pesticides are regarded as environmentally friendly, with little or no effect on humans, wildlife, pollinators, and most other beneficial insects.

It seems that Bacillus thuringiensis is really not a threat to anything but the moths. Carefully planned aerial spraying, especially on such a small scale as this, shouldn't pose any harm to people or animals. I remember living on campus at the University of BC in the early 90's, when some similar spray programs were going on over the Point Grey area. It was a bit unsettling hearing the planes flying overhead and knowing they were broadcast spraying, but knowing the science behind Bt helps. Much better than risking the spread of the gypsy moth to BC's orchards, city trees and forests. We've already seen what the mountain pine beetle has done to pine trees in urban and rural areas, and we don't need a repeat scenario with an insect that attacks other species of trees.