Canadian Forest Service Publications

Possible Forest Futures: Balancing biological and social risks in mountain pine beetle epidemics. 2005. Kimmins, J.P.; Seely, B.; Welham, C.; Zhong, A. Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Pacific Forestry Centre, Victoria, BC. Mountain Pine Beetle Initiative Working Paper 2005-11. 57 p.

Year: 2005

Issued by: Pacific Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 25507

Language: English

Series: Mountain Pine Beetle Working Paper (PFC - Victoria)

Availability: PDF (download)

Mark record


Despite the fact that its severity and extent may reflect past fire control and contemporary human-enhanced climate change, the current mountain pine beetle (MPB) epidemic in British Columbia is part of the natural disturbance ecology of B.C.'s interior forests. The epidemic is more of a social issue than an environmental issue, although widespread salvaging of beetle-killed timber would raise the environmental profile of the epidemic. The complexity of questions involved in MPB policy development renders this issue a classical “wicked” problem, with all that this entails. Unless the complexity is explicitly addressed, policy with respect to the epidemic may raise as many problems as it solves. Policy should be developed in the context of a comprehensive conceptual model of the many facets of the issue and their inter-relationships. It should also reflect an understanding of the uncertainties concerning the future development of beetle-killed forest stands, because patterns of stand development will influence the temporal flow of values and environmental services from these stands. Comprehensive decision-support systems that explicitly address both social and environmental dimensions of the MPB issue are essential for coping with the complexity and uncertainty associated with policy development. Many of the components of such systems are available, but MPB policy-related research should be targeted to fill critical information gaps and support the development, validation and application of these decision-support systems for scenario and value tradeoff analyses. Successful application and use of these tools will require their linkage to user-friendly interfaces, output visualization systems, and data management systems to handle the diversity of predictions. Research should be targeted at their development. These MPB decision-support systems should be applied in a comparison of three possible policy paradigms: 1) a minimizing biological risk paradigm; 2) a minimizing social risk paradigm; and 3) a balanced risk approach involving zonation of forest lands into areas where biological risk would be minimized through management intervention, and areas where nature's natural cycles of disturbance would be permitted to operate largely unmanaged, and the associated social risks addressed through institutional arrangements and reforms. The first of these paradigms suggests “ecological engineering” through silviculture and management to “beetle proof” the affected forests and minimize the risks of other natural disturbances. This is very unlikely to be successful and would be very demanding on human and financial resources. It would threaten a variety of other forest values. The second paradigm accepts natural disturbance and modifies community economies and institutional arrangements to facilitate community and provincial response to the consequences of the disturbances in a way that minimizes negative social impacts. It is unlikely that a “social license” (public acceptance) could be obtained for this paradigm. The third paradigm combines the first two paradigms based upon a zonation of lands best suited to each of them. It balances biological risk and social risk. Evaluation of the optimum and socially acceptable balance would require scenario and value tradeoff analyses, which in turn would require the type of decision-support tools mentioned above.