Jim Snetsinger has the future of B.C.’s biggest industry resting squarely on his shoulders. As B.C.'s chief forester, he decides how many trees can be cut down each year.
Typically, the job is pretty, well, cut and dried. A team of scientists feed forestry data into computers; the computers generate projections decades into the future, and the chief forester signs off on a harvesting schedule that satisfies industry’s demand for raw material while guaranteeing sustainable forests. When environmentalists started chaining themselves to trees, things got a little interesting. But those days are, for the most part, behind us. Today Snetsinger finds himself facing challenges no other chief forester has had to confront. Front and centre is the mountain pine beetle infestation that is devastating a significant swath of our interior forests. That, in itself, however, is nothing new – bugs have been around forever. Where Snetsinger differs from his predecessors, and from many of his industry colleagues, is in confronting the bigger picture. By publicly acknowledging global warming, Snetsinger has pointed to the elephant in the room that most in the industry prefer to ignore. On May 23, Snetsinger released a report titled Preparing for climate change: Adapting to impacts on British Columbia’s forest and range resources. It squarely cites climate change as “a very significant risk to B.C.’s forest and range resources,” and includes 13 recommendations for addressing the risk. “I thought it was time to start to think about how we position the ministry to prepare for climate change and the role that we play in managing the forest and range resources of the province,” Snetsinger explains. He knows of no other jurisdiction that has openly confronted the implications of climate change for the forestry industry. The son of a hardware store owner in Cornwall, Ontario, Snetsinger completed a degree in forestry at the University of Toronto before moving to Prince George in 1979 to join a forestry consulting company. He came to Vancouver in 1981 to work for BC Hydro, and joined the Ministry of Forests in 1986. He was named chief forester in November 2004, and today lives in Prince George, but also has an office in Victoria. In addition to determining the annual allowable cut for B.C.’s 71 forest regions, Snetsinger’s responsibilities include overseeing legislation governing forestry and directing the Ministry of Forests and Range’s scientific research. But it’s amidst the trees and the bugs that he feels most comfortable. “Actually, I’m going out in the woods tomorrow,” he says cheerfully over the phone from Prince George. After discoursing solemnly for 20 minutes on the science of forestry and the ministry’s chain of command, a boyish enthusiasm lifts his voice as he describes plans to be helicoptered into the remotest sections of the province’s northern forests.