December 7, 2006

B.C. Mayors Call for Federal Support to Help Land Owners Battle Pine Beetle


VANCOUVER (CP) - Three B.C. mayors are demanding the federal government help thousands of homeowners pay for removing mountain pine beetle-infested trees.

The mayors of Prince George, Kamloops and Kelowna told a news conference Thursday that Prime Minister Stephen Harper needs to help homeowners pay to have trees removed from their land.

"For many homeowners, the need to deal with these dead trees comes with a real financial cost," Kamloops Mayor Terry Lake said.

He estimated it will cost $15 million to remove approximately 25,000 infested ponderosa pine trees on private property in the Kamloops area.

The cost to landowners to remove the trees is between $200 and $2,000 each, depending on the size and location of the tree.

The mountain pine beetle epidemic covers about 8.5 million hectares, an area larger than New Brunswick.

The beetles destroy lodgepole pine by eating the inner bark and introducing a fungus that impedes water flow.

Earlier this year, Harper had promised British Columbia $1 billion over 10 years to deal with the beetle problem.

None of that money is going towards helping private landowners remove the infested trees from their properties.

Lake said Kamloops has "removed literally thousands of dead trees from Crown and public land, but this leaves the private homeowner out of the loop."

More than 90 per cent of the pine trees in Prince George and 70 per cent of those in Kelowna have been infested.

By the summer, Kelowna Mayor Sharon Shepard said she expects 90 per cent of the trees on private property will be infested.

The pine beetle hasn't only caused economic concerns amongst the mayors.

They are also worried about the safety of their constituents.

Mayor Colin Kinsley of Prince George said part of the federal money should go towards eliminating some of the hazards associated with the infestation.

Falling trees and fires - affected trees burn 10 times faster than healthy ones - are among the major dangers.

Kinsley also wants to see the province deal with long-term ramifications.

Funding has so far gone towards removing trees and not replanting.

"Without replanting we're going to get some serious erosion problems and flooding problems, flash floods."

In order to prevent another disaster, Kinsley said, the problem needs to be dealt with in "a holistic way and think about what's going to happen in the future."

And the future for taxpayers could look dim if the province doesn't received the money from Ottawa.

Lake said he doubted it would come down to citizens paying an increased tax, but "if we don't see that money coming, we may have to go that route."