Nuts, crazy, gone wild; British Columbia’s battle against the mountain pine beetle has been described many different ways. But when Josef Doerig, owner of Nechako Lodge and Aviation near Vanderhoof, describes it, he uses words like ‘carte blanche’ and ‘really bad’. However, he views the beetle problem as part of a larger issue, and he’s fighting back.
“We’re fighting for our life,” he says. “Hundreds of kilometers of roads are being put into the wilderness every year, making a lot of areas accessible that should be set aside for wildlife and biodiversity.”
In an effort to clear the forests of the trees (the beetles are almost all gone by now), the province has increased the annual allowable cut three fold in the Vanderhoof area, Doerig says. “We’re losing our wilderness really fast right now. The forest can’t take it.”
When he started his fishing lodge and charter flights to remote lakes 18 years ago, he had more than 100 lakes to choose from, all in total isolation, far from any roads. Clients from all over the world came to Nechako Lodge, or flew to one of the remote lakes nearby to enjoy some of the best rainbow trout fishing in the world. Then the mountain pine beetles spread across the pine forests of the interior of the province, destroying substantial portions; as trees become essentially dead once the beetles are finished with them. If the tree rots, it becomes worthless to the forest industry, but not worthless to wilderness tourism. In an effort to extract value out of the trees, the province increased the annual cut and logging companies rushed in, cutting roads and forests along the way.
Now, out of those 100 odd lakes that Doerig used to fish, there are only a handful that do not have a logging road or are clear-cut right to the water’s edge. “We can’t do business like we used to,” he says. “Our clientele has changed. We can’t sell our fly in places anymore.”
Doerig worries that in a few years all the trees will be cut and the logging companies will pack up and leave, with nothing but clear cuts in their wake. “We have to be on our toes so they don’t leave us with a whole mess,” he says.
Nechako Lodge isn’t alone in its views on the mountain pine beetle problem. Together with 13 other outfitters and lodges, they founded the Upper Nechako Wilderness Council, to lobby for setting aside a few wilderness areas that would be left out of the war against the pine beetle. Working with several provincial Ministries, the coalition has identified areas of value to the tourism operators. “Now we try and negotiate with the forest licensees to ear mark those areas for tourism,” Doerig says. “They really don’t have to, but we hope they will.”
If everything goes well the selected areas should be set aside by this fall. They will be wilderness areas for the general public and people like Doerig to bring clients to and to enjoy, as well as protected pieces of an ecosystem at work. “The mountain pine beetle trees are mostly dead wood,” he says, “but that doesn’t mean the forest is dead.”
PHOTOS © NECHAKO LODGE