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A con-air plane drops fire retardant on a forest fire in British Columbia in 2010. The B.C. government wants the private sector to help plant trees on Crown land, in a program announced June 28, 2013.

B.C. Forest Service

The British Columbia government wants the private sector to help plant trees on Crown land.

Under the B.C. Forest Carbon Partnership Program, announced on Friday, private-sector companies would pay to replant land after a forest fire or a mountain pine beetle infestation.

In return, such investors would be in line for a carbon offset credit that could have value in the global carbon offset market.

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According to the province, the program could result in "more than one million trees being planted in the province over the next five years."

B.C. forests cover about 55 million hectares – an area bigger than Spain – and account for about 60 per cent of the land base.

The lion's share of the forests – 95 per cent – is on public property and owned by the province.

Over the past decade or so, wildfires and a record-breaking infestation of the mountain pine beetle have left up to one million hectares of land, the province says, in need of "new and innovative reforestation solutions."

The success of the private-sector project will likely hinge on the market value of carbon offsets, said Ben Parfitt, a resource policy analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

"This thing only flies if there is a high price for carbon," Mr. Parfitt said on Friday. "The only entity right now paying a high price is the Pacific Carbon Trust – and there have been all kinds of questions raised about the effectiveness of forest projects that have so far been supported with public dollars.

"So the big question is who is going to pay for these things and is the price going to be sufficient to make it work."

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The Pacific Carbon Trust is a crown corporation set up in 2008 to meet B.C.'s carbon-neutral goals.

In March, former B.C. auditor-general John Doyle found the majority of offsets bought to meet the goals in 2010 were "not credible." One of the projects he examined was the Darkwoods Forest Carbon project in southeastern B.C.

He found that project – which involved setting aside a large area of timber from harvesting – would likely have gone ahead without revenue from the sale of carbon credits and said both projects he studied "received $6-million in revenue for something that would have happened anyway."

Pacific Carbon Trust challenged Mr. Doyle's methods and conclusions.

According to a backgrounder provided by the province, natural tree growth and decay made B.C.'s forests net carbon sinks – which means they absorbed more carbon than they emitted, until 2003.

But fires and the mountain pine beetle have made B.C. forests net carbon sources.

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The end result is an increasing amount of land considered to be not satisfactorily restocked, Mr. Parfitt said.

The program would target lands outside existing restocking programs.

"The program does not replace existing silviculture or reforestation programs, but supplements it," the ministry said.

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