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  • Biodiversity creates stability in our forests

    James Steidle

    A look at the tortured history of post-fire forest management in a cutblock near Tabor Mountain in BC’s interior.


    ONE DEFINITION OF INSANITY I'VE heard is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.   

    And yet that’s exactly what the Ministry of Forests is doing up on Tabor Mountain with taxpayer money in their various reforestation schemes.

    Well, almost. But this is a pretty succinct summary of forest management, past and present, so bear with me.

    Back in 1961, two massive wildfires swept over Tabor Mountain, the Tsus Fire and the Grove Fire, which between them amounted to 35,389 hectares of burnt out forest.  Almost immediately, government started with its “rehabilitation” efforts, which of course meant planting conifer trees and suppressing the all-important deciduous regeneration- the aspen, birch, and cottonwood, with either herbicides or brush saws.

    They didn’t do that everywhere, and that’s why Tabor Mountain has so many beautiful aspen and birch forests supporting so much wildlife, which also serves as a natural fire break.

    But up the Frost Lake Road, off the Willowcale, you can find research forest plots where various experiments were undertaken to interfere with the natural cycle and do what humans love to do- pretend they know better than nature.

    One such area is the one you see below, a small opening in block # 118500000, or 93G 078 0.0 6, for those of you who enjoy digging around the RESULTS database where silvicultural history is recorded.




    And this block has a history, let me tell you. Taxpayers have spent a lot of money on this one.  It was planted three times in the 1960s, along with one attempt at aerial seeding.  Then in 1982 and 1983 and again in 1986, they backpack sprayed and hack and squirted the broadleaf.  And don’t forget the surveys. Between 1966 and 1989 the block was surveyed 13 times.

    Then disaster struck. 

    In the 2000s, as we all know, the pine beetle took off.  And as we know, it didn’t just hunt the old pine.  It hunted the 40-year-old pine too.  And in much of this cutblock, those younger pine died in large numbers as well.  Especially where it was pure pine.

    All that wasted work growing those pine-dominated plantations.

    But surely we wouldn’t give up on such a great idea just because of one little pine beetle. We had to try doing the exact same thing all over again.

    So in 2015, four years after it was fertilized with helicopters at great cost, Forests for Tomorrow sent in some machinery on the public dime to bulldoze the dead pine patches, burn it, and start all over again. These areas were replanted the next year.

    Recently I got some secret maps that show they want to brush these replanted patches, meaning cut down all the young aspen, birch and willow. It might be your money, but they don’t show us where they want to waste it. 

    In forestry’s reductive mind, the forest is battleground of competition, and anything that isn’t a “crop” tree is a weed, and must be exterminated.

    But the broadleaf is not a problem for the moose, who are in here in large number eating the stuff and fertilizing the soil.  Nor is it much of a problem for the spruce and fir, which is what they mostly planted.  We know spruce can do OK under the broadleaf.  And a recent government report says aspen is good for Douglas fir survival. Nor is broadleaf a problem for fire-resistancebiodiversity, and watershed function. It’s mostly a problem for the pine.  

    Forestry is starting to get it, but not quite. Although this place was planted with only 28% pine, a definite improvement over the usual 60-80% pine mix, eliminating the aspen and birch will simply increase the success and proportion of pine at the expense of spruce and fir, while reducing moose, wildlife, carbon sequestration and fire-resistance.

    Is that what we want?

    Forests for Tomorrow, now called the Forest Investment Program, has been doing these pointless pro-pine, anti-aspen and anti-Douglas fir treatments all across our region in recent years, including in the 2015 Bobtail burn.

    If we are trying to grow less pine and more spruce and Douglas fir, spending your money brushing is the wrong way to go about it.  And the forests say the same thing.

    Last week when I bushwhacked into this block, b-lining through the old burn, I noticed the diverse forests that weren’t intensively managed were doing great. Would you believe it, nature knew how to recover on its own! The odd pine had died, but because it was a mixed forest with all seven species of trees, with many birch and aspen, the pine beetle had a minimal impact.

    Biodiversity creates stability. The lesson was there for all to see.

    So why would we be spending more public money reducing diversity when that didn’t work last time around? Not to mention these treatments will also increase the risk of wildfire and help starve out moose?

    Maybe the government figures the rules are different for them.  Maybe doing the same thing and expecting a different result is a special privilege only government can enjoy.

    I certainly hope it isn’t about wasting your money to undermine our forests, simply because they can.

    James Steidle is a writer, woodworker and founder of Stop The Spray BC.

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