“Mature” hemlock and Douglas fir typical of second-growth being harvested on the Discovery Islands
Attn: Colin Koszman/ Land Use Forester, Molly Hudson/ Director of Sustainability
I STARTED OUT IN MY WORKING LIFE in the late ’60s, surveying cutblocks and new roads with MacMillan Bloedel on many of the lands now being managed by Mosaic—up in the headwaters of the Oyster, the Quinsam, the Campbell, the Eve and the Salmon. I witnessed the last of the valley bottom old growth being logged, magnificent cedar groves that would now be considered a national treasure, and saw the montaine plateaus of Mountain Hemlock, Yellow Cedar and Western Yew before anyone had touched them.
Since then, I’ve watched pretty much everything on the private managed forest land of Vancouver Island get mowed down, even where regeneration is poor, and especially in the second growth stands that were nowhere near reaching maturity. And now in an act of insanity even the third growth “pecker poles”. It’s no secret to anyone paying attention that our overcut forests are in ecological decline. It’s an easy concession now for your industry to set aside some token old growth remnants, since these areas are just the hard to reach “guts and feathers” of the great forests that once existed all over this part of the coast. But the greater crime of liquidation is now happening in immature forests. We have gone from that heroic age of the Tall Timber Jamboree to an age of weasely politicians promoting chopstick factories, in less than one human lifetime.
I’ve spent the last 40 years woodworking and homebuilding here on Cortes, and have watched the quality of native wood species plummet as its price keeps climbing. I’ve watched the sapwood in anything made just rot away, since it’s sugar content quickly attracts fungi and insects. I’ve noticed powder worms find their way into the widely spaced grain of second growth fir and cedar heartwood, whereas the tighter grain of resinous old growth was impervious.
What shocks me most about the simultaneous decline of professional forestry on the coast is this complete ignorance about wood quality. Foresters seem to be operating on the obsolete myth that an 80 year old Douglas Fir or Red Cedar is a “mature” tree, when it is really just an adolescent. At the “culmination age” of mean annual increment, these trees may be growing volume at their fastest rate, but that also means that the sapwood layer is also at it’s maximum volume in the tree. In other words, trees harvested at this age may be up to 50 percent sapwood that has no endurance, no longevity in wood products. Even the heartwood is unstable and full of knots. What an incredible waste of potential. What a sad lack of patience!
Just under half of the volume of this 95-year-old tree was low-value, non-durable sapwood (lighter coloured wood on left) around the time it was harvested
In an age of accelerating climate change, the best terrestrial carbon sinks that we must take care of are our native forests. Here on the coast, where the risk of fire is less than in the Interior, the capacity to store a huge amount of carbon at landscape levels is more achievable, and must be seen as the highest priority and professional responsibility among coastal foresters.
I’m not saying we need to stop harvesting trees, but that we must let them grow a lot older before doing so. We need to adopt a holistic forest management regime that aims for three crucial goals at once—high carbon capture in a biodiverse ecosystem with many old growth attributes, high carbon storage in mature durable wood products and high quality artifacts, and the economic perpetuation of good honest forestry and our inherited multitude of traditional woodworking crafts.
What professional foresters must not continue to do is steal the young forests and future forest livelihoods from all our grandchildren, just to keep adults in luxury, while simultaneously spouting the deceptive language of sustainability. The current rapid liquidation of the immature second and third growth forests on the BC coast is just that, a trans-generational crime of grand theft that I hope will not go unpunished.