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  • Portal: Ecologically damaging forestry practices

    James Steidle
    In BC, forestry has evolved to use aggressive practices that might be suited to agricultural settings but are degrading natural forest ecosystems and creating dangerous outcomes. Consider the war on aspen.

    A helicopter sprays glypophosate on a young conifer plantation.
    I GREW UP IN PUNCHAW, in the middle of the Quesnel-Vanderhoof-Prince George triangle, on a ranch. I watched unbroken forests of pine, spruce, aspen and fir get harvested at a sane rate, feeding a small local mill, Clear Lake, where my dad worked as a machinist and where I worked in the late 1990s on the green chain and the strip pile.
    But the pine beetle came along, and things changed. Rules seemed to get thrown out the window. I would later learn the significance of the elimination of the Forest Practices Code and its replacement with the Forest Range and Practices Act in the early 2000s. But that’s not what I noticed. I noticed an unmistakeable change in the attitude towards our forests. Progress to selective logging in the late 1990s evaporated. Maybe folks thought what was the point of being careful, the beetle will just get it anyway. Industrial forestry went into overdrive. The machines got bigger, the mills got bigger, and the forests got levelled. This idea is still dominant. That if we don’t take it, nature will. But we have learned this is fundamentally harmful—an idea which we have so much work to do to correct.
    I watched the forests try to regenerate. I even planted a bunch of them as a treeplanter. Most places saw a huge blossoming of aspen, as we had watched for decades and expected. Historically, a lot of the aspen was left alone. But the new generation of foresters had different ideas. I would later attribute this to broader global trends towards austerity, neoliberalism, the absolute maximization of shareholder value, maybe inspired by Thatcherism and Reaganomics. A new dogma of corporate subjugation. Bend the forests to the will of global capital. And so a massive campaign of spraying deciduous plants with glypophosate broke out in our area around 2000, led primarily by Canfor and a handful of thoughtless foresters.
    Eventually, they sprayed up to the boundary of our property and at this time I came face to face with this silent killer that would come unobserved at dawn in the form of a helicopter and change the forest forever.
    This was in 2010. I started to pay more attention to the grey expanse of dead aspen in the sprayed blocks. I attempted to write a freelance article about it. The article was never published and I ended up being an activist, I guess you could call it. Though my goal has been to report the truth as a journalist should. My research went into the Stop the Spray BC website. What followed has been a disorienting, demoralizing descent into the dark heart of bureaucratic madness and stupidity. But also a journey of discovery and hope, not least of which was the realization I wasn’t alone. That there was, and is, a community of people committed to something our own government and public employees were not: forestry based not on the principles of agriculture and pseudoscience, but upon the principles of ecology, biodiversity, and reality.
    “The war on aspen” is my particular area of expertise that has come of this and what I hope to contribute to this community of change. But, of course, the war is not just limited to aspen. Other critical species like birch, cottonwood, alder, maple, Saskatoon and willow are also targeted.
    Ultimately what it is, is a fraudulent, deceptive form of accounting. If we can max out the theoretical growth of the crop trees by eliminating competition and short-circuiting succession, we can cut more today. It is a scheme of defrauding the ecosystem out of more than it can give. There are obvious losers. Species that depend on aspen and other deciduous being the prime examples: Moose, beaver, many species of birds, diverse insect populations, diverse plant communities. Without the aspen the whole forest understory is transformed, and this transformation will last for the duration of the forest’s life. All these species are defrauded. But we also defraud ourselves. By getting rid of the aspen we make our forests more likely to burn, less diverse in the face of insect attacks, and less capable of sequestering carbon. A recent study has shown that aspen sequester up to 400 percent more carbon than spruce over 100 years. The aspen will also cool down the landscape, as it has significantly higher albedo, and will gather more precipitation throughfall and hang onto that water better, and will fertilize the soil with leaf litter and richer mycorrhizae. It goes on and on and much of this we barely understand.
    Suzanne Simard had documented all of this for decades before I started investigating it. Federal government researchers in the American West have thoroughly compiled much of this stuff for a century. We know aspen has incredible ecosystem benefits. And despite knowing all this, the forests ministry blindly continues with the war on aspen.
    The only explanation is that we are so committed to the fraud of modern “sustainable” forestry that we will intentionally and knowingly devalue our forests and make them more likely to fail. It’s basically white-collar crime that is legally protected. We have created complex and boilerplate legal parameters that prevent any independent investigation of it. The Forest Practices Board is under no legal obligation to determine whether the systematic eradication of aspen in our forests is a problem. It is not within their mandate to investigate the wisdom of systematically making our forests more prone to fire or pest outbreaks. In fact the Board is more likely to reprimand a licensee for not getting rid of enough aspen! For not making it as big of a fire-trap as it could be! It goes without saying that there are no laws or statutes that protect aspen. One-hundred percent of all aspen in every cutblock across the entire central Interior under every major forest stewardship plan can get wiped out. The fact that some aspen survives is in spite of the rules, not because of them.
    The war on aspen is such a fundamental fraud and scientific deceit that no one will take responsibility for it. The companies that spray say the government makes them do it. The policy makers in Victoria say the district managers could declare aspen a commercial species. The district managers say Victoria ties their hands as to what is defined as commercial or not. They inevitably send you back to the company. “Professional reliance,” after all. The private companies have effectively privatized our forests. They manage them. From horizon-to-horizon clearcuts to horizon-to-horizon pine plantations. We did that so we don’t have to do any work, is the government’s argument. Now leave us alone.
    Several other commonly used forestry practices are similarly harmful to ecological integrity. Replanting with a single commercially attractive species is putting large areas of forest at risk of succumbing to the same disease. Replanting with commercially attractive species instead of species naturally adapted to a particular area has led to massive failures to regrow. Allowing permanent, ballasted roads and landings has resulted in permanent losses of forestland of between 5 and 10 percent. Logging of areas burned by forest fires has negative impacts on species adapted to those burned forests. Beetle salvage logging has resulted in total forest loss in areas where only a small fraction of the forest had been affected by beetles. And so on.
    It’s a sad state of affairs. Someone is making political decisions about what our landscapes look like, impacting the lives of many people, and nobody wants to be seen as responsible for it.
    How do we get to a different place, where logging companies cutting publicly-owned forests are constrained from inflicting the harm to ecosystems being committed under the current regime of high-intensity industrial forestry and professional reliance? You tell me.
    James Steidle grew up south of Prince George in the bush and worked as a treeplanter for 3 years and in Clear Lake Sawmills for 4 years.  He currently runs a woodworking company and works with aspen wherever he can. He is a founder of Stop the Spray B.C.

    Conservation North
    Salvage logging webinar with experts from BC and the US.
     Prince George, BC – What are the effects of salvage logging on wildlife, communities and the climate? These questions and more will be answered by a panel of five experts from BC and the US at a free webinar next week called Gaming the ecosystem: the truth about salvage logging. The event will  feature Dakelh strategic advisor Seraphine Munroe of the Maiyoo Keyoh Society, and Drs. Karen Price, Diana Six, Phil Burton and Dominick DellaSala.
     Salvage logging is the practice of industrially logging forests that have undergone fire or insect disturbances.  It is usually done in primary (never-logged) forests. The BC government streamlined the process of salvage logging this spring, which has alarmed members of the public and groups concerned about watershed health and nature.
     Conservation North spokesperson Michelle Connolly explained: “Salvage logging is a controversial practice and we are quite proud of having pulled together a panel of this caliber, all of whom have direct experience with and knowledge of the impacts of salvage logging primary forests.” The webinar is hosted by four interior-based groups: the Interior Watershed Task Force, the Fraser Headwaters Alliance, Conservation North (all volunteer-based community groups) and Wildsight (an environmental non-governmental organization).
     “We’re concerned about the effects the BC government’s new salvage logging program might have on  biodiversity,” explains Eddie Petryshan of Wildsight. Taryn Skalbania of the Interior Watershed Task Force added: “What is the risk to community drinking water of industrial-scale salvage logging? BC needs to answer these questions before bringing in sweeping forest policies that will degrade primary forests further.”
     Gaming the ecosystem: the truth about salvage logging
    Monday, July 15, 2024
    7:00 pm PST
    Registration required: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_NU27SyBdTveh8lmMZFKCww#/registration
    Webinar speaker biographies:
    Seraphine Munroe is a proud Dakelh and Sto:lo First Nations member. She serves as a strategic advisor and provides technical support for Indigenous Forest management collaboration initiatives. With a deep commitment to addressing the cumulative effects of large-scale logging practices, Seraphine works to ensure that Indigenous perspectives are integral to forest management practices, especially in the context of climate change and necessary changes in governing systems. On a personal side, Seraphine spends her free time on the land, cabin building, hunting, fishing, and being with family.

    Karen Price is an independent ecologist based near Smithers BC on unceded Witsuwit’en Territory. She has worked on old growth and land-use policy for 25 years, aiming to bring science and transparency to decisions. Karen focuses on how to maintain ecological resilience given cumulative effects of management and climate. Peer reviewed publications address old growth species from epiphytic lichens to stream insects and birds, forest structure, ecosystem-based management and the status of BC’s old growth.

    Diana Six is a professor of forest entomology and pathology at the University of Montana. She is a fellow of the Royal Entomological Society and a recipient of the E.O. Wilson Award. She has degrees in microbiology, agriculture, and entomology and chemical ecology. Her research is broadly focused on the ecology and evolution of bark beetles, including how bark beetle outbreaks influence forests and may accelerate their adaptation to a changing climate.

    Phil Burton is an Emeritus Professor with the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management at the University of Northern British Columbia. His research has focused on vegetation dynamics associated with the disturbance and recovery of BC forests following natural and human disturbances, resulting in publication of more than 100 journal articles and book chapters. He was coauthor of the 2008 Island Press book, “Salvage Logging and its Ecological Consequences".

    Dominick A. DellaSala is Chief Scientist at Wild Heritage, and former President of the Society for Conservation Biology, North America Section. He is an internationally renowned author of >300 peer-reviewed papers and 9 award-winning books on forests, climate change, endangered species, and speaking truth to power. Dominick has appeared in National Geographic, Scientific American, Time Magazine, NY Times, WA Post, NPR and many nature documentaries. He has served on the spotted owl recovery team, USGS National Biodiversity and Climate Assessment team, Oregon governor's task force on forest carbon, and the White House task force on sustainable forestry.

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