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  • Portal: Loss of the hydrological functions of forests

    Jennifer Houghton
    Flooding in Grand Forks, BC, in May 2018 (Photo by The Narwhal)
    IN MAY 2018, Grand Forks was hit by the most catastrophic flood the province has ever experienced. Over 400 homes and dozens of businesses and farms were impacted. Costs of that flood are estimated at over $165 million and counting. But that monetary figure doesn’t address the personal costs of the flood. My home was hit by flooding not only in 2018 but in 2017 and 2020 as well. Dealing with the repeated flooding and cleanup has completely disrupted my life. I’ve heard from other flood victims who say the stress of it has made them ill, turn to alcohol, cry themselves to sleep every night, and cause their marriages to crumble. What compounded the pain for all of us was trying to get appropriate responses from multiple levels of government that are not prepared to deal with these disasters.  
    When I discovered the connection between the increased magnitude and frequency of flooding and the level of clearcut forestry in the watershed, I became an advocate for forestry reform in BC. When I saw aerial photos of the clearcutting here, I felt demoralized and angry. I wondered how government can allow this to happen when it is imposing such a terrible toll on the people of the community. Trust breaks down when government staff put corporate profits above the welfare of the people in the community.
    The hydrological function of our watershed has been negatively impacted by the high level of continuous clearcutting. A high percentage of trees here is less than 50 years old due to clearcutting. With the removal of so much of the mature natural forest cover, there are increases in flooding frequency and magnitude; increases in sediment flow into the water courses; higher snowpack levels on clearcut areas; faster snowmelt on clearcut areas; and less interception of precipitation by intact forests. The structure, composition, and function of our forests have been damaged to such an extent that they no longer manage water flow properly. There are 16,000 kilometres of forest roads in the Boundary Timber Supply Area and more are being built every year. These roads also contribute greatly to hydrological dysfunction. We do not have what scientists call “a properly functioning watershed.”
    Intact forests manage our water for us. Tree farm plantations do not function the same way. We need old and mature forests or we suffer the consequences. The costs imposed on people in the Boundary by industrial clearcut forestry far outweigh the benefits. Logging jobs are disappearing and logging profits are held by big corporations instead of local businesses.
    Laws must be completely overhauled so they prioritize ecological integrity. Right now, the legislation is aimed at sustaining corporate profits—little else is sustained including the safety of local people. When ecological integrity becomes the top priority of forestry legislation, the benefits we will reap include: proper hydrological function, saving old growth forests, protecting wildlife, mitigating climate change, and long-term forestry jobs in our region. We must urgently begin to protect and restore our forests and stop clearcutting them. We must give local citizens a say in the management of local forests. Nothing less than an immediate and complete replacement of BC forestry legislation is required.
    Jennifer became an advocate for forestry reform after her Grand Forks home was flooded in 2018 in the most catastrophic flood BC has ever experienced. She is a founding member of the Boundary Forest Watershed Stewardship Society.

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