James Steidle grew up ranching, logging and milling in the Punchaw Lake area west of Hixon. He is the co-founder of Stop The Spray BC, a group dedicated to reducing the industrialized use of herbicides to kill the forest’s underbrush, a tool used by major forestry companies to eradicate growth competition for the softwood species (spruce, pine, hemlock, etc.) they prefer for lumber production.
The group also champions the development of hardwood markets, as the herbicides and silviculture practices of forest companies are often at the expense of the deciduous (aspen, birch, cottonwood, etc.) species. It is the hardwood component mixed with the softwood trees that make for a healthy ecosystem and reduce the ferocity of wildfires, according to the group.
“The stocking standard (reforestation rules set by the government) is a major factor in our regional moose declines,” said Steidle. “Government biologists won’t admit that, but here is a basic fact: deciduous forests support exponentially more moose and we wage a relentless war of conversion against our deciduous to turn them into pine and spruce plantations in the wet belt.
“Don’t believe me?
“Drive down the Blackwater Road (from Prince George) to Quesnel and tell me what you see. An endless sea of pine. Now walk in them and pretend you are a moose and look for food in the winter. Good luck.”
During the BC Natural Resources Forum in January and the Association of BC Professional Foresters convention in February, both held in Prince George, Steidle and the group made their presence known. They use lobby and protest tactics to try changing forest policy in favour of a more diverse and hardwood-friendly landscape.
“They need to know that the (b.s.) war on deciduous is a war on forests. It’s a war on moose. It’s a war on fire resistance. It’s a war on forest adaptability and resilience,” Steidle said. “If you hunt, the war on deciduous is a war on hunting. If you worry about forest fires, the war on deciduous is a war on your peace of mind. If you ranch, the war on deciduous is a war on your grazing capacity. If you trap, the war on deciduous is a war on your trapline.”
Steidle said there was no positive response from the established forest sector to meet with Stop The Spray BC members to learn more about deciduous potential, a topic he feels the policy-makers and lumber companies know very well, it just doesn’t match their revenue plans.
“It is clear that our forestry institutions, from the professional association to the highest levels of bureaucracy, even our Forest Practices Board, are in complete denial about the failures of plantation forestry and the harm of anti-deciduous forestry policy,” said Steidle. “You can drive down the Blackwater to Quesnel and you will see a sea of pine plantations. It wasn’t all pine before. We probably have more pine on the landscape than we did prior to the pine beetle. And yet the story we are told is that everything is fine, that the Ministry of Forests has it under control.”
The silviculture rules are “draconian and extreme” when it comes time to restore trees following a logging operation, Steidle said. “They require a minimum of 95 per cent conifer (softwood) domination and have no requirements to maintain any deciduous patches for fire-breaks, moose habitat, cattle range, biodiversity, or their vastly superior albedo and carbon sequestration for climate change mitigation.”
He added that, “aspen and birch can fight off pine and allow spruce and Douglas fir a chance to come in underneath, to mix up the age and species classes, to create resiliency…All they see is a computer model that demands maximum conifer production to maintain the maximum level of clear-cutting we are seeing today, which, as we’ve seen, has not been sustainable and is failing our communities and our workers. Pine is cheap, quick, and reliable to replant and they are using it to juice up their illegitimate models of landscape liquidation and conversion, ignoring the massive risk calculation it involves.”
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