Forestry Ink: Public input should include more categories than just old growth

Regular columnist Jim Hilton writes about the value of asking for more input

Jim Hilton

Observer Contributor

While I support the government’s request to get public input into the management of old-growth forests, I think a more useful input would have been an examination of biodiversity on our managed forests.

The following introduction from the 1995 biodiversity guidebook describes the basic concept. “As natural ecosystems become increasingly modified by human activities, natural patterns of biodiversity increasingly altered and at risk of losing native species increases. The greatest degree of disruption occurs from extreme habitat modifications such as urbanization and agriculture. Parks and protected areas, on the other hand, if appropriately managed, maintained close to natural levels of biodiversity, managed forest stands fall between those two extremes, and can support varying levels of natural biodiversity, depending on the management practices. More natural levels of biodiversity will be maintained in managed forest if those are managed to mimic important characteristics on natural forest conditions. “

After reviewing some Timber Supply Analysis (TSA) documents, I think it would be wise to include more than old growth in the recent request for public input.

In many TSAs, old growth may be only one of more than a dozen reserves in order to arrive at what is available for timber harvesting, i.e. the timber harvest land base (THLB).

For example, in the Quesnel TSA discussion paper of May 2016 ,”Table Two,” there are 11 categories (set asides or reserves) that account for 20 per cent removed from the Crown forest land base, which leaves 49 per cent for the THLB. While old growth is the largest reserve at four per cent, the other major reductions are parks, wildlife habitat areas, riparian areas and low site. Some minor reductions include critical fish habitat, Class A lakes, recreation and historic trails, mature birch and inoperable areas.

Most of these no-harvest areas will have some old-growth attributes and certainly contribute to a greater biodiversity if they are largely left undisturbed. In some cases, no disturbance may lead to a loss of attributes like overly-dense understory of some Douglas fir stands, which are more fire-prone and lose the open park-like features that resulted from controlled burns conducted by the First Nations.

Achieving biodiversity in our forest ecosystems will require establishing some reserves, but we must also identify the attributes that they represent. For example, a commercial thinning, light thinning of non-merchantable trees or controlled burn may be necessary to reduce wildfire potential and promote the right attributes of a vigorous and productive ecosystem.

While the economics of harvesting and marketing of the smaller understory trees is not as good as from larger trees, there is a growing demand for fibre because larger trees have been lost to beetles and wildfires like the recent Plateau fire in 2017.

I hear there are meetings taking place now between government and a variety of groups that are looking at alternatives to managing our forests for achieving the attributes of a healthy and productive forest.

I look forward to the outcomes of these discussions and hope to pass on the information in future articles.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo-Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, he volunteers his skills with community forests organizations.

READ MORE: Forestry Ink: Choices for a better future

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