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Managing biodiversity in the P.G. Timber Sales Area

Forest Practices Board report
Jim Hilton pens a column on forestry each week for Black Press. (File photo)

According to the Forest Practices Board mandate, they serve the public interest as the independent watchdog for sound forest and range practices in British Columbia. Their purpose is to: Encourage sound forest and range practices that warrant public confidence along with fair and equitable application of the Forest and Range Practices Act and the Wildfire Act.

One of their latest investigations was in the Prince George TSA as described in the March 15, 2023 press release. The process starts with an Investigation Report (IR) followed by a Letter Of Expectation (LOE) which lists the steps that the licensee must take to meet the requirements of the report. The key IR finding was that a number and variety of native plants, animals and other organisms were at high risk resulting in the restriction of industrial logging in old-growth forests in the PG Timber Sales Area (TSA).

According to the Conservation North’s press release, the next most important step is updating the Biodiversity Order (dates back to 2004) which describes the targets and legal requirement for licensees to retain old forest in their operating areas.

The Investigation Report entitled “Management of Biodiversity in the Prince George Timber Supply Area Complaint” Investigation #18042 was published in 2020. The investigation found that licensees were complying with the legal requirements for managing biodiversity.

However, those requirements were established almost 20 years ago and have not been formally reviewed or revised. In that time, the land base was severely affected by the Mountain Pine Beetle and salvage logging that followed, creating conditions that could not have been fully understood when the order was established. The investigation identified several actions that can be taken to improve management of biodiversity. The board has previously commented on the value of public planning processes to establish clear objectives for the land base. The results of this investigation emphasize that those objectives cannot be frozen in time. Plans need to be regularly reviewed and updated to reflect changes in the natural environment, new information and knowledge, and to reflect society’s changing values.

In 2002, government established a landscape objectives working group (LOWG) made up of PG TSA timber licensees, the Ministry of Forests, (the Ministry) and regional ecologist and representatives from the Northern Interior Region of the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management. An important aspect of managing old forest and old Interior forest is using qualified professionals to identify and map old forest, old Interior forest and recruitment areas. This will help ensure that the most suitable old forest stands are captured, and are dispersed appropriately to maximize their value to biodiversity.

Mapping old forest and recruitment areas is necessary to ensure they are not harvested or affected by other resource developments and to allow recruitment areas to develop old forest attributes over time. This is an important consideration in the PG TSA, which has been heavily harvested and where more than one licensee may operate within an ecological unit.

The detailed 28-page report has maps, tables and charts along with the rationale of spatially and non-spatially recognizing areas. Mapping old forest, old Interior forest and recruitment areas requires a level of specialized knowledge that not every forest professional has. Therefore, mapping should involve a team of qualified professionals, including ecologists, biologists and foresters, and First Nations. A qualified professional should assess any mapped retention or recruitment area prior to changing the management strategy for the area. The risk to biodiversity will diminish if some or all of the old forests are mapped so that the legal requirements are defined spatially (mapped) but it may be necessary to choose other areas if the mapped ones are destroyed.

The Board encourages the principles in the report be applied in the Prince George Timber Supply Area and across the province.

Jim Hilton is a retired forester who spent his career working in the Cariboo Chilcotin.