Sunday, August 22, 2010

Large stumps, Small Logs


The loggers that first harvested this area used their cross cut saw while standing on spring boards jambed into the notches visible on the old large cedar stump.This precarious arrangement elevated them above the spreading base and made the task of hand sawing the massive tree a little easier.

What would they have thought about the present harvest of young trees? One man sitting in the cab of a feller-buncher machine harvested and stacked the small stems that are in the foreground. The trees are approximately 50 years old. The tough crusty old time loggers of the BC Coast would have referred to these diminutive trees as "bean poles".

On this Vancouver Island site, nature was thinking big, but now we seem to be thinking little. Is this good forestry? There has been two different schools of thought since the early days of forest management. One camp viewed forest management on the lines of agriculture. These are the forest farmers that see trees as a crop with man in the controller seat. The other camp thought that forests should be managed more along the lines of nature because man is simply unable to supply the same level of treatments that occur in agriculture.

Science and technological improvements have made some forest treatments easier. Aerial forest firefighting, and specialized machines for mechanical harvesting are examples. The forest farmer camp will point to these improvements as justification for their case.

The nature based forestry camp can point to the development of non-clear cutting shelterwood and selection silviculture systems as their innovations. Greater scientific understanding of forests and biological diversity has given nature based forestry the new more illustrious title of forest ecosystem management.

"Work with nature or you will be defeated" is an old forestry saying. Nature based forestry works on the precautionary principle. There is more that we do not know than we know about forest ecosystems. Trees take many decades to grow and a crop failure is of greater consequence than in agriculture, where only one years growth is involved.

At a time of poor markets for wood products, low cost mechanical harvesting was a factor in the decision to harvest the young trees in the above picture. It is an example of the forest farming direction of future forest management in BC. BC allocated most of its timber from public forests to commodity wood products producers. Composite floor joists can be made from wood from small trees so you do not even need larger trees to make structural components for residential construction. Government and forest industry will push forest farming of young trees as if there is no other economic choice.

We must remember that the true economic bottom line of the BC forest industry is not the short term balance sheet of the forest company but the condition of the forest that supplies the goods. Short rotations of young trees where nature previously worked on rotations of several centuries may not be wise in the long term. The short rotations are more likely to cause root pathogen problems in the future. Some other unforeseen problem may develop.

One of the biggest defeats in the history of forest management from not working with nature has occurred in BC. Lodge Pole pine in the interior of BC becomes susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack when it gets about 80 years old. Fire fighting and failure to harvest sufficient area of this short lived species is the primary factor in the present massive mountain pine beetle epidemic. The price tag for failing to work with nature is a $100 Billion loss of timber. Forest ecosystem management is portrayed as being more expensive but the cost of not doing it is greater.

The forests of Vancouver island and the coast of BC, produced larger trees of better wood quality, than most coniferous forests elsewhere in the world. The better quality wood is laid down in the tree once it gets older and larger. If we had open markets for our public timber, more value added producers able to realize the value of larger trees will become established. The coast of BC has large areas to accessible young stands that could supply the need for small stem material, through thinning rather than clear cutting. The harvesting cost will be greater but it will leave a standing crop of more valuable older trees.

BC should realize that there are many options and choices for the stewardship of our public forests. We need to diversify our forest industry instead of diminishing our forests in an attempt to prop up a failing commodity wood products industry.

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