Sunday, November 14, 2010

Forest Roads: an indicator of forest management

Check out the quality of forest management in your local forest. Take a drive and a pair of hiking boots and look at the roads in your local forest. Forest roads can tell you much about the management of your local forest.

Roads are the environmental footprint of humans in the forest. Road building is our greatest environmental impact on the forest. It involves soil disturbance and roads require careful drainage to ensure that water does not erode the road or contribute to landslides. Good location planning and construction of forest roads in a forest can reduce soil and drainage disturbance. The road network should be systematic so that access can be provided with a minimum length of road. Considerable reconnaissance should be done before a road is located so that it can use natural features of the land such as benches that will reduce the amount of soil excavation. Unstable soil and sensitive areas are avoided.

Regular maintenance of the forest road system is needed to ensure access and prevent damage to streams, water quality and fish. Erosion, washouts, and landslides caused by forest roads move soil, nutrients and sediment from the forest into streams. The forest manager needs to maintain the roads in the forest so he can get to the forest to maintain it.

Forest roads are a good indicator of the quality of forest management. A forest with a well maintained system of forest roads will be managed and maintained. A forest filled with decaying roads is an indicator of a "cut and run" type of forest management.

When you drive to check out the roads in your local forest and turn off the paved highway onto the gravel forest road, you will probably be on a main or arterial forest road. The main road will be the main transportation route that may follow a main river valley into the forest.

Your initial impression of driving on the main forest road will probably be quite good. Main forest roads in BC are usually well aligned to enable logging trucks to travel at a good speed. The BC Forest Service set a good standard when it built main forest roads in the interior of BC with Federal funds in the 1950's and 1960's. Forest companies also built good main roads. In an industrial system of forest management,it pays to have a good main road to reduce log trucking costs by millions of dollars over time.

You may wish to drive on the main road to get a general impression of your local forest landscape. Non industrial users of forest roads often stick to the main roads. If you are wanting to check out the forest roads you should leave the main road and take a look at the branch or spur roads. A branch road is like a secondary arterial road that leaves the main road to supply access to the side of the main valley or a tributary valley. The spur roads are the roads that leave the branch roads to supply access to harvest blocks.

If the branch and spur roads are in use for logging and hauling, the roads will be maintained so you can drive on them. If the branch and spur roads have not been used for some time, you will need the hiking boots. Walk up the old road system and take a look. Roads in some areas remain stable although they may become over grown. Other roads will be severely deteriorated by erosion. If the road was abandoned in the last 15 years, it may have been de-activated by placing water bars and removing culverts. The intent of de-activation is to reduce soil loss and erosion and maintain water quality.

There are tens of thousands of kilometers of forest roads, mainly branch and spur roads in BC's public forests that are abandoned and receive little or no maintenance. Victoria bureaucrats call them "non status roads". The introduction of forest road de-activation in the 1990's was intended to reduce the environmental impact of road abandonment. It is a technical solution that attempts to reduce the impact of the problem of forest road abandonment.

The forest sector does not want to recognize that forest road abandonment is a structural problem that is built into the deficient tenure system of private harvesting rights in our public forests. The harvesting rights are usufructs or rights to harvest on someone else's land. The holder of a usufruct is not supposed to damage the land and maintain its condition. In BC's public forests this obligation is taken as fulfilled if the harvest rights holder, usually a large forest corporation, replants or regenerates a forest crop after harvest. This leaves important forest infrastructure such as roads in limbo. Forest roads are left to decay and cause environmental damage. It indicates a cut and run mentality of the managers of your local forest. These managers are a central government agency and forest corporations.

Under a new alternative system of local forest trusts, with local democratic representation and local stable forest managers, forest roads would be part of their responsibility. Funding for forest roads would come from the free market operation of the local forest trust as a profitable business enterprise. Forest roads could be maintained not just for industrial timber operations but for non timber forest products, nature based forest enterprises and recreation.

If you do decide to take a trip to see the roads in your local forest now or later, share your experiences and write to: forestwise@shaw.ca

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