Saturday, August 27, 2011

Following the tracks: Trails in Parks or Protected Areas

British Columbia has approximately 13% of its area protected in parks. Most parks are forested. Some of the largest episodes of civil disobedience in Canada have centered around the use of forests in BC and the effort of the environmental movement to save forests in parks. Public perceptions about stewardship of forests have been polarized and distorted. Once a forest has been "saved" as a protected area, the battle has been won and we think that nature will look after everything with little stewardship effort or expenditure on our part. Since we have saved a considerable area of forest in parks, the timber producing forests are damned and even the environmental movement has been almost silent on the need to improve forest stewardship on these lands.

In the polarized disputes over forest land use, the environmental movement strives for the moral high ground on the green side while the forest sector does the same on the economic side. The truth is that our stewardship of all forests including parks could be better. The gap is filled with more than a little hypocrisy. Through the public relations efforts of both government and forest corporations we convince ourselves that we are giving good stewardship to our timber producing forests. Since we have already got a bit of a halo for the large area of BC that we have protected in parks we are even more ready to be convinced that our stewardship of protected areas is top notch.

If you go to a Provincial Park you can easily be convinced. This year we are celebrating the centennial of the start of BC's park system. The warm glow will continue as you approach the park by road because it usually will have nice signs and a parking lot that is attractive. The first stretch of trail may exhibit excellent maintenance. If you are fortunate enough not to be impeded by the modern malady of excess body weight and are given to walk a couple of kilometers into the park, trail quality and maintenance can deteriorate rather quickly. Trails in parks seldom have ditches and cross drainage. The location of a sustainable trail requires more reconnaissance and fitting to the landscape than a road. The location of some park trails is poor and maintenance is non existent is some cases.

Public funding for our parks is being reduced rather than increased. Stewardship is accomplished by a few BC Government Parks bureaucrats who oversee contracts to a few private parks facility operators. Beyond keeping up appearances near the parking lot, stewardship is at a derelict level. Most jurisdictions with parks in North America have some minimum standards for trails in protected areas. These standards encompass the location and grade of the trail, quality and safety of the tread or surface of the path. The purpose of a park or protected area is to conserve natural conditions and biodiversity and a trail is human built structure that involves removal of a small area of the natural condition. The best solution to this conundrum is to have some quality forest engineering in the location and construction of the trail. A good trail is less likely to erode and cause greater loss of productive area. Preparation of a safe walking surface or tread on the trail by following the four by four rule which means trying to keep rocks larger than four inches out of the top four inches of the trail surface material. This will reduce tripping and falling by 90% and users stay on the trail path rather than widen the trail when trying to negotiate tripping hazards.

Cash strapped BC Parks bureaucrats have managed to develop a simple, easy to understand, wrong trail classification to reduce the angst of their inability to maintain stable safe trails. The minimum standard of trail is "back country trail classification". It seems to be the daydream of some ecologist with little forest engineering or trail experience and the idea that the back country trail is something barely constructed that lightly winds its way across the landscape. On the ground, it comes to reality as a poorly located trail that is prone to erosion. Low effort and standards of construction usually see light fine materials being cast to the side, leaving projecting tripping hazards in the path. As foot traffic negotiates these obstacles, the trail widens and removes additional natural area from the park. Reconstruction of these trails to bring them to a safe standard poses problems because valuable fine soil materials have been lost.

The photo above is a trail in a BC Park classified as a back country trail. Unlike many trails of this type this trail is in excellent condition. It has a walking surface or tread of sorted sandy gravel material with no projecting rock tripping hazards. Lush vegetation comes right up to the edge of the trail and there is minimal impingement on the natural conditions. It is an approach to a small bridge culvert over an area prone to flooding. The trail is raised above the ground surface and contained on both sides by a row of rocks, a trail technique sometimes known as a turnpike.

The trail in the photo and the bridge culvert was reconstructed by two volunteers two days before the photo was taken. They have volunteer agreements with BC Parks and fill a needed stewardship gap. The existing rotten and unsafe wooden bridge culvert at the site was replaced by a more permanent structure supplied out of the pockets of the volunteers.

If you are a BC resident, most of BC's forests are your forests. If we we took more interest in our forests and got involved in the stewardship, we could raise the standard. Communities also should take more interest in the stewardship of their surrounding landscapes. We could do much better at stewardship of our timber producing forests and parks. Get involved, its your economy,your environment and your freedom to roam and enjoy.

Following the tracks: Trails in harvest blocks

Beyond the forest road there may be trails made by logging equipment in the harvest area. Heavy cable harvesting or yarding machines are used to harvest large logs on the steep terrain of coastal BC. The trails into the harvest area are cable ways, so minimal disturbance of the soil occurs during harvesting. Logs are completely or partially elevated as they are moved by cable. Some slight soil scarification may occur, but it is usually beneficial for regenerating the next trees.

While cable logging is preferable to reduce soil disturbance, it is more costly. The machine in the photo has a high capital cost. Considerable effort is required to set up the machine before harvesting can commence. Guy lines have to anchor the machine and a loop of logging cables has to go around large pulley blocks at the distant edge of the harvest area.

In areas of BC with smaller timber and less challenging terrain, wheeled or tracked logging equipment traverses the harvest area to drag or carry logs to the road. Minor roads or skid trails are constructed within harvest areas for the equipment. Considerable soil disturbance and erosion can be caused particularly in the case of poorly planned skid trails on steep slopes. Soil disturbance can be reduce by better planning of trails, deactivating trails. Snow or frozen conditions may help to reduce soil disturbance on certain sites.

Logging machines of all types are heavy and powerful. While most equipment operators are skilled in manipulating their machines, BC has made little or no attempt to institute some form of trades certification and training. Training courses in soil and environmental conditions and in planning the harvest of an area would make operators more able to work with minimal impact on the environment.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Following the tracks: 3. Logging or spur roads

Logging or spur roads provide access to the harvest block for logging or stand tending. This road was constructed after the introduction of forest practice standards in the 1990's. Water bars were installed when the road was deactivated after logging to reduce erosion. Although water bars were installed to divert storm water flow off the road, there is substantial erosion of the road surface. Water bars could be considered a successful treatment because the foot deep erosion could otherwise have been three to six feet deep.

Deactivation of logging roads by installing water bars is a technical symptomatic fix for a larger systemic problem. This human sign at the start of a logging or spur road bears witness to a problem of deteriorating logging roads in BC.

This sign had been in place for a few years and it was no longer possible to drive on the road. BC has tens of thousands of kilometers of deteriorating forest roads. This means that there is considerable loss of access infrastructure for the sustainable management of forests. Decaying forest roads can cause erosion or landslides and negative effects on water quality and fish. The source of the problem is not in the technical ability to locate, construct or maintain forest roads. Rather it is a systemic problem that has its origins in the tenure system of timber harvesting rights. To secure access to timber allocations forest companies submit plans for road construction and harvesting for a short term planning horizon of approximately 5 years. Once regeneration is established, the obligations of the forest company in the harvest area have been fulfilled. The result is thousands of kilometers of forest road that receive little or no maintenance. The bureaucratic term is the euphemistic "non status road" meaning no one is responsible for its stewardship. The planning of harvest blocks on a short term basis is not conducive to systematic road developments comprising main forest roads, branch or feeder roads that connect to many blocks. It is not uncommon to find a pattern of forest road development comprising a main forest road with a series of logging roads that punch uphill with little or no branch roads. Roads developed in this manner are usually steeper than in a system of branch roads connecting to logging roads. Steep roads are prone to erosion and decay.

Although BC claims to be practicing sustainable forest management, its legal and institutional framework of harvesting rights enables forest companies to reduce their stewardship responsibilities to zero after harvested areas are regenerated. The end result is a decaying forest access infrastructure.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Following the tracks: 2. Branch Roads

There are three types of road that you should find in a forest landscape. We have looked at main forest roads. Next there are branch roads that leave the main road to provide a secondary artery to a tributary valley or to service one side of the valley. Branch roads are sometimes called collector or feeder roads. They provide access to logging or spur roads that provide access for harvesting and tending.

A good system of branch roads in the landscape indicates planning for the future. A planned forest road network in the landscape will have less roads in total and less steep roads than a network that just develops over time. Forest road networks that just develop as the next area is harvested tend to be haphazard. There is usually too much road and more steep roads than necessary. Systematic forest road networks are more sustainable because they are less costly to maintain and do less damage to the environment.

The branch road in the photo above is an example of a well located stable branch road. The road was located probably over 40 years ago on a high rainfall area of the BC coast. It has recently been reopened by brushing the vegetation on the road sides. The original surface, road drainage are all in good condition and the road has been returned to service at minimal cost. It is a sustainable road with relatively gentle gradients. The road was located by a forester or forest engineer in the days before the environmental awakening brought environmental protection regulations and forest practice codes. Although the road was not deactivated with protective water bars, it remained stable for decades.

The forester or forest engineer that located the road overcame a major terrain challenge. The road is a branch road that gains entry to a hanging valley that meets the main valley at a higher elevation. Hanging valleys are a common feature in BC's glaciated mountainous terrain. A common error in road location to hanging valleys is to attempt to gain entry with locations that are too steep. He found a location that fitted the landscape, provided a gentle gradient and has proved to be stable and sustainable. Part of the location went through an area of timber that would have been considered undesirable 40 years ago. The area was not harvested until recently. He did a good job and probably took considerable criticism from his logging managers of that era, for locating a length of road through an area that would not be harvested.

This branch road is newly constructed. The terrain challenges are similar to those in the first picture, but this road is steep with the gradient reaching at least 18% as the road turns at a switchback. Imagine being the driver of a logging truck who has to negotiate this switchback with tens of thousands of kilos of logs behind him. Today's standards will be followed and this road will be deactivated by installing water bars. However, there will remain a considerable likelihood of erosion. This road built after a period of imposed standards and regulations is much less sustainable than the first road. The motivation in the case of the road the first picture came from the forester or forest engineer and the road was placed on a sustainable location on the landscape.

Conclusion Branch roads are a key part of systematic forest road networks. The presence of well located, stable branch roads is an indicator of sustainable management and thought for the future.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Following the tracks: 1. Main Forest Roads

If you want to find out about wildlife you can follow their tracks to learn more about their habits. About 20 years ago, I accompanied a wildlife biologist on the track of a Grizzly Bear on the steep slope above a coastal inlet or fiord. We went on a series of circular loops on the steep slopes for most of the morning. These circular loops escaped the attention of the bear biologist since he was focused on details such as the contents of bear droppings. We thought that we were observing a bear, but the bears movements indicate that he was making the loops to observe us.

In this series of blogs we will track humans and their activities in BC's public forests and try to make some sense of the behavior. The hoof tracks in our case are wheel tracks and we build forest roads for our mechanical transportation devices. If we head for the forest, up a main valley we find that the people in BC's forests know how to build a good main forest road. The road will have good alignment, 2 lanes adequate ditches and drainage and a gravel surface. Main forest roads are the transportation arteries in the forest and a good road reduces log transportation costs in the long term.

If you drive on a main forest road be prepared to meet a logging truck.

Remember that the logging truck has you outnumbered in terms of momentum by 50 to 100 times and drive defensively.

Expect one at every corner, realize that the gravel surface is not like a paved road. The gravel may be loose in dry summer conditions and dust from traffic movement can obscure vision. Slow down and pull over and give the truck the road. A truck may have some extra long logs that can sweep another vehicle on the outside of a curve off the road.

Efficient transportation is the motive behind good quality main forest roads in BC. The BC Forest Service built some main forest roads in the 1950's and 1960's. Forest companies have also built many main forest roads to a high standard.

While the public will react to clear cutting as man's foot print in the forest, the heaviest footprint is the forest roads. Harvesting once in 80 to 120 years is a relatively temporary and low intensity act of cultivation on the land. Road building is a higher intensity impact. On a well built forest road, this impact is limited to the loss of a small percentage of productive forest area. However, a forest road that is poorly located built and maintained can cause considerable soil loss through erosion or landslide. The eroded soil usually ends up in streams and rivers causing damage and reduced water quality and fish. Even a foot trail in a protected area or park can cause long term erosion or stability problems.

Conclusion We know how to locate and build good quality forest roads in BC. Main or arterial forest roads meet a high standard because we are motivated to reduce transportation costs.

The next blog will follow the tracks off the main forest road

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Saving British Columbia from theft

"Enclosure" is a word that probably brings to mind an attachment in an Email message. Enclosure of common or public land into private ownership is probably not something we would think about.
Professor Cosmo Innes (1798-1874), a Professor of Constitutional Law and History explained the enclosure of common lands in Scotland:

“Looking over our country, the land held in common was of vast extent. In truth, the arable - the cultivated land of Scotland, the land early appropriated and held by charter - is a narrow strip on the river bank or beside the sea. The inland, the upland, the moor, the mountain were really not occupied at all for agricultural purposes, or served only to keep the poor and their cattle from starving. They were not thought of when charters were made and lands feudalised. Now as cultivation increased, the tendency in the agricultural mind was to occupy these wide commons, and our lawyers lent themselves to appropriate the poor man’s grazing to the neighbouring baron. They pointed to his charter with its clause of parts and pertinents, with its general clause of mosses and moors - clauses taken from the style book, not with any reference to the territory conveyed in that charter; and although the charter was hundreds of years old, and the lord had never possessed any of the common, when it cam to be divided, the lord got the whole that was allocated to the estate, and the poor cottar none. The poor had no lawyers."

The public forests of BC are technically Crown forests owned by the Province of British Columbia. Are these forests safe from land enclosure? Surely land enclosure could never happen in BC. Unfortunately BC already has a history of land enclosure. Dunsmuir,a coal baron managed to get approximately 1 million hectares of the best forest land on Vancouver Island. Robber barons are gone, but they have been replaced by corporations. These corporations can be international in scope and have financial and legal resources that much exceed those of the robber barons. Their collective power has been sufficient to influence the taxation policies of most major countries.

Given that most of the forests of BC are Crown or publicly owned, one might expect that the central piece of forest law would be focused on the stewardship and management of the forest to ensure community and forest industry sustainability. The Forest Act focuses on rights to timber in public forests. Most of these rights are held by a few corporations. These rights have been in place for many decades and should be viewed as the first step toward enclosure of our public forests into the private interest. The public management agency, the Forest Service, will be 100 years old next year and it is a failed public institution. The Forest Service was originally intended to be the independent professional forest management agency. It never fulfilled this role. Instead, forest management responsibilities were handed over to forest corporations. A change in name from the Forest Service to Ministry of Forests enabled the forest management agency to be viewed as just another government regulatory agency that gets in the way of business. It has been downsized to set the stage for greater private involvement. Perhaps the greatest problem is that we lack the interest or ingenuity to change course. Most of British Columbia does not have to fall into the hands of a few corporations.

We should not be afraid that some major changes to our arrangements for managing our forests will have negative economic consequences. We need major change to solve the poor economic outcomes that we are experiencing with the existing system of management by centralized government and their corporate partners. Allocation of most of BC's public timber to commodity wood products manufacturers under administered prices has reduced value added wood products diversification and made our exports vulnerable to discriminatory taxes and tariffs. Improvident forest management involving the stripping of the best timber on the coast of BC, and leaving lodge pole pine in the interior of BC to get old and susceptible to mountain pine attack will have negative economic consequences valued at over $100 Billion. We need changes to the arrangements for forest stewardship to prevent losses and improve the BC economy.

Can we trust the Government of British Columbia to ensure that our public forests are not handed over to corporate interests? Unfortunately, BC Governments of differing ideological persuasions have for over 60 years been conveying the wealth of the public forests to forest corporations. Instead of acting for the people of BC, governments have been acting to benefit corporate interests. We can look forward to long term lease tenures of public forests for industrial wood production as a prelude to outright privatization.

The Government of BC needs to hear from the people of BC, from forest dependent communities. One hundred years from now, a history book should not record that the people of BC gave up the freedom of millions of hectares of forest and wilderness, the opportunity to develop a strong vibrant diversified forest economy and the ability to ensure a quality environment without a whimper. The people of BC need new democratic institutions institutions that connect them to their forests. This will insure that they will not be taken away by well disguised fraud conceived by government and corporate lawyers.

The Crown forest of BC are owned by the Province of BC. In democratic Canada, this should mean that the Government of BC should act as the trustee of the forest in the long term interests of the people. Unfortunately the BC Government seems to have acted like a pre-democratic monarch by handing out the spoils of the forests to the modern feudal baron, the corporation. We do not need a repeat of the land enclosure story of Professor Innes here in Canada in the 21st Century.

We need some new institutions that ensure direct public accountability over the stewardship of our forests. There is first a need for local accountability. The local forest landscape provides local forest dependent communities with timber, water supply, non timber forest products as well as recreational and nature based economic activities. There needs to be local accountable forest managers. There is also a need for wider provincial accountability. Since a majority of BC's population is resident in major cities, there needs to be some provincial institution that helps to support a vibrant provincial forest economy and ensure that forest stewardship includes a strong component of environmental protection in the public interest.

The Local Forest Trust should be the primary building block for the new democratic forest stewardship institutions. The local trust would involve a large area of forest of sufficient size to permit economic operation. It would operate under trust agreements or a charter built on the Montreal Process, an international scientific sustainable forest management and conservation agreement. The local forest trust would have professional forest management staff accountable to a board elected by a ward system from local communities and rural areas in the vicinity. The local trust would manage the forest and timber would be sold on the open market. Delegation of forest management responsibilities to corporations would not be permitted.

A Forest Trust Assembly could form the institution with Provincial scope. The forest trust assembly would be governed by an equal number of elected board and professional forest manager delegates from local forest trusts. The Assembly would audit local forest trusts and handle extension and fire protection services and act as a court of appeal for the public. Any major policy changes from the Assembly should be ratified by local forest trusts.

The new institutions comprising the building block of the local forest trust and a provincial forest trust assembly will put BC's Crown or public forests in the hands of the people and insure that they will not be stolen by the devices of the central BC Government and their corporate feudal partners.

The new institutions also provide a fair mechanism of resolving aboriginal rights. Instead of offering piecemeal settlements of chunks of public forests that are too small for economic operations and will fall to predation by forest corporations,the new institutions will protect customary rights on all forests and First Nations will be able to have local forest trusts