Saturday, September 3, 2011

Biodiversity green-wash blown

The large trees blown down onto this road was one of several small patches of old growth left in a harvest area on the BC coast. The patch was left to provide an island of old growth intended to aid biodiversity.

Forest management requires thinking and planning for the long term. Unfortunately in BC, centralized management of public forests by the BC Government and an oligopoly of a few forest corporations operates in the short term. In the 1990's, centralized forest management was influenced by a blip of politically correct environmental righteousness that manifested itself in a forest practices code with lots of guidebooks and regulations. Biologists with limited forestry training were in the ascendancy within government bureaucracies propelled along by an emerging current of biodiversity awareness. The government and companies wanted to look like they were responding. Clear cut harvesting was getting bad press. The politically correct green wash that emerged was variable retention silvicultural systems and leaving patches of old growth to protect biodiversity. It all sounded sophisticated when it emerged from government and corporate public relations machines. On the ground it was really clear cutting with a few patches or bits and pieces left so that it could be called something else.

In a space of a few years, the patch of green wash in the photo was blown over. Although the timber is valuable, the cost of reactivating the road has made recovery uneconomic. The harvest area is in a valley that has been heavily clear cut in the last 30 years and it takes storm winds from the Pacific Ocean. Single old growth trees or small patches of groups of trees that are well over 100 feet high stand little chance of remaining upright in the face of winds. This patch of trees was left on a projecting nose of topography rather than in a depression in the terrain. The location aided its demise.

The era of the forest practices code was hailed as some complete turn around in forest stewardship in BC. The legacy of this era of supposed great improvement is a few wind thrown or wind damaged patches of old growth that are mostly leveled. Most of the surrounding landscape has also been leveled of old growth in the past 30 years. A sea of young second growth has replace the old forest in a short time.

Could this landscape have been planned and managed to maintain forest cover more similar to indigenous forest structure to maintain biodiversity? Yes, it could have been done but harvesting of the valley would have been over a much longer time frame exceeding 100 years rather than 30 to forty. Also considerable long term planning and thought would have been required in the design of harvest areas, silvicultural systems and permanent planned road network to do the job without suffering excessive wind damage. Under BC's system of short term forest development planning, sophisticated forest design and stewardship is impossible. Short term planning now dressed up under the name of forest stewardship planning.

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