Saturday, July 28, 2012

The sustainable and safe trail

What are the physical attributes of a sustainable and safe forest trail? If there are already some hiking trails in your local forest landscape, how do you assess their safety and sustainability. Can the existing trails be used in an expanded system of trails in the landscape? We will look at some of the physical aspects of a safe and sustainable trail.

Specifications of trail users: The human bipedal hiker walks with a flowing motion on gradients up to approximately 10% gradient (one up in ten along). On gradients above 10% the flowing motion is replaced by climbing steps that direct greater force into the ground. Depending on the cohesion or how well the soil material in the trail surface stick together, the climbing steps start to dig, loosen and erode the surface. Most hikers prefer trails that provide the marching flowing motion rather than climbing steps. On hard rock surfaces, humans can walk up gradients of 100%. Humans fall over with ease, and muscles from the feet all the way up through the body core and head, shoulders and arms work to maintain the delicate balance. Roots, projecting rocks in the trail tread or surface can undo the delicate balance.

Horses are much heavier than humans and their iron and steel shoes can chew up a trail surface. Gradient control and reduced maximum gradients are needed to accommodate horses. The same applies to mountain bikes. Braking can erode and damage a trail surface.

The physical sustainability of a hiking trail is affected by the inter-play of the following in the landscape:

  1. Gradient control 
  2. Soil conditions
  3. Control of water
In the case of trail gradient and soil conditions, a trail can be unsustainable in loose sand at under 10% gradient. On wet organic soils, a trail can be unsustainable at 0% gradient.  Soils with some cohesion will support foot traffic from 10 % to 15% gradient. Gradients approaching 20% or greater are problematic in most soils. Trails on solid rock can go up to 100%.

Water flow is eroding this steep trail
Unlike roads, trails seldom are supplied with ditches and culverts, so the issue of water control and trail sustainability is very important. It is easy to envision water flowing down a steep trail gradient causing substantial erosion. Yes, this does happen and is a problem. Water flow on a trail can be a problem as it moves through the topography in the landscape in some unexpected places. On smooth uniform gentle side slopes of 25% or less a trail can make the only crease in the surface and catch water. Trail gradients on such gentle slopes should have a gradient of one quarter the gradient of the side slope. Steeper side slopes are often more irregular in micro-topography and a combination of out sloping of trail surfaces and the incorporation of gradient breaks or dips can be effective in directing water from the trail surface.

Most forest landscapes have rather elusive water springs, intermittent seasonal streams or topography that tends to draw and direct water. Some of these spots, even appeal to the inexperienced trail locator as a good way to go. A considerable water supply at a storm event and a steep trail gradient can be a recipe for a major rapid erosion event. Erosion on a forest trail in a protected area or park can match the scale of an erosion event on a forest road in a timber producing forest.
Abandoned forest roads in trail networks
In BC it is not uncommon to find abandoned forest roads that have become part of a forest trail network. Most forest roads have had the benefit of some forest engineering and may have good gradient control and sensible placement on the landscape. Most BC forest environments are resilient and the disturbed soil along an abandoned road may re-vegetate quickly giving a natural forest trail appearance.The rather idyllic forest trail on the right was once a forest road with a gentle gradient. Abandoned forest roads in trail networks can be unsustainable. An abandoned forest road on a steep side slope with  gradients above 10% may present problems. Such a road has a considerable cut into the slope often capturing considerable water flow.  Once the road drainage fail for lack of maintenance, storm water flows down the trail, sometimes causing rapid erosion.

The safe trail
The trail in the photo above right has a safe tread or walking surface. There are few projecting rocks or roots to trip the hiker. The trail in the first or top photo is unsustainable through erosion. The erosion has left many loose or projecting rocks on the tread to trip or derail the hiker.

The trail on the right is unsafe but it is not unsustainable. It has a gradient of under 5% and has not been subject to erosion by water. It was constructed with no regard to a standard for the tread or walking surface. Most Parks or protected area jurisdictions follow the 4 by 4 inch rule: No rocks greater than 4 inches should be within 4 inches of the surface. Foot traffic will rub away smaller finer material surrounding the rock and the rock projects up from the trail and becomes a tripping hazard. This is perhaps the most important rule in trail construction. This rule has seldom been followed in BC. Coarse soils, or soils with a good measure of rocks and boulders are most common on the hills and mountains of BC. A trail built without regard to the standard of the tread in these soils ends up unsafe. Trail construction in some of BC's protected areas was done under the notion of light foot print and minimal disturbance. This idea seems to be favored by some ecologists but the end result is a heavy foot print. The trail in the photo widens in the foreground where several large rocks are exposed. Hikers choose different routes around these obstacles and cause the trail to widen and the foot print increases. Unsafe trails with many tripping hazards are not attractive to hikers because they have to spend most of the time looking at their feet rather than surrounding nature.

Unsafe trails in coarse soils can be maintained and improved. However, it often involves a rebuilding effort greater than initial trail construction to achieve a result that is less satisfactory than having built the trail properly in the first place. The necessary fine soil materials have been lost from the trail





Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sustainable Forest Trail Guide: Introduction

Many forest dependent communities throughout BC will seek ways to augment and diversify their timber economies. One major area of opportunity is the non consumptive, nature based forest economy. Forest trails are perhaps the most important development requirement for opening up the local landscape for recreational activities.

Forest trails can go through timber producing forests, forested parts of timber producing landscapes that will not be harvested, alpine and mountain areas, and Parks or protected areas. The area of public forest land that is available for timber harvesting in BC is approximately 22 million hectares. The area of public land available for nature based activities, accessible by potential trails, is three or four times that area. Much of the area is endowed with interesting topography, ecological diversity and will remain in natural condition. BC could host a nature based economy several times that of Switzerland.

Forest trails provide access to nature. They are the necessary infrastructure for a nature based economy. Locals throughout BC will often refer to a forest trail in the local landscape or Park as a goat trail. Often these trails are more suited to a four legged goat with hoofs, than a bipedal human with shoes. Trails of this type do not attract tourists to stay for a few days in a community. If a trail makes for difficult walking, the chances are that it is also an erosion and environmental hazard. Any route between point A and point B does not make a suitable trail.

A sustainable forest trail will traverse points of interest in the landscape along its route. It avoids impact on environmentally sensitive sites. After thorough reconnaissance, it is located on features of the land to cause the least physical disturbance. Gradients are controlled to ensure ease of walking and minimum erosion. Construction will ensure a safe walking surface or tread. A sustainable trail should give service for the long term with a minimum of maintenance.

The guide will be available under the Label "Trail Guide" in the right bar of this blog. Sections or chapters in the guide will follow progress of a sustainable trail project in a local landscape. It will start with an assessment of existing trails in a landscape and move on to location to new trail sections or routes, construction and maintenance. Since government funding of forest trails is likely to remain "Priority Z" in BC the guide will also give some advice about generating local volunteer social capital for a trail project.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

D O Gorman's presentation to the Special Committee on Timber Supply

This presentations to the Special Committee on Timber Supply by Dennis O Gorman differs in that it starts to think outside the box of BC's present forest tenure system:

D. O'Gorman: Good morning. Mr. Chairman, thank you very much, and thank you to the members for this opportunity to speak to you.
I've endeavoured to follow the commentary, and I say that as a non-forester but somebody who is familiar with the resource scene, having worked for the provincial government for 29 years in times past. I've followed the work of Dean Innes, of COFI, of the Association of B.C. Professional Foresters, the Auditor General, the Forest Practices Board and informed writers like Les Leyne and Ben Parfitt, and all of these have presented ideas supporting the search for solutions, which I know is your principal task.
From an outside perspective, which I profess I'm principally speaking to, the foremost issue, of course, is the timber supply shortage related to depletions because of mountain pine beetle and other impacts. The sad reality, I think, is that — given the analyses being done by Dr. Hebda at the Provincial Museum and so on — this is likely to be an enduring risk because of the ongoing impacts of climate change. And there is a task within the ministry, as you know, on future ecosystems.
Related to this, however, there's a serious mill overcapacity issue, in part linked to the accelerated harvesting in recent years, for all good reasons. Added to that are the issues of declining markets and low prices and, with that, the social concerns of the affected communities — the job declines, the impacts on community stability, the industry's own concern about personnel and recruitment, and the long-standing issue of wood access, particularly given log exports and evidence that B.C. wood is being remanufactured and, I think, having value added elsewhere. On top of that, finally, there are the management issues of just the stretched capacities around reliable inventories, forecasting methods and oversight.
The conclusion is, broadly, that if there was ever an age of innocence in forestry, it's over. And despite the efforts — and very inventive ones and thoughtful ones — of reprofiling and reallocating, this does not appear to offer any long-term wood supply solutions.
Mr. Chair, your committee, in the background materials, asked what values and principles might apply. Values, I think, would begin with the accepting of the inherent complexity and the uncertainties, and with that goes the value of adaptiveness. The principles, therefore, would lead to building resilience, largely by growing quality wood; increasing diversity, both in terms of how it's supplied and the products produced from it; value generation in growing it on the stump, capturing it through an improved stumpage system, and creating additional values in the marketplace.

Sustainability is an obvious one, given the importance of non-timber values generation, growing it on the stump, capturing it through an improved stumpage system, and creating additional values in the marketplace.
Sustainability is an obvious one, given the importance of non-timber values. Supporting communities is an obvious important principle. Finally, I think the one of learning from the competition. I think these are all, in the words of your committee's mandate, the keys to orderly transition efforts.
Before advancing my thoughts on what might be possible, a few comments on the adjustment options that were outlined. Accelerating the availability of timber supply simply, I think, is an option that means borrowing against the future. Increasing the harvest of marginal timber is essentially a direct subsidy and risks indirect costs and subsidies because of disturbance regeneration issues, because these forests are marginal for a reason.
Logging in constrained areas — I heard a previous speaker — would certainly go to undermining the all-values-are-considered ethic that's been very much part of the forest sector and the ministry. Of course, that invites objections on trade fronts, certification fronts and risks, frankly, reigniting wars in the woods, which were challenging.
Intensive forest management is identified as an option, with two sub-options: fertilizing and advanced silviculture. Yes to advanced silviculture. Fertilization, I think, has some inherent issues. Certainly, it accelerates the growth in the short term, but it risks producing fast-growing but weak low-grade wood. So I think that's an alternative that would have to be looked at very seriously.
The shift to area-based tenures and associated intensive forest management. That begs the question: what kind of tenure will best deliver intensive management? A starting point might be to ask if the large tenures we've had up to date have actually delivered that. Have they maximized jobs, maximized value recovery and delivered community stability?
We know that many notable companies — the MacMillan Bloedels, the Crown Zellerbachs, the Rayoniers and so on — have come and gone, and so too has the stability of many communities — again, for many good economic reasons and changing technology. The overarching question is simply: which forms of area-based tenure are most promising, especially in terms of delivering intensive forest management?
My conclusions on the way forward are three. Diversify by establishing more community-level area-based tenures. This includes woodlots, community tree farm licences and other similar licences.
The precedents certainly exist. There are over 500 woodlots in the province at the present time. As I understand, all are 400 hectares or more. There is the positive experience of the Revelstoke tree farm licence — and from an earlier era, the Mission tree farm licence.
What are the benefits of this? Connections to the land, connections to the communities, and maintaining local job opportunities.
Of course there are questions of these. What are the costs of establishing them? Where would they be located? How big should they be and how varied? Some of the material I read…. As you move north, you might have to move into 1,500- or 2,000-hectare units.
How to protect the non-timber values and including public access in these new terms. Finally, and importantly, how to assess results, because there may be sub-variations on that, which would include going against the long doctrine of not having a private forest land — or expanding it. There are some issues, as we know, from even tenures that have built in private forest land when it is taken out, at some considerable cost to society.
Are there models? Well, one of our principal competitors, Sweden, probably gives a good example. As I understand, from the post-war situation, World War II, they had a very depleted forest situation and decided that their goal was to increase the growing stock.
From my understanding, not only has their value gone up — their jobs have gone up — but their standing stock has over the years. It is principally based on a forest land base that's about [inaudible recording] 50 percent privately owned. Obviously, tenures, woodlot arrangements and that, could replicate that.

So my recommendation is simply to review the Swedish experience for the transferrable aspects, especially their silvicultural systems, which I understand are based on long rotations and successive thinnings — and with it, the log-marketing arrangements, where they have come up with regional associations that have allowed some equity between the buyers and sellers in terms of actually creating an opportunity to capture value. And successive thinnings — and with it, the log-marketing arrangements, where they have come up with regional associations that have allowed some equity between the buyers and sellers in terms of actually creating an opportunity to capture value.
Secondly, creating one of these regional log markets. The benefits: wood access for new enterprises would be an obvious one, to address an earlier concern; recovery of value for both the government and producers; and knowledge, again related to the stumpage system, about prices and markets.
Questions? Absolutely. How many are required to be viable? Where would these markets be located? What would be the preferred models? All of those bear some research, but certainly the precedents exist, and the starting point is with the experience of the Lumby log sort and auction, which operated successfully in the 1990s, and even this small business forest enterprise program and B.C. Timber Sales, which I'm sure would give some transferrable experience.
Finally, government initiatives in terms of legislation in terms of the tenure modifications and inventiveness around what might be possible there: the policies which would detail the operating provisions; solid information support, as the Auditor General has pointed out; strategic planning and research, particularly on coordinated market intelligence to benefit both producers of wood and producers of product; ensuring a system of cost-recoverable loans is in place to support enterprise — that doesn't necessarily mean government money, but it means making sure that the lenders might be well positioned and knowledgeable — training opportunities in all segments, particularly advanced silviculture and advanced processing; finally, the importance, as the Auditor General's report has pointed out, of audits and the resulting adaptation.
No one I've ever spoken to, and particularly myself, has the answers here, but I think what you're doing is starting a conversation — and to have centres like the Wosk Centre for Dialogue used as an ongoing opportunity to have really intensive discussions among the people that are super knowledgeable, including the people at the universities, to kind of keep reinventing the future, because it's going to keep unfolding in ways that probably we can't predict ecologically and economically.
Thank you for the opportunity for these remarks, Mr. Chairman.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Political ecology and BC's Public Forests

The management of BC's public forests has been a hundred year exercise in human ecology or perhaps political ecology. Interaction between human society and the forest since the arrival of Europeans has been political. The BC Legislature has a special committee on timber supply to examine the problem of declining harvests in the wake of a mountain pine beetle epidemic. Human ecology is not just about human nature, social, political and economic systems imposing their will on the forest. The special committee on timber supply exists because the forest has reacted to the burdens of human use or misuse.

We like to explain the reaction of the forest in terms of climate change. The super-sized, larger than natural, outbreak of mountain pine beetle is blamed on mild winters. We like this simple but incomplete explanation. Another important factor in the super epidemic was the build up of huge areas of old Lodge Pole Pine that are susceptible to beetle attack. The build up of old  pine was caused by forest management. Forest fires were suppressed and sufficient pine was not harvested soon enough, because other species were more profitable. Forest Management in BC has bumped up against an old forestry dictum "Work with nature or you will be defeated". The forest sector is being constrained by nature and not, as they would have us believe, by measures to protect the environment and other forest values. Improvidence has constrained the timber supply.

The workings of nature in a forest are very complex and remain beyond our present level of scientific understanding. Forests can be subject to some rather destructive natural disturbances, but there is also evidence that they operate at least to some extent as an ecological common wealth. Tree roots are usually in a sharing relationship with various micro organisms and fungi in the soil that helps all parties in the forest to survive over the long term. Humans on the other hand are propelled by forces that seek to protect individual or or group interests. Power is closely associated with these forces.  Humans can also moderate their individual or group self interests. Our political, legal, religious and other institutions seek to provide some balance but progress can be interspersed by regression or calcification. Inequity leads to conflict. Forests need some protection from humans. Most jurisdictions have some legal and institutional framework to moderate human exploitation of forests. In most jurisdictions this will mean some regulation on forest owners.

Foresters in BC often complain about political interference in forest management. It is seen as a bad influence that is best ignored, rather than understood. The reality is that in BC forestry is totally political. BC made the decision to retain most of its forests in public ownership. The BC Government is the trustee and the management of forests is political. Forest management in BC has been a great experiment in political ecology. One hundred years ago the institution of public forests was intended to provide independent professional management by a BC Forest Service. The intent was to sustain communities and a healthy forest industry in the long term. It was seen as a better alternative than private ownership by timber companies that could exploit the forest. Control by a few timber companies could restrict the availability of timber and restrict entrepreneurial activity in the development of a diversified wood products industry.

The advocates for public forests of 100 years ago reminded BC Legislators that Public Forests would only work if they ensured the gradual and progressive development of a wise system of forest stewardship. Unfortunately, BC Legislators over the last 100 years have excelled in aiding the development of an unwise system of stewardship that has undermined the original intent of public forests and led to the present sustainability crisis.

Management of public forests in BC revolves around rights to harvest timber that are held for the most part by forest industry corporations. (For more information: http://www.leg.bc.ca/cmt/39thparl/session-4/timber/documents/MoFLNRO_Overview_of_BC_Forest_Tenures_2012Jun4.pdf )
 The tenure system gives rights to loggers. This is hardly a basis for forest stewardship for the 21st century. Increasing forest management responsibilities have been transferred to timber rights holders.  After the environmental awakening that commenced about 1970, the system has been retrofitted with land use planning and environmental protection measures. The original intention of independent professional forest management has been replaced by the concept of professional reliance in Registered Professional Foresters. However, foresters have to work within a legal and institutional framework that is based on legal rights for loggers. Management of BC's public forests operates within this box. The system is a political arrangement. The rights to harvest public timber  has been a currency for politicians in BC. Only one Minister of Forests went to jail for putting some of the cash into his own pocket. Awarding of timber harvesting rights to forest companies after WWII was a political winner because it brought prosperity as the best of the forest started to be utilized. Politicians scored points with the public and the forest companies as timber wealth started to flow. The forest piggy bank is getting rather low so we may see some new political maneuvers.


A tenure system in public forests based on rights to harvest timber is not a foundation for sustainable forest management. Rather, it is an arrangement destined to exploit the wealth of the forest in the short term. Over the long term, it gives a forest with reduced economic opportunities and forest health problems. This is our present predicament. The only real solution to the timber supply problem is wise arrangements for forest management. This means major overhaul of the present laws, institutions for managing BC's public forests.


A wise system should not be based on rights to harvest, but rather on stewardship responsibilities. Local forest trusts with an elected board and local professional managers is a wise area based option. The trusts would operate under trust documents based on the Montreal Process, the international standard for sustainable forest management. The forests would be managed for timber, non timber and nature based economic activity. The trusts would operate as forest businesses with the transaction with timber corporations being cash for timber offered in an open market. A BC Forest Trust Assembly governed by elected and professional delegates from local forest trusts would audit, support and act as a court of appeal.


BC legislators of the past 100 years have not delivered on a wise system of sustainable forest stewardship. New arrangements for sustainable forest stewardship are a prerequisite for future timber supplies. Will the present Special Committee on Timber Supply make strong recommendations for new arrangements for stewardship of public forests?


Major change usually comes after it is realized that the old bad ways need to be changed. Unfortunately, the transcripts of the hearings of the special committee on timber supply indicate that the penny has not quite dropped. The mountain pine beetle epidemic is being excused on climate change that is outside of our control. Forest management deficiencies that led to the forests in the interior of BC becoming a huge mountain pine beetle habitat of old pine trees has not been acknowledged. Even foresters, biologists and ecologists who have highlighted stewardship problems have not explicitly linked them to the deficiencies in the present legal and institutional infrastructure. It is the box that every one thinks within. Rights to harvest timber as a stewardship arrangement for public forests is a very bad mouthful that everyone is trying to swallow. It is not positive to say it tastes good while you are choking.


If BC Legislators had been good trustees of the public forest over the past 100 years we would not have the present system. The existing system only appears to cater to the public interest. It really caters to the insiders in the system, the corporations holding timber harvesting rights. BC Public Forests have been used support a government created oligopoly of forest corporations that is subject to discriminatory export taxes and tariffs. The present legal and institutional arrangements act in the interests of the forest corporations holding timber rights.


BC has legislation that makes the like of store owners and others with premises that the public may enter liable for unsafe conditions. After forest corporations exercise their rights to harvest public timber and regenerate piecemeal developments in the forests, roads are left without maintenance and deteriorate to the detriment of the environment and any one who wishes to travel on the road. BC legislators just passed legislation to limit the liability of forest companies for these unsafe roads. The public has to go into their own forest at their own risk.


The Public Forest pork barrel is getting low so the old spin of prosperity for forest companies, forest communities and forest workers will no longer work. Voters in forest dependent communities are out numbered by those in BC's major urban centers. Although the recommendations of the present legislative committee will have great significance for the future of BC's forest, environment and communities, it has hardly made into the news media in BC. Impacted voters in forest dependent communities can probably be persuaded on some measures that are not in their long term interests by some short term economic fear tactic.


The timber supply problems in BC's public forest have been caused by legislators that have given legal and institutional leniency to forest corporations. We should hope that the present legislators will be gifted with the wisdom to make changes but their recommendations expected later this summer may try to solve the problem with more leniency for forest corporations. This may take the form of longer term area based tenures that will move the public forests well along the road to total enclosure into the private interest. The committee may call for the removal of "constraints" to timber harvest. "Constraints" is a term used for measures to protect the environment and other forest values. It shows the thinking within the forest sector. Actually the greatest constraint to timber harvest in the interior of BC was forest management activity that produced huge areas of mountain pine beetle habitat. We need to start to look at this major constraint to timber supply that has its roots in a politically lenient tenure system for corporate timber rights holders.