Saturday, November 3, 2012

Clear Cutting, Forest roads, Parks and protected areas


Clear cutting of forests raises public concern about environmental impact. It is visual. It stands out on the landscape. However, forests regenerate either by natural or artificial means. Forests are resilient and harvest of trees, once in many decades, amounts to minimal disturbance compared to agriculture that may turn over the entire soil in a field every year.

Clear-cutting in BC got a bad rap because large tracts of forest were harvested within a short period and the impact on the visual landscape gave people the sense that something was amiss. This impression may have been correct, because the BC forest sector is facing a few problems resulting from taking more from the forest than nature can provide.

The major environmental impacts of clear-cutting is not usually in the removal of trees but in the human footprint of getting to the trees. Forest roads required for harvesting and transport of logs do disturb the soil and drainage patterns. If roads are well located, constructed and maintained environmental impact is minimal. However, poorly located, constructed or maintained roads can be an ongoing source of erosion and sometimes, soil movements or landslides.

For the past three months, I have been doing volunteer work in a BC Provincial Park to survey and assess the trail system. The park was clear-cut approximately 60 years ago with little regard for anything except economic values. Many of the sites would have been extremely sensitive, with thin soils and rock. After 60 years, the forest has regenerated and the sensitive sites have recovered. The park has a greater percentage of its area in a "Special Features Zone" intended to protect special natural sites and features, than any other park in BC. Most of these sites have recovered through natural resiliency.

Some of the old logging roads are now trails within the park. Some of the old roads were well located and now provide almost perfect trails, that are sustainable. Cut and fill slopes are covered with ground vegetation, and a covering of tree needles on the road surface gives an idyllic appearance. Other roads were poorly located with very steep gradients. They have been eroding for 60 years and continue to erode. Unfortunately, some of these remain as main trails in the park. The narrow park trail on the existing forest road attracts water flow and exacerbates the erosion. To stop the erosion, the trails or old roads need to be de-activated and ditched to promote natural recovery. New detour trail sections are needed. Alternative locations are hard to find in some cases, because the terrain is challenging.

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