Sunday, January 25, 2015

Forest Design and Habitecture

In an article in the Truck Logger BC magazine, Les Kiss of the Coast Forest Products Association promotes the idea of intelligent forest design. The approach to managing wildlife habitat and other sensitive sites in the public forests of British Columbia has been more knee jerk than intelligent. While it is sometimes necessary to protect a habitat from forest harvesting, reserves should not be the only approach. A wildlife species may benefit from younger forest or forest edges in the vicinity. In many instances habitat can be improved or supplemented by forest harvesting or treatment. Silvicultural systems other than clear-cutting can sometimes be employed to improve habitat. Forest design can also be employed to reduce the aesthetic impact of forest activities on the landscape over the long term. The shapes of clear cut harvesting blocks can be designed to blend rather than conflict with landscape features. While the BC resident will be concerned about the appearance of clear cuts in the landscape, it is interesting to note that the first efforts in visual forest design occurred in the UK where reforestation efforts were establishing forests on bare hills often protected by the straight lines of deer fences. There was negative reaction to straight line forests rather than straight line clear-cuts.

The intended outcome of intelligent forest design is greater certainty in the supply of timber resulting in greater community stability for both humans and other species. Forest design of habitats or habitecture is a long term planning affair and more complex than just protecting core habit in reserves. The managed forest becomes supplemental habitat that includes beneficial features that will need to be dynamically replaced as forestry activity takes place. Some contingency may need to be included to cover for unintended disturbances such as fire or wind damage. Intelligent forest design is a long term affair requiring stable forest stewards that will be there in the local forest.

Les Kiss is a good BC forester promoting a good and necessary idea. I helped the Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada FERIC develop a course on forest design for BC about a quarter of a century ago. I expected the good idea to take root and flourish. Most foresters would expect the same, but like many other good technical forestry concepts it did not take root and grow. If a forester plants trees and they do not grow, growing conditions will be closely examined to determine the cause. Some changes will be made and the second attempt will usually be successful.

The soil of our social, cultural and institutional conditions is the reason that good and necessary forest stewardship ideas do not flourish. Eighty percent of Canadians live in cities. Every election we hear that it is all about the economy. What is the Canadian economy mainly about? Extraction of resources from the hinterland is the focus. Forests are just another resource in the hinterland that should be shipped out the door as fast as possible to make a dollar. Where is Canadian long term thinking with respect to tar sands or natural gas reserves? The "make as many dollars now" concept is not compatible with sustainable forest management.

The most important piece of sustainable forest management, that even foresters ignore, is the legal and institutional framework for sustainable forest management. BC has a very robust foundation for sustainable forest management in its public forests. However its arrangements for managing these public forests are unwise because they are built on the "make as many dollars now" idea. The idea works well in the exploitation of forests for a while and then there are problems. We are now trying to deal with the problems under a system that created them in the first place. The primary legal arrangement for managing public forests is under rights to harvest timber. The whole system is built around permissions to harvest and relatively short term responsibilities to regenerate the harvested area. These are not good arrangements for the practice of long term intelligent design of forests, habitats or ecosystems.

We first need some intelligent design of our legal and institutional arrangements for the management of public forests to enable long term forest design and advanced stewardship. A key feature of these new arrangements is that they need to provide long term stewardship. Forest industry associations will promote the idea of long term leases in public forests that permit them to manage the forests over a very long term. Where are the big forest corporations of just a few decades ago? MacMillan Bloedel, BC Forest Products, Crown Zellerbach all have disappeared. Would forest corporations manage the forests in the public or their own interests?  Will long term leases be just a stepping stone in the enclosure of public forests into the private interest.

Intelligent design of institutional arrangements for managing public forests in the long term should be based on responsibilities for stewardship rather than rights to harvest. The timber producing area of the average forest landscape in BC comprises less than half of the total landscape area. The non timber producing area comprises poor forest, mountain tops, lakes rivers and glaciers. These are areas of virgin undisturbed lands in natural condition with recreation and nature based economic potential. The total area of these undisturbed natural lands is greater than the area of BC's extensive parks and protected areas. The stewards of public forests should be accountable to the public under local democratic arrangements. The stewards of the local forest should have the responsibility for sustaining the forest and all its resources. All the natural capital should be managed for multiple economic and social benefits. The most promising institution is a local democratic forest trust with professional managers. This arrangement is also totally compatible and would provide institutional arrangements for aboriginal title which is really a long term sustainable stewardship trust over the land for the benefit of a community.

If we want to practice intelligent forest design, we first need to design some intelligent arrangement and institutions for the stewardship of our public forests.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Vancouver Island Pilgrimage Trail

While researching for my last blog on forest pilgrimages, a Google query did not yield much about forest pilgrimages across the world. It did yield one ambitious pilgrimage trail idea almost in my own back yard that I did not know about. The Vancouver Island Spine trail intends to be a pilgrimage trail that traverses the entire length of Vancouver Island.

The trail is a good idea and it is in keeping with the sustainable forest management concept of gaining social and economic benefits from the full natural capital of the forest. It is a major project with many and considerable challenges to overcome. To realize the vision we will look at some of these challenges.

Vancouver Island is not a wee island. It is approximately 300 miles or 500 kilometers long and 50 miles or 80 kilometers wide as the crow flies. Although Vancouver Island is elongated in shape and mountainous, the spine trail suggests a ridge of mountains that runs the length of the Island. The geology of the Island is complex and there is no uniform central ridge, but rather complex mountain topography broken by valleys that run in many different directions. Routing the trail is not a simple issue and there multiple options over the entire length. A more easterly route would take the trail closer to the communities on the more populated east side of the Island. This would take the trail through private forest land. Although most forest in BC is public one of the largest blocks of private forest land in British Columbia is in the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway E&N land grant on the east side of Vancouver Island. It was a questionable piece of public land enclosure and investment advice on these lands sometimes notes that the private ownership is tainted. Hopefully the owners will be agreeable. While it is a major challenge to connect a single trail the length of the Island, a more realistic long term view would be a network of trails with optional routing giving a choice of easterly or westerly routes or valley bottom versus mountain top.

The spine trail site notes that traversing coastal rain forests on rough terrain is difficult and simple trails are required. Planning, constructing and maintaining trails on Vancouver Island is far from simple. It is mountainous and there are major rainstorms. Although the east side gets lower annual rainfalls, it gets major rain storm events. These have to be considered in design, location, construction and maintenance. A trail is really a narrow road for people to walk on. Like a road it has to be designed for the machines or animals that will use it. Although some humans can climb up overhangs, most fit people can maintain a marching or flowing gait on gradients up to 15% (15 up for every 100 along).  Foot action tends to gouge trails above 15% unless they are armored, and problems of erosion from water flowing down the trail increase exponentially when the gradient gets above 15%. Trails seldom have all the usual drainage bells and whistles in the form of  drains and culverts that you find in wider vehicle roads. Therefore the location of trails has to be done with greater care than a road. The other major limitation of the human walking machine is that is is barely evolved to remain upright. The trail tread or surface needs to be free of projecting rocks or tripping hazards. Some Park agencies follow the 4 by 4 rule for trail surfaces meaning that there should be no rocks greater than 4 inches within the top 4 inches of the surface. Larger rocks wear out of the surface and become tripping hazards. The most difficult soils for building trails are coarse soils or soils with a lot of rocks. These are the norm over most of Vancouver Island. See: Trails on rocky soils    The following site on planning Sustainable Mountain Trails provides essential advice. Enlisting experienced help such as forest engineers to plan and locate trails would be advantageous. Inexperienced trail locators often have little concept of gradient control. Use instruments such as clinometers to measure gradient. Do not include unnecessary downhill sections in a route that is heading uphill.

There are thousands of kilometers of forest roads on Vancouver Island. Some of these are little used or deactivated and could from part of a trail network. While the forest industry is much criticized, it has been using forest engineering principles and instruments for a century and although there are erosion problems on some forest roads, most forest roads have controlled gradients and the little used or deactivated ones are ready made parts of a trail network. The same cannot be said for trails located in Parks or protected areas.

The Vancouver Island pilgrimage trail is a good idea, but it will take much planning and considerable local volunteer work in the dirt to construct and maintain the trail or trail network.