Sunday, March 29, 2015

The road that became a Park trail and its footprint


About seventy years ago, loggers were harvesting old growth trees along a coastal inlet in British Columbia. Inlets are really fjords, glacial valleys with steep U shaped sides. A good way to harvest these areas is to place winches on a floating barge on the salt water inlet.  A big A frame made of logs at least one hundred feet long was raised on the barge and a loop of cable for logging would run through massive pulley blocks on top of the A Frame. Logs could be pulled by cable over a distance of one kilometer.

At the distant end of the logging, cables would run through tail block pulleys that were sometimes raised far above the ground on trees that had been topped and rigged with guy line cables. Getting the heavy cables and blocks out to the far end of the logging was a bit of a job. In this case, the loggers decided to build a road with a bulldozer to get to far end of the area. Since the bulldozer road would not be used by logging trucks they exceeded normal maximum gradients of approximately 20% and went at over 20% and 30% for almost a kilometer. The loggers left and the forest regenerated naturally and the area's sensitive sites recovered. Forests are resilient. However, the bulldozer road started to erode and has eroded to this day. Accelerated erosion associated with access is potentially the most serious impact of forestry activity. Even trails in parks or protected areas can be subject to accelerated erosion. Excessive gradients and locating access in the wrong place are the two most common causes of accelerated erosion.

Reputable forest companies in British Columbia had standards for gradient control on forest roads even eighty years ago. Towards the end of last century more attention was being paid to erosion control on forest roads in BC. There were rehabilitation programs to stop accelerated erosion on existing forest roads. Government and industry developed methods of temporary and permanent deactivation of forest roads to reduce erosion. Public pressure for better forest practices helped to bring these improvements and a movement to save more forests in parks or protected areas.

In a paradoxical turn of fate, the eroding road near the inlet was in an area of high biodiversity and it became a park. It had been saved. Only the salvation was a little peculiar. If it had remained in a timber producing forest it would have seen stewardship in the form of permanent deactivation involving cross draining to end the accelerated erosion.  The road's saved status put it under the protection of a park agency that is under funded and never had the capacity to develop gradient control and other standards for trails. They tried a minimum fix of a little drainage and even added some wooden steps on parts of the road that were very steep. This soon failed after one or two rain storms.

The physical problems of the road are egregious but its routing sends park users along an unsafe boring trail with many opportunities to go off the trail onto rocky sites that are harbor rare plants and animals. Its strategic routing in the park is a conservation disaster.

A retired forester with forest engineering volunteered time to find and locate a gradient controlled relocation that would enable the deactivation of the eroding road and provide hikers with a more interesting trail with viewpoints and points of interest while avoiding sensitive sites. The intent was to attract volunteers from a nearby city to build the new access to sustainable standards.

The park agency remains in the minimum fix paradigm, so the old eroding logging road lives on as an unsafe eroding trail with other serious conservation issues. The accelerated erosion continues. A continued footprint of poor stewardship is saved in a park. The loggers of seventy years ago probably did not know any better, but what about a park agency?