SpruceRoots Magazine - April, 1999

Real alternatives to clearcutting; beware the terminology
These days it is harder to sell wood from BC - we don't have a good name internationally. People, businesses and countries are refusing wood from clearcuts and old growth forests; they are looking for wood that is certified sustainably harvested "green" - it's the consumer's choice.

Internationally BC is damned for its forestry practices - look in the press. The recent record has been: Clayoquot Sound; the Brazil of the North ad campaign; and our lagging efforts at First Nations treaty negotiations - land title including the trees and other resources.

The Scientific Panel for Sustainable Forest Practices in Clayoquot Sound was set up after all the arrests at the Clayoquot protests. The panel was asked to design the best forestry practices in the world. The province said they would see to it that future logging in Clayoquot Sound would be implemented on this basis. MB stopped logging and shut down in Clayoquot Sound in 1997, stating that these conditions were just too onerous for it to continue operations.

I got myself invited to see a Ministry of Forests (MOF), small business cutblock, with a difference.

We drove the highway North from Tlell, towards Port, past the Mayer Lake turn-off, a short way past Woodpile Creek, and then west just past Bebin Pond. We bumped along a sand road to a clearcut with the vexar blues, and a regimented grid of yellows marking an experimental cedar planting. We parked in the midst of a distasteful wasteland with heaps of torn, shattered woody debris.

Southwest along the sand road on foot we came to a self-loading logging truck doing its thing. It paused to let us by and we scrambled quickly - mindful of the power of machinery, paranoid in the presence of hydraulics flailing trees, however carefully. We came to a place where there were trees standing, and looked at the two "cutblocks" of one Small Business sale. There were two sales: we talked about one.

The sale was "normal". The Small Business Licensee bids an additional "bonus" to the basic stumpage, and pays the ministry this extra - something the multi-nationals negotiated their way out of years ago. They tell me Small Business pays approximately double what the companies with tenure pay on similar trees.
But the sale was abnormal - the prescription was for single tree selection, group selection, and patch cuts - no clearcutting.

Tim Fennel - falling contractor, Marty Decock - contracgtor, Mikel Leclerc - Forester, and Rick Johnson, Small Business Administrative Forester

Marty Decock and Tim Fennell were there. Marty won the bid and Tim is the contract faller. Tim bought some of the logs for his small mill, and Marty said all the rest was sold to other on-island businesses - this was Marty's choice. The sale volume was 3200 cubic meters. This volume directly employed 4 people for 3 months here on-Island. The sale of this wood meant more jobs - the value added jobs that every one talks about being necessary.

In comparison of wood, all agreed that this sale had much worse "quality" trees than the big companies' famed "opportunity wood." I didn't ask how much money was made here. There was no champagne in view on this last day, but they did say "the economics work out." I know they worked hard, for long hours. Marty had bought a new, small, low-weight excavator hoping for the contract, and Tim brought a lot of experience. They met frequently in the woods with: Mikel Leclerc, Forester, from Ministry of Forests (MoF) (frequently on his own time - man with a vision); Bill Boulton, who explained Workman's Compensation Board (WCB) rules; and Keith Hunter who assessed the danger trees in accordance with those rules. At the MoF office Rick Johnson is the Small Business Administrative Forester; Rory Annett is the new District Manager, who I'm told seems supportive of this kind of work; and there were others who liked the idea of this sort of logging. All, together, they made it work.

WCB issues made for the biggest problems. Tim said that unless WCB comes up with regulations that are more practical and simpler to apply in the woods, bigger companies are going to be fettered, and won't change from clearcutting. Tim said the fines for a misstep are onerous for everyone, and he said that in applying the new WCB regulations, which allowed this selective logging, more danger trees (snags) were cut than necessary - to the detriment of the remaining forest. Time and effort were also wasted. Tim explained that these were small danger trees, and that cutting them, when they weren't a danger because of their size, was more dangerous than leaving them. Nevertheless, having the larger, slow rotting cedar snags assessed as "safe," meant being able to leave them under the new rules, and saved all the smaller, live cedar "poles" from being knocked down. The stand remains more windfirm.

The issue of not clearcutting has long been that the safety of the worker is compromised by being surrounded with upright trees that can fall; it takes skill, experience and wedging to direct trees through openings to avoid being hurt and having trees hang up. Hang-ups can be dangerous and can damage the forest, but Tim appears more concerned by the WCB bureaucracy than the snags he knows how to deal with. Is it all more dangerous? Probably, is my impression, but: manageable, Tim says.

In the cutblock there were trees still standing.
In the first area to be cut danger trees were not assessed; and so the WCB rules were clear: they all had to be cut. Too many other trees were removed to get them out - approximately 60% total. Winter winds blew another 5% or so down; but it was an experiment, and the team was flexible and learned and changed tactics. All the rest of the danger trees were assessed, and using the new WCB rules, they said, only between 30% and 45% of the rest of the trees were taken at each site. That is 30%-45% of the imagined area of all stumps, if all trees were cut. Then came more winds - but no more blowdown problems in the rest of the cutblock.

A section of the area during the logging operation.

There were the corridors of the hoe's track, kept to a minimum width, by machinery modification and skill: approximately 6-15 meters wide. These were the biggest noticeable openings. MOF estimated 7% damage to trees adjacent to where the machinery worked; 10% is allowed. There were smaller patches of missing trees - group selection, or patch cuts - usually centered around the removal of an unsafe danger tree or desirable live ones. There were solitary stumps in between the trees: individual tree selection. Stumps were cut very low, and flat - deliberately, carefully, with the angled butt left on the tree, which is more of a nuisance at the mill, but wastes less wood.

There were spaces between the trees; here is what was left:
There is a feathered strip of original forest along the Eastern edge for windthrow protection. It was left wider, here and there, often more than deemed necessary, because of experience and common sense, albeit with less profit. These cut-blocks are in an area susceptible to windthrow: there are wet sandy soils, wetlands, a lake, and clearcuts all around, but it doesn't look as if it will all blow down in normal storms, and there have been some strong winds already. There were safe "danger trees", ringed twice with blue paint, and there was a variable aged open forest structure, looking relatively undisturbed. There was no slash in between the trees; cut trees were lifted out, then limbed, and the debris was used to reduce the impact of the machine, which traveled a minimum distance off the road. The slash will be placed along the edges of the excavator corridors though, to rot, to reduce the impact to the nutrient poor conditions, and to make room for planting trees. Planting can be kept to a minimum: there are still a lot of trees - this is not a clearcut.

The logging show from overhead. Shown is themain haulroad and the forest after logging.

There were birds - I heard them, and Marty says there will still be Marten for his trap line (coincidentally covering the same area.) There was fresh deer shit, moss and forest plants coming up, though it was still winter cold when we were there. There were ordered piles of limbed trees beside the road and the remainder of the day's cleanup yet to deal with, but the cutting was more or less done.

Go on and look at it.
They say there won't be any operations to disrupt by approximately the end of March. All the trees will have been trucked out to local mills.

Does it look good? Well no, it does not look as good as a forest undisturbed. But in places it does look as good as I can imagine it could after the harvesting of trees; it could look a lot worse - look around you. I've walked it and I have seen aerial photographs and there are trees, and arguably a forest. Some bigger trees were left, and a lot of smaller cedars that all would have been waste wood in a clearcut and are plenty big enough now to survive deer browsing and grow.

The forest is not as it was; it is obviously changed. The area was not old growth but lies in the swath of the 120 year-old fire that burnt a lot of the Tlell watershed. There will undoubtedly be challenges, but if these blocks are treated with as much care as has been shown so far, there can be further harvests and old growth attributes can be selected for. In a clearcut there is an absence-here there are trees. And there are other silvacultural advantages: planting can be kept to a minimum; alder "control" shouldn't be an issue; pruning will be unnecessary, and a future harvest is possible much sooner.

It does look much better than a clearcut - you can take it from me, I'm not a forester.
This logging looks like the minimum we should expect. The AAC that condemns us is mostly clearcut by the large multinationals with tenures on our lands. They have tenures, but it is our land and ultimately, in a democracy, we are responsible. There is an AAC review underway now. Be vocal once again.

The over-cut is what Victoria uses to replenish its coffers - from the stumpage fees. Small business pays double the stumpage, so let's half the cut, and give it to small local businesses, who have shown here that they can do better, when allowed to. Small local businesses ensure local employment. I have heard it urged that MOF insist on local sales of wood from local cutblocks, to ensure a local source of wood for local manufacturers - value added, and more employment. They do it elsewhere in the province, making it happen is also our responsibility.

The AAC is far too high, the ownership of the lands we log isn't certain, and we allow logging in great swaths of clearcut that employs an absolute minimum of local people in the forests and keeps the wood out of local mills. We can change the way we log now, right now, and this is the time to make noise.

So, will Marty and Tim get to work on another contract like this one?
Marty will have to bid like everyone else: there will be no consideration given to his, or anyone else's quality of work; no consideration given to how many trees are saved by experience or what i took to be obvious sincerity and skill. But maybe it will become politically expedient for the government to care how many trees are saved for the children if enough people comment. MOF manages our public lands, for us - we are the public, and they need to hear it if we like this stuff. If they don't hear from us, Rick Johnson says, they won't be able to do any more of it.
Logging should all be done to at least these standards; the companies and the ministry have been saying for years now that it cannot be done, and here it is: done - just like that. This needs to be the new minimum standard. It ruins less forest and keeps more people working who are proud that they are loggers and woodworkers.

Rick Johnson talks wood to writers Erica Thompson and Ralph Nelson.

Condone the change - urge it. Write an official - call at least.
Views are changing ecologically and socially: people see that the situation is getting more desperate.

Hey! MB says it will start up in Clayoquot Sound again - but to log and sell certified (green) wood products this time - with First Nations peoples, and in accordance with The Clayoquot Sound Scientific Panel's recommendations! Well!

SpruceRoots Magazine - April, 1999