Is selective felling possible in BC's coastal forests?

sitka at sitka at
Tue Feb 3 01:34:15 EST 1998

Good evening Theo.  In reply to your follow-up e-mail/questions of Feb.2
on the topic of selective havesting on the BC coast:

> 1. I am not in a position to argue for Greenpeace, but my personal veiw
> is that while Greenpeace may, in private, say that clearcutting is an
> ecconomic necessity, (I don't like their alternative, publicly stated
> economic arguements), I am surprised that you say that they accept
> clearcutting as 'ecologically appropriate'. Other environmental NGO's,
> such as WWF will, as far as I know, also say that clearcutting is
> ecologically unsound. And WWF are a fairly 'conservative' NGO, seeing
> that their international president is none other than our Prince Philip,
> Duke of Edinburgh, :-) and they are mostly financed by industries.
> I would like to ask you why you consider that 'clearcutting is
> ecologically appropriate', but it might take a lot of your time, and my
> original question was specifically on the technical problems of
> clearcutting as I wanted to steer clear of the rights and wrongs of
> clearcutting.

I don't believe that I stated that Greenpeace publicly supports clearfell
silviculture methods in my earlier message.  Rather, I stated that
Greenpeace is well aware that clearfelling is both ecologically
appropriate and an economic necessity.	There's a big difference,
particularly when the organization is using BC clearfelling practices as
the main plank/catalyst for its overseas funding campaigns.  As an aside
you might be curious to know that Patrick Moore (co-founder of Greenpeace
is now an advocate of  BC forest industry - check the BC Forest Alliance
website for more info).

In terms of the ecological appropriateness of clearfelling as a
silvicultural tool, supportive examples abound throughout BC (coast and
interior).  At the risk of grossly oversimplifying things, the coast is
comprised of an array of differing ecosystems (we call them
biogeoclimatic zones) ranging from warmer and drier climes on the south
coast to more maritime and hypermaritime conditions to the north.

In the southern Coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone where the bulk of
the most prized original douglas-fir is located the species' successful
regeneration depends on catastrophic events such as fire or a mimicking
process (ie. clearfell harvesting).  In this particular biogeoclimatic
zone the species is shade intolerant and would not thrive or regenerate
successfully if managed on a selective basis given the soil, temperature,
moisture and sunlight conditions.

Areas such as the lower mainland around Vancouver and the south and east
side of Vancouver Island historically underwent massive fires on a
periodic basis (sometimes aboriginal induced by accident or to improve
forage/hunting conditions).  This had the two main effects: 1) it
eliminated non fire resistant competitors such as spruce, hemlock & cedar
thereby allowing fire resistant doug-firs to thrive and become vets; and,
2) the fire also had/has the added effect of exposing mineral soils for
young fir to successfully germinate and regenerate on.

Just to add a wrinkle to the picture, in the Interior Douglas-fir
biogeoclimatic zone around the Cariboo (Williams Lake-Kamloops)
conditions are much warmer and drier.  Douglas-fir also tends to dominate
around these parts although unlike its coastal counterparts it is shade
dependant for its successful regeneration.  Selective silvicultural
systems are the norm - and due to the favourable terrain, soils and piece
size are quite successful.

On the north-west side of Vancouver Island on north up to the Alaskan
panhandle you move into the Coastal Western Hemlock biogeoclimatic zone. 
As the name suggests the area is dominated by hemlock given its great
performance in shade and/or full sunlight.  There is however a high
degree of species variability depending on the site productivity, aspect,
soils, elev. etc... Sitka spruce and western redcedar can be found in
abundance (balsam to a lesser extent) and are the more highly valued and
preferred species.  Even though cedar is shade tolerant to some extent
spruce is generally not and requires exposed sunlight conditions to do
well hence the basis and main silvicultural basis for clearfelling.

There is obviously more to it than this brief overview and time permits
but it does get your head in the ballpark.

> 2. Can you expand a bit on why you say present logging is not
> sustainable, as I think that is something Greenpeace and you would agree
> on.

I thought that might get your attention.

After covering a fair bit of the coast over the years in work and play I
have no doubt whatsoever that BC is over harvesting its currently
operable timber supply .  That is not to say that where we harvest and
how we regenerate is wrong - rather the rate is simply unsustainable. 
Once again the reasons and history are complex. However in a nutshell the
province has and continues to use its old growth forest capital to create
an industrial & economic base for our economy.	As the province matures
and economy diversifies its becoming less reliant upon old growth as
primary economic engine.  The challenge of course is to wean the forest
sector gradually down to that point of sustainability (might take another
15-20 years??).  I personally do not advocate the shock treatment
approach that Washington and Oregon State just went through.

In an earlier e-mail to Mike H. on "Coastal Issues" I indicated that
several of my peers felt that our provincial AAC could actually be
increased from 70,000,000 m3/yr up to 100,000,000 m3/yr or more with a
clearly defined and defended working forest coupled with intensive
silviculture (spacing, fert., brushing etc.).  Unfortunately, while the
potential is clearly there the public will is not given increasing
demands for wilderness, parks, and so on.

> Yes, of course size is only one factor. When I mentioned size, what I
> really meant was the problem of very tall trees being felled into a
> dense stand.
> Are there crew safety problems with selective felling tall trees?

Yes it’s a problem from safety, residual stand damage and log extraction
perspectives.  I have however seen a test block (+/- 30ha) over on the
Queen Charlottes a couple of years back which underwent a 25% basal area
removal via helicopter on  steep slope conditions.  It worked but
required precision falling/yarding and a high initial stand value -
definitely not the norm.

Regarding horse logging on the coast- forget it. The terrain is too
steep, the trees too big (possibly in some second growth stands) and the
productivity too low.  Horse logging certainly has a nice ring to it but
has absolutely no place whatsoever on the coast with the exception of a
very select few niche areas on Vancouver Island.

In a historic industrial sense horses were used to some limited extent on
some of the best ground in the late 1800's however these were rapidly
replaced with teams of oxen who were stronger, worked harder and were
less fragile.  They in turn were replaced with steam donkeys when someone
got smart and so on and so on............


Shawn Hedges, RPF
Prince Rupert, BC

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