By Pat McMechan
British Columbia is rich in renewable forests, and BC society has many varied expectations about how these forests should be managed to meet social, economic and environmental values. The recent controversies about forest harvesting around Revelstoke are examples of the challenges of balancing these expectations.
One of the things Stella-Jones’ has learned as a result of the Forest Practices Board report regarding the harvesting that occurred on the Begbie Bench (Begbie Falls FSR) in 2013, is the need to do a better job of communicating with the public. Since the release of that report, Stella-Jones has been holding public open houses to share information regarding our forestry operations close to Revelstoke in addition to our already established practice of meeting with the tenured recreational user groups. Despite attempts to clearly explain and share information through the open house process, we feel that there is still a general lack of understanding about how BC’s forests are managed and what that means for the local forestry sector. This apparent gap in information is what prompted me to write this article. Thank you for reading it.
At the request of the Revelstoke Cycling Association, a number of forest licensees will be sharing information about how BC’s forests are managed, and the local forest industry on January 13 from 6 – 9 pm at the Revelstoke Community Center. The presentation will begin at 6:15pm followed by an open house with the local forest licensees. If you are interested in how our local forests are managed, we hope you will attend.
Who decides what gets harvested?
Approximately 93% of British Columbia’s forests are owned and managed by the provincial government. British Columbia is comprised of approximately 14.8% parks and protected areas. Revelstoke is located in close proximity to 2 large National Parks (Revelstoke and Glacier), numerous smaller provincial parks, as well as Revelstoke Mountain Resort “Controlled Recreation Area”. As the landlord, the provincial government – specifically the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO) – decides who can harvest public timber and in what amount, and they set the house rules and the payments for the privilege of harvesting. This is accomplished through the “Forest Act”, the “Forest and Range Practices Act”, and the “Foresters Act.” Additionally, much of BC’s Crown owned forests are managed to meet third-party stewardship certification.
How is the annual level of harvest decided?
The provincial government appoints the province’s Chief Forester, one of whose duties is to set the amount of timber that he/she determines can be sustainably harvested each year from the major forest management units in the province (Timber Supply Areas and Tree Farm Licenses). This volume is termed the “Annual Allowable Cut” (AAC). As part of this process the public is invited to provide comment. The Revelstoke Timber Supply Area includes lands around Revelstoke and north to Mica, excepting Tree Farm License 55 – managed by Louisiana Pacific – north of the Goldstream River, and Tree Farm License 56 – managed by Revelstoke Community Forest Corporation – south of Goldstream River. An AAC determination is a very lengthy process that occurs every 5-10 yrs. In 2011 a new AAC was set for the Revelstoke Timber Supply Area at 225,000 cubic meters / year. Additional information on the Revelstoke Timber Supply Area can be viewed at http://www.for.gov.bc.ca/hts/tsa/tsa27/#documents.
Where can harvesting happen?
The Timber Harvesting Land Base (THLB) is that portion of the Crown lands on a management unit that are physically capable of growing timber that can be economically harvested, and is not otherwise off-limits to logging. The determined AAC assumes that every single tree that is within the THLB, that is not within a park, an Old Growth Management Area / a mountain caribou reserve, or otherwise deemed necessary to permanently preserve, will be harvested in order to reach the determined AAC. A considerable amount of the THLB in the Revelstoke Timber Supply Area is located close to the City of Revelstoke.
The THLB in the Revelstoke Timber Supply Area is only about 24% of its total forested area – about 58,000 hectares – and of that about 1% gets harvested per year. Therefore about 0.24% of the total forested land base – about 600 hectares – gets harvested annually.
Who manages harvesting?
Once an AAC is determined for a management unit by the Chief Forester, the Minister of MFLNRO apportions the available AAC to forest licensees entitled to a share of the AAC. These companies generally have established operating areas where they can harvest the timber they have been allocated by the Crown. Downie Timber, BC Timber Sales, and Stella-Jones are all entitled to AAC within the Revelstoke Timber Supply Area.
If a licensee does not harvest the timber they have been allocated within a five year period, the Ministry will take any unlogged volume away from the licensee and may award it to another licensee. Therefore forest licensees are expected by government to harvest a certain volume within their operating area within a five-year time frame.
What revenues come from harvesting?
Forest licensees pay the government for the timber harvesting rights in the form of “stumpage” and annual rents. These government revenues help pay for benefits that we all enjoy such as healthcare and education. The latest Revelstoke Timber Supply Review estimated that the BC government derives $17.2 million annually from the harvested Revelstoke Timber Supply Area timber. It is estimated that all the timber harvested annually in the various Revelstoke area management units contributes approximately $46 million to the province annually.
Downie Sawmill is the largest employer in Revelstoke with about 275 full-time, well paid positions. There are approximately 375 people in Revelstoke directly employed by the forest sector, which is about 12% of the labour force. However, the income associated with these 375 positions represents approximately 20% of the community’s total income.
How is harvesting planned?
The overarching planning document in the Revelstoke area is the Revelstoke Higher Level Plan which was created through extensive public input in the 1990’s. The Revelstoke Higher Level Plan was adopted in 1998 and some elements of the Plan became legal objectives in 2005. Forest licensees are each required to prepare a Forest Stewardship Plan (FSP) which outlines how the forest licensee will meet the objectives of the Crown, when practicing forestry within their operating area. These objectives include timber, fish and wildlife, visual quality, recreation, water quality, etc. These plans are available for public and First Nations comment prior to approval by the District Manager. FSPs are revisited every 5 years.
Before a forest licensee can do any harvesting, it is also required to apply for and receive a cutting permit from the MFLNRO. The Ministry must issue a cutting permit provided the cutting permit application is consistent with the forest licensee’s FSP and has met other legal criteria. Prior to the harvesting of timber, the forest licensee must also prepare a “Site Plan” which addresses how the planned operations will meet its FSP on that particular site. The public can ask to view Site Plans.
In B.C., only registered professional foresters are permitted to sign off on FSP’s and Site Plans. These foresters have completed required training (usually a university degree), a period of mentorship, successfully passed an entrance exam and annually updated their competence. When planning harvest areas professional foresters consider numerous currently held principles of good forest planning including (in no particular order):
- Forest health;
- Operational feasibility;
- Stand characteristics (age, species, volumes);
- Non-timber values (recreation, wildlife, visuals etc.);
- Future logging opportunities (not isolating harvestable timber);
- Site disturbance (season and harvesting method); and
How is recreation use and timber harvesting balanced?
The Revelstoke forest industry also faces challenges, including trying to maintain the social, economic, and environmental balance expected by society. Managing forestry operations in areas with overlapping recreation values is especially challenging. As residents of Revelstoke, we are very fortunate to have extensive world class recreation opportunities out our back doors. However, many of these areas are also part of the THLB and as such also have timber value and licensed harvesting rights.
As with timber harvest planning, before legal recreation trails can be built on Crown land, including in the THLB, the trail proponents must seek input from other forest users. Consequently, the local forest licensees are asked to provide comment on the local trail development plans. In all cases, forest licensees state that they do not have an issue with the development of trails; however, it should be recognized that the trails are within the THLB and will likely be impacted by harvesting in the future. As access to harvestable timber is steadily becoming more challenging, it is also becoming more difficult to avoid logging in areas with established trails.
In Stella-Jones’ case, we have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Revelstoke Cycling Association and we are developing an MOU with the Revy Riders dirt bike club. These MOUs outline the rights and interests of both parties and how we are to work together in conjunction with the government organization “Recreation Sites and Trails BC”. This MOU and the “partnership agreement” between the Revelstoke Cycling Association and “Recreation Sites and Trails BC” can be viewed at the Revelstoke Cycling Association website: http://bikerevelstoke.org/enter/?page_id=1822. Stella-Jones also has a long standing positive relationship with the Revelstoke Snowmobile Club.
What are the forest regeneration requirements?
Following harvesting, forest licensees legally have four years to regenerate an area with young trees that meet species and density rules. Revelstoke forest licensees typically reforest harvested areas within two years of harvest completion. Forest licensees are responsible for caring for and treating those stands until they reach a stage called “Free Growing” (usually about 15 years after planting).
What does the local forest industry produce?
Revelstoke has a unique forest industry that includes a diversity of forest tenure types and ownership and a variety of tree species. Unlike other areas where low value timber products dominate, Revelstoke forest companies are focused on high value products – utility poles by Stella Jones, dimensional lumber and specialty products by Downie Timber/Selkirk Specialty Woods, beams and high end cedar from Kozek Sawmill and laminated veneer lumber by Louisiana Pacific Engineered Wood Products. For these reasons, the Revelstoke forest industry has continued to operate through the recent market downturn, when many other mills around the province shutdown, and has a bright future. The Revelstoke industry provides employment and community stability, and revenue to government.
I hope this article has helped explain how BC’s public forests are managed. Please join us for the open house on January 13 6-9 PM at the Community Centre to learn more.
Pat McMechan is a Registered Professional Forester with Stella-Jones Canada Inc.