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  • How BC can break the forest fire cycle

    Taryn Skalbania

    The logging industry's "solution" to forest fires will make them worse



    The growing extent of clearcuts and plantations in BC is resulting in larger forest fires (BC Wildfire Service photo)


    IN ADVOCATING FASTER CLEARCUT LOGGING to deal with out-of-control wildfires, the forest industry and its advocates ignore the fundamental reasons for the Okanagan region turning into a tinderbox. The industry’s prescription of “chainsaw medicine” to remedy the situation will only make matters worse.

    Three key reasons that have turned the Okanagan into a tinderbox fueling the megafires of today are: fire suppression, the rate of clearcutting and global warming.

    Decades of fire suppression and prohibition of indigenous, traditional “cold burns” have allowed dead fuel to accumulate.

    The rate of clearcutting results in ever-increasing expanses of dry soil and woody debris and in vast areas of young plantations less than 25 years old. Scientists Meg Krawchuk and Steve Cumming tell us that fire ignition by lightning is more likely to occur in a clearcut than it would in the forest that the clearcut replaced.

    Young plantations are highly flammable and contribute to the rate of spread of recent large fires. Together, clearcuts and young plantations are the driver of recent megafires made worse by global heating.

    Scattered parks, a few protected areas, and remaining old-growth forests are not the problem.  In fact, they are part of the solution, being relatively fire-resistant and storing large amounts of carbon when compared to the flammability of clearcuts and young plantations.

    The forest industry would have us increase the rate of clearcutting under its fear-mongering mantra of “cut it down or let it burn.” This reasoning is bewildering because, if true, all BC’s magnificent forests would have burned millennia ago.

    The forest industry uses every crisis—whether it be insect infestations, tree diseases, or wildfire—to advance its agenda of increasing the rate of clearcutting (profit) with no regard for the social, economic and environmental consequences of its self-serving actions.

    Those consequences include, among many others: An increase in the frequency, magnitude and duration of major floods, severe droughts and mega-fires, contaminated drinking water, biodiversity loss, destruction of property, smoke-induced health issues, and death of domestic animals—all directly or indirectly related to clearcutting, and made worse by global heating.

    But global heating itself is made worse by clearcutting. In fact, wildfires in BC have increased in size, frequency, duration, and intensity so dramatically that they, together with clearcut logging, now exceed fossil fuels as the province’s major source of climate-destabilizing carbon.

    So industrial forestry is feeding a deadly cycle: clearcut logging worsens wildfire, which in turn exacerbates global heating, which intensifies wildfire. We need to break this cycle of destruction and death.

    Climate change is the defining issue of our times. Within a societal context, our choice is between life and money. Within the context of BC forestry, the choice is between profit (driven by clearcutting) and community safety and health driven by a new paradigm of forest management based on ecology and conservation.

    Taryn Skalbania is a farmer in the Okanagan valley. Severe wildfires forced Taryn to evacuate her farm in 2017, 2018 and 2021. She spent much of the 2021 fire season providing a safe haven for animals from neighbouring farms threatened by megafire. Many farm animals were not so fortunate and had to be shot. Taryn is a co-founder of the Peachland Watershed Protection Alliance with which she is presently the director of outreach.

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    Taryn - thank you for telling it like it is here. What has happened in the Okanagan is happening throughout BC. I hear 'forest professionals' repeat mantras about how more logging must be done to deal with fires and other natural disturbances. These are self-serving prescriptions, designed to scare the public into supporting the continued feeding of primary forest 'fibre' into lumber and pellet mills. I, for one, am not having it. Thank you for adding to the growing chorus of forestry resisters.

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    Many thanks, Taryn, from a blasted and battered UK, where construction, backed by the Johnson fools, trumps conservation evey time. Don't believe anything that is declared at COP 26. Was born and raisd on Vancouver Island and now ive in Oxford, where the University and its colleges are determined to cash in our countryside with subdivisions and worse. Money Money Money .....

    Do hope your future will be a good deal better than your recent past.

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    Great article. Clearcutting got us into this mess. Single tree selective forestry will get us out of it.

    I live in a primeval forest in Clayoquot Sound, where there is no fire threat. Lightning struck near my cabin the other night, but I was able to simply enjoy the elemental thrill. The densest biomass per square metre on the planet holds moisture. The full canopy protects the soil from fully drying out. The thick bark keeps the big old trees safe. There are no brushpiles, no monoculture plantations jammed with conifers to burn like a torch. No need for "chainsaw medicine". 

    The Menominee Nation have been practicing 100% biomass retention forestry for 130 years on their reserve in Wisconsin and have never had an extreme fire. And still the NDP won't sit down and talk with Pacheedaht Elder Bill Jones at Fairy Creek. He's my favourite forester. Here's one of his gems:

    "You don't go up to the forest to cut it down, you go up to ask the great mother what she wants you to do".

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    On 2021-09-23 at 8:52 AM, Guest Don Heppner said:

    I would add another factor.  There is a lot of dead dried fuel in those forests now due to previous bark beetle infestations. There is not an easy solution.

    Hi Don, the bark beetles have been co-existing with pine trees for 70 million years. The deadly mix of clearcutting, monoculture planting, and global warming (which is caused by clearcutting), have triggered the bark beetle catastrophe we are experiencing.

    Banning clearcutting is the simple, and in fact, only solution to bark beetle imbalance. Agreed it will take time to fix, but "the longest journey is the one not started".

    In the meantime, heavy planting and only partial cutting of the dead trees would help, instead of just re-starting the clearcutting cycle ad nauseum. cheers

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    On 2021-10-20 at 1:51 PM, Yellow Cedar said:

    ... The deadly mix of clearcutting, monoculture planting, and global warming (which is caused by clearcutting), have triggered the bark beetle catastrophe we are experiencing. 

    I suspect forest entomologists might find this statement to be problematic.  I refer readers to the attached report on forest health, which they might find to be of interest.  The report is titled The Implications of Climate Change to Forest Health in British Columbia.  Provincial entomologists and pathologists wrote the report in 2009 for the chief forester.  

    I quote from page 10 of the report: 

    The dynamics of bark beetle outbreaks are complex; numerous conditions and circumstances must coincide and a hierarchy of thresholds must be surpassed for an outbreak to occur. Once a threshold is surpassed, however, prior controlling factors (such as natural enemies) exert little influence on population dynamics. Climate change appears to facilitate the breaching of outbreak thresholds. Bark beetles appear to be highly responsive to conditions created by climate change and are likely to exceed previously observed limits.  

    Much of the dead wood to which Don Heppner refers is found in naturally occurring pine monocultures in the central Interior.  Fire suppression has allowed many of these pine forests to exceed their natural life span.  Within these forests, mountain pine beetle infestations have resulted in the accumulation of dead wood thereby increasing the fire hazard.  When planting these pine landscapes (after insect infestation, fire or logging), Increased diversity in tree species (e.g., pine mixed with aspen)  "would significantly influence future resilience to insect outbreaks ..." (page 11) as well as resistance to fire. 

    That said, it is not certain that the accumulated dead wood is causing the mega-fires of recent years: they appear to be igniting in clearcuts and burning through clearcuts and young plantations.  

    Special Note:  As it has done with a number of reports on the status of old growth, the forests ministry, which prides itself on being transparent, suppressed circulation of this report.   


    Edited by Anthony Britneff
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