Jump to content

David Broadland

Moderators
  • Content Count

    170
  • Joined

  • Last visited

 Content Type 

Profiles

Focus Magazine Nov/Dec 2016

Sept/Oct 2016.2

Past Editions in PDF format

Advertorials

Focus Magazine July/August 2016

Focus Magazine Jan/Feb 2017

Focus Magazine March/April 2017

Passages

Local Lens

Focus Magazine May/June 2017

Focus Magazine July/August2017

Focus Magazine Sept/Oct 2017

Focus Magazine Nov/Dec 2017

Focus Magazine Jan/Feb 2018

Focus Magazine March/April 2018

Focus Magazine May/June 2018

Focus Magazine July/August 2018

Focus Magazine Sept/Oct 2018

Focus Magazine Nov/Dec 2018

Focus Magazine Jan/Feb 2019

Focus Magazine March/April 2019

Focus Magazine May/June 2019

Focus Magazine July/August 2019

Focus Magazine Sept/Oct 2019

Focus Magazine Nov/Dec 2019

Focus Magazine Jan/Feb 2020

Focus Magazine March-April 2020

COVID-19 Pandemic

Navigating through pandemonium

Informed Comment

Palette

Environmental Stewardship

Investigations

Reporting

Analysis

Commentary

Gallery

Store

Forums

Downloads

Blogs

Calendar

Everything posted by David Broadland

  1. Yes, the language that is used—the exact choice of words—speaks volumes about a lack of understanding on the part of those making political decisions about forests. There's little acknowledgement of the necessary role forests play in supporting life on Earth. But being a part of the forest-industrial complex goes deeper than the use of words to condition our thinking about what forests are for. There is a conscious choice being made by people at the Ministry of Forests to deceive the public about basic facts, such as how much original productive old growth forest remains. In the last couple of days a damning report by three former BC government forest ecologists was released. The report demonstrates the degree to which BC's Ministry of Forests provides disinformation to the public in its role as the public relations arm of the forest-industrial complex. For years the ministry has claimed 13 million hectares of old-growth forest remain in the province. The three scientists, using the ministry's own data, show that only 415,000 hectares remain. I've written about the report here and have attached it below. bcs-old-growth-forest-report-web.pdf
  2. Posted June 5, 2020 Photo: A very large Western Red Cedar felled in the Nahmint Valley in 2019. A new report on old-growth forest in BC says only 415,000 hectares remain. The BC Ministry of Forests has claimed there's 13 million hectares. Go to story
  3. A new report on old-growth forest in BC says only 415,000 hectares remain. The BC Ministry of Forests has claimed there's 13 million hectares. A “very large” old-growth Western Red Cedar, felled in the Nahmint Valley on Vancouver Island in 2019. (Photo by TJ Watt) THE DEGREE TO WHICH the BC Ministry of Forests has become the public relations arm of BC’s forest-industrial complex is measured precisely, if not intentionally, in a report by three former BC government forest ecologists. In their evaluation of the old-growth forest remaining in the province, the scientists characterized the ministry’s simplistic approach to estimating old growth forest as “very misleading.” The report, “BC’s Old Growth Forest: A Last Stand for Biodiversity,” was authored by Karen Price, Rachel Holt and Dave Daust. When they say “very misleading” we need to ask: How much is “very?” Publicly, the ministry estimates there are 13 million hectares of old-growth forest remaining in BC. Advocates of protecting the remaining large, old trees have long argued that most of what the Province calls “old growth” is indeed old, but includes short, small-diameter trees, many growing in bogs, at high elevation or on rock, sites that don’t support the level of biological productivity and biodiversity found in forests with large old trees. Along come Price, Holt and Daust. Their report provides a more detailed breakdown than we’ve seen before of the nature of the remaining unprotected old growth. They differentiate, for example, between “very large old trees,” “large old trees,” and “small old trees.” They estimate there are only 35,000 hectares on which “very large old trees” still grow in BC. That’s an area smaller than BC Premier John Horgan’s home municipality of Langford (41,000 hectares). The scientists report that under circumstances in which forest growth is in equilibrium with natural disturbances like fire and insect infestation, there would be 1.5 million hectares of forest in BC that would contain old trees that are “very large.” Today, only 2.3 percent of that remains. Price, Holt and Daust estimate that in all of BC there are an additional 380,000 hectares of forest that contain “large” old trees. That’s an area 1.6 times larger than the Capital Regional District. They estimate that—under natural circumstances—there would be 3.5 million hectares of forests with large, old trees in BC. That’s an area larger than Vancouver Island. Today, only 11 percent of that remains. A 336-year-old Douglas fir felled recently on Quadra Island. This is an example of a “large” old-growth tree. (Photo by David Broadland) Combined, the scientists say, the area of BC covered with unprotected forests containing “large” and “very large” trees is 415,000 hectares. If you drew a line on a map of Vancouver Island from Duncan to Bamfield, the area of land south of that line is about 415,000 hectares (see map below). Price, Holt and Daust note that’s less than 1 percent of BC’s 50 million hectares of forested area. (By “forested area” the scientists mean land in BC that could support forests, including the millions of hectares that are currently bare clearcuts or young regrowth.) Let’s summarize all those numbers: On one hand we have the Ministry of Forests claiming there’s still 13 million hectares of old-growth forest and, on the other, these three scientists estimate there are 415,000 hectares remaining of the forests needed by endangered and threatened plant and animal species, including the Northern Spotted Owl, the Woodland Caribou, the Marbled Murrelet, the Wandering Salamander, the Northern Red-legged Frog and so on. When you put these two estimates side-by-side, one appears to be supported by data, arithmetic and logic, and the other is revealed as a public relations gimmick designed to maintain the illusion that old forests are plentiful. Price, Holt and Daust estimate there are 415,000 hectares of unprotected old-growth forest remaining in BC that contain “large” and “very large” trees. That’s equivalent to the area of Vancouver Island shaded in dark grey in the map above. Does it matter if there’s less and less forest containing large and very large old trees? The scientists say it does. In their report, they link the loss of large and very large trees to higher ecological risk. This occurs as a result of the loss of ecological function when large and very large trees are removed from a forest. You’re not a Pileated Woodpecker or a Northern Red-legged Frog, so such loss is hard to comprehend, and understandably so. Most of us spend so little time in an old-growth forest that we have little knowledge of what lives there, what it needs to live, and what happens when its habitat is logged. But think of what your life would be like if aliens from another world suddenly arrived in your town, physically removed all of the houses, and then left a 2x4 in everyone’s front yard. The loss of your habitat would put you and everyone else in the community at greater risk of harm or death. Could you move to a nearby city? No, the aliens took that, too. The food system has disappeared and there’s far less water available. The end result? The forest scientists noted, “Conservation science agrees that habitat loss leads to declines in populations and ultimately loss of species.” They observed that shifts in a forest’s ecological function “mean that forest ecosystems can pass a point whereby a particular species may not be able to recover to former abundance even if habitat is subsequently increased, and/or that ecosystems are less able to withstand disturbance and they become less resilient.” While we might think the scientists are talking about Pileated Woodpeckers and Red-legged Frogs, the same principles apply to humans. The scientists connect the magnitude of ecological risk directly to the extent of forest removed: “Studies of habitat change suggest that risk to biodiversity and ecological function is low when more than 70 percent of natural forest remains, high when less than 30 percent remains, and moderate between.” What happens to plant and animal communities that live in forest stands of old and very old trees when less than one percent of the natural forest remains? The plants and animals already know. The human community is slowly becoming aware of the enormous loss in biodiversity that is underway. Price, Holt and Daust call for an immediate end to logging old-growth forests. In response, Forests Minister Donaldson told CBC reporter Rafferty Baker, “We want to make sure that [old growth] is being managed properly, and we recognize the importance old forests have for biodiversity in the province…We also recognize the importance that [old growth] provides for communities and workers who depend on harvesting.” Donaldson’s ministry has recently conducted a review of its old-growth policies. Given his comment to the CBC, it doesn’t appear he’s going to impose the moratorium Price, Holt, Daust and many others are recommending. What will that mean? Sierra BC has put the rate at which old-growth forest is being logged in Coastal BC at 15,200 hectares per year. For the Interior they estimate 126,000 hectares are logged annually. Added together that amounts to 141,200 hectares being lost each year. At that rate, the 415,000 hectares that Price, Holt and Daust have identified would be gone in three years. What Sierra BC calls “old growth” may not correspond exactly with the analysis of Price, Holt and Daust, but it’s in the same forest. Imagine for a moment, though, that both the scientists’ and Sierra BC’s estimates are essentially correct, and that there is only a three-year supply of old forest “for communities and workers who depend on harvesting,” as Donaldson put it. If the Province’s new strategy were to cut the rate of old-growth logging in half—which Donaldson implies would impose significant hardship on communities and workers—all the large and very large old growth would be gone in six years instead of just three. Old-growth-related forestry jobs would still be gone forever, the end coming just a few years later. Plant and animal communities dependent on old forests would be gone, too, perhaps permanently. Whether this ecological catastrophe unfolds in three, six or even twenty years isn’t clear, and it shouldn’t matter. Why would a small difference in the timing of the endpoint of a catastrophe make any difference to decision-makers who have a responsibility to avoid such catastrophes altogether? Surely the correct course of action for a government to take is to ensure that our economic activities do not put the planet’s life support systems at risk. Given the hard numbers provided by Price, Holt and Dauss—which were derived from the Province’s own records—the only reasonable course of action for the Province to take is to permanently protect the remaining 415,000 hectares identified by the scientists. That shouldn’t be difficult. If the Province has been truthful about there being 13 million hectares of old-growth forest, protecting the 415,000 hectares identified by the scientists will mean a loss of just 3 percent of the old-growth forest the government claims is still there. David Broadland has been writing about BC’s forest industry since 1990. BC’s Old Growth Forest: A Last Stand for Biodiversity: bcs-old-growth-forest-report-web.pdf
  4. Thanks to Chris Junck's observations, we have now added a map for native animal observations made in Saanich.
  5. Photographed in March 2020. Great Blue Heron nests beside Goodacre Lake in Beacon Hill Park.
  6. Welcome to Focus Forums Clint! And thanks for that link Chris. It's interesting reading. I notice that one of the factors in the decline of Great Blue Herons is a decline in the availability of trees tall enough for them to use for nesting and that are also within 10 kilometres of foraging habitat. Many Victorians are aware that Beacon Hill Park has an active heronry that is, from time to time, disturbed by Bald Eagles. Knowing how skittish herons can be about humans in areas far less populated than Victoria, I am always surprised that the herons tolerate human presence and vehicle noise so close to their nests in Beacon Hill Park. I took this photo in early March.
  7. We've mapped observations made in the municipality of Oak Bay here.
  8. We've mapped observations made in the City of Victoria to date here.
  9. Of the animals observed so far, two happen to be on BC's Blue List: The Double-crested Cormorant, as mentioned above, and the subspecies of Great Blue Heron that occurs in this area. With our Mapping Nature project, we are especially interested in recording species that the Province has indicated are "endangered" (Red List) or "threatened" (Blue List). We'll put together a list of those species that are found in the Victoria area that fall into one of these categories, and make it available here.
  10. I believe the only cormorant in BC with an all orange beak is the Double-crested Cormorant. Wikipedia has an image (below) of a juvenile Double-crested Cormorant, courtesy Gordon Robertson. The Province of BC has put Phalacrocorax auritus on its Blue List, which means it is "threatened." Photographs of this species in the Victoria area would help to establish its wintering habitat here. This photo by Gordon Robertson
  11. Transient orca in Victoria Harbour, photographed by Mark Malleson THE ANIMAL KINGDOM consists of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish and invertebrates. You don’t have to know what species you have photographed, although we hope you will try to identify it before you send your photograph to us. Remember, please include a brief description of where the animal was when you photographed it. You can attach it in the forum below or email it to focuspublish@shaw.ca. As we receive your observations they will be mapped (by municipality). You will find the current maps here.
  12. In the other forests forum James Steidle has posted a comment about the effect on the flammability of forest stands of taking out deciduous species in order to enhance growth of conifers. This is another example of how current forestry practices are contributing to larger, more aggressive fires. Steidel wrote a piece in the Province about this in 2019. He noted, “Now the problem, to anyone who studies fire dynamics of these two different forest types, should be immediately apparent. The Conifer-dominated forest type we are actively encouraging, is highly flammable, while the Broadleaf Aspen forest type we are actively eliminating, is incredibly fire resistant. With a few caveats, the conclusion is undeniable. According to a 2001 study by Steve Cummings et al, pine forests are 8.4 times more likely to burn compared to deciduous Aspen forests based on historical data.”
  13. Welcome James and Ingmar. Thank you for your posts. James, you raise an excellent example of a forest practice that is doubtless changing fire behaviour for the worse. I would direct other readers to the piece you wrote in the Province in January 2019. Have you received any direct response from the Province or industry about the removal of deciduous trees increasing overall flammability of forest stands? If you have, what were you told?
  14. May 19, 2020 Photo: US President Dwight Eisenhower giving his "Military-Industrial Complex" speech in 1961. Relationships between government, industry and research facilities in BC's forest industry parallel those Eisenhower warned about. FOCUS has opened a discussion forum on the issue: Go to the forum
  15. Compelling evidence logging native forests has worsened Australian bushfires, scientists warn The Guardian reports today that Australian scientists David Lindenmayer, Robert Kooyman, Chris Taylor, Michelle Ward and James Watson, in a comment piece in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, have called for “a clearer discussion about how land management and forestry practices contribute to fire risk.” The Guardian reports: "In the comment piece, the scientists say much of the conversation in the aftermath of the spring and summer bushfires had rightly focused on climate change, but the impact of land management and forestry on fire risk was often neglected in these discussions. They highlight this as a concern because land management policy was 'well within the control of Australians' and the fires had been used by some sectors of the industry to call for increased logging in some areas. The paper says industry data showed that some 161m cubic metres of native forest was logged in the period from 1996 to 2018. 'Beyond the direct and immediate impacts on biodiversity of disturbance and proximity to disturbed forest, there is compelling evidence that Australia’s historical and contemporary logging regimes have made many Australian forests more fire prone and contributed to increased fire severity and flammability,' the scientists write. This occurs because logging leaves debris at ground level that increases the fuel load in logged forests. It also changes forest composition and leaves these areas of forest both hotter and drier, they say." By comparison, in BC, nearly 60 million cubic metres of logs are taken out of forests every year. What took Australian loggers 22 years to cut down, BC's forest industry is doing in less than three years. If 161 million cubic metres over 22 years creates increased fire risk, what does 180 million cubic metres every 3 years create?
  16. AFTER RESEARCHING AND WRITING The forest-industrial complex's Molotov clearcuts (FOCUS Magazine March-April 2020) I realized the question posed above needs to be more thoroughly explored in public. I was surprised that I could not find a single reference to scientific research that has been conducted by BC forest scientists on this question. Why not? It's possible such research has been done, but if it has, it's very well hidden. Through this forum FOCUS hopes to stimulate the provincial government to search for truth about this question. The exponential increase in emissions from wildfires may be the final straw that breaks the back of clearcut logging in BC. Or maybe there's no significant connection at all. What do you know that can help us get to the truth about this issue? If you are a forest scientist with knowledge about the fire-disturbance dynamic, please join in. Or, contact me privately at focuspublish@shaw.ca.
  17. Let me address your main point, then. The idea of the “Military-Industrial Complex” came, as you may know, from a speech made by outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower in 1961. There was nothing in that speech that suggests he was worried about “obfuscating propaganda.” While it has been well-argued elsewhere that members of BC’s forest-industrial complex sometimes hide the truth about forests by their choice of words, I did not make that argument. Rather, I highlighted the role of universities, media and government. One of the relationships Eisenhower flagged in his Military-Industrial Complex speech was that between government and universities. His stated concern was that government funding was determining the research done at universities: “Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. “The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific technological elite.” In BC in 2020, almost all universities in BC are government-funded, and we no doubt agree that is a good thing. But, as Eisenhower realized, that funding relationship comes with strings attached. I am concerned that in BC, UBC forestry scientists are not looking to see if there’s a relationship between the extent of clearcuts and more aggressive wildfire behaviour in BC’s Interior because the Ministry of Forests and the Department of National Resources don’t want to know if there’s a relationship or not. They are committed to clearcut logging and the economic values a forest can provide if cut down. My evidence that government doesn’t really want to know is circumstantial: no such research has been done by BC scientists on the relationship between lightning ignition and clearcuts. Instead, the research done by the government-funded university has concluded big fires result from years of fire suppression. The solution, as Professor Daniels related to the Vancouver Sun, is to more intensively industrialize our forests by creating a bioenergy industry. Like you, I would defer to more knowledgeable sources. Historians tell us that Eisenhower nailed it when he invoked the spectre of a “Military-Industrial Complex,” and warned citizens to get control of it. Given that the safety and stability of our environment are at least as pressing issues as the value of raw log and wood product exports from BC, I believe it’s necessary to wrap our minds around why, in spite of all the scientific resources that exist that could tell us why our forests are going up in smoke, what we’re being told doesn’t appear to agree with what we can see with our own eyes: vast areas of burned clearcuts.
  18. Thanks for your comments Conrad. I would encourage you to look at the satellite photography that is available to you to test your contention that the big fires of 2017 and 2018 occurred in “dense” forest stands. As was made clear in the story, the areas affected by the largest fires included a high percentage of recently disturbed areas—large clearcuts—not “dense” forest. That includes the Elephant Hill Fire. There’s nothing like unambiguous satellite photos of a vast, ruined land to overthrow long-held superstitions. If you haven’t examined the extensive satellite photography, why not? You need to read Krawchuk’s and Cumming’s published research between 2006 and 2009 to understand what they were looking for and what they found. You are misunderstanding what they said in the short abstract of “Disturbance history affects lightning fire initiation in the mixedwood boreal forest: Observations and simulations.” Krawchuk and Cumming are very clear that lightning ignition increases with area harvested, and they explain why. Read the full study, and their earlier studies, too. Your conclusion that since their studies were in a wetter forest type they couldn’t apply to drier forests doesn’t make sense to me. Krawchuk and Cumming are saying that the abundance of fine fuels left in a harvested area (and they make clear this includes young regrowth) makes those areas more susceptible to ignition by lightning than standing forest. Surely you will agree that if that is true, the drier the conditions in a harvested area, the more pronounced the effect they found would be. I note that no BC forest scientists have published research on this question. Why not? I don’t know what your background is, but your explanation of why climate change is not necessarily responsible for the MP beetle infestation is at odds with what credible scientists have been saying since the infestation started. But in any case, you have missed my point. The largest fires burned through vast areas of clearcuts with only minor amounts of “dense” forest involved (see satellite imagery). Those clearcuts resulted from a combination of logging live trees and salvaging beetle-killed trees. My point is that the combination of beetle infestation and over-exploitation of BC’s forests has eliminated the provincial forests’ ability to sequester carbon. That has a definite impact on atmospheric carbon, and hence climate change. That is what the forest scientists have determined, not me. You ask what would I have changed? While the MPB kill was being salvaged, the logging of live trees could have been eliminated or at least reduced. Neither occurred. At the same time, the Province allowed a huge backlog in the area to be replanted to occur. That backlog still exists. I didn’t use the word “lackey” in the story and there’s no intention of casting Daniels in that light. Daniels was interviewed by the Vancouver Sun, which I quoted. If she comes across to you as a “lackey,” perhaps you should raise that with the Vancouver Sun.
  19. Thanks for getting in touch, Dr Daniels. It’s not our practice to confirm that a source said what they were quoted as saying to another reporter. It is our practice to attribute the source of the quote. If you are saying that Randy Shore misquoted you or materially misrepresented what you said, please let me know and I will adjust that reference in our online story. Or, if you are saying that I have misrepresented what you said to Shore, please detail that misrepresentation. If you disagree with my contention that the very large extent of clearcuts and young plantation regrowth in the Interior has altered fire behaviour, I would encourage you to address that disagreement specifically. There is much scientific study and science-based writing that has connected clearcut harvesting to fire. This story is not about your research. You are in the story because you appear to have told Shore that large aggressive fires are the result of fire suppression. Your position that large fires are the result of fire suppression was echoed in our story by Pat Byrne’s comments to a 100-Mile Free Press reporter. That position has been well-represented by government, industry and academia in the media. But large areas of overly-dense forest being burned in big fires is not what one sees if one does a thorough examination of the before-and-after satellite imagery that’s available. If you feel the evidence that I have presented, that the largest fires are burning through vast expanses of clearcuts and plantation regrowth, is a distortion of what’s actually happening on the ground, then I encourage you to provide our readers with evidence that the satellite imagery is somehow not reflective of what’s happening on the ground.
  20. IN JANUARY 2020, Focus Magazine published my article “The forest-industrial complex’s Molotov clearcuts.” The story considered the evidence that the significant increase in the size of wildfires in BC—and the exponential increase in carbon emissions from them—might be partly a result of the growing area in BC’s interior that is either a recent clearcut or an area of young regrowth. I noted that the narrative created by scientists and forestry managers blamed this phenomenon on decades of “fire suppression.” In my story, I attributed that narrative to the “forest-industrial complex” which I described as “the forest-interested government agencies, industry, universities and media—that has led BC into the black-box carbon trap of exponentially-increasing emissions...” The written response to the story included some letters to the editor from writers who assumed the term “forest-industrial complex” was a smear of anyone involved in forestry in BC. Not at all. It was a recognition of a simple fact about forestry in BC: it’s an industry which sees the forest primarily, if not exclusively, as a source of economic benefit, and its current practices are based on the collective efforts of everyone involved in turning forests into wood products and energy, from the BC minister responsible for forests, the scientists who provide the research that informs policies made by government, through to the foresters and logging community that figure out how to cut down forests. Media that are unwilling to examine critically these relationships—which is part of their job description—automatically include themselves in the complex. The term “forest-industrial complex” comes from my understanding of the term “military-industrial complex,” which was coined by outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower in January 1961 in a speech he made a week before leaving office. The ideas in that speech have become Eisenhower’s most remembered contribution to American political conversation, and they are worth revisiting. In that speech, Eisenhower observed that, in order to keep peace in the world, America had been “compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions.” He warned: “In the councils of government, we must guard against acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” Eisenhower continued, “We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” Eisenhower didn’t imply this growing relationship was nefarious in nature; he was saying it was inevitable, could be “disastrous” and that “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry” was needed to watch over the relationship. Eisenhower specifically included universities receiving funding from governments to do industry-related research as being a part of the military-industrial complex. Sixty years later, that “meshing” of industry and government (the military is a government agency, after all) has spread—some might say metastasized—to all areas of government, including here in BC. The relationship between governments and pharmaceutical companies, oil and gas companies, hard-rock mining companies and forest industry companies have all become dangerously codependent, often putting non-economic values at risk. In this province, forest industry companies have invested heavily in their relationships with government, including donating to political parties and lobbying those parties once they are in government. In turn, rules that govern the forest companies tenure and operations on public lands have, over the years, shifted away from a higher level of public interest to a lower level, and closer and closer to defacto privatization of Crown forests. As with the military industrial complex in the US, BC’s forest-industrial complex is supported by a largely uncritical media and educational institutions that do forestry research and train people to operate the forest industry. Just one example: UBC’s Faculty of Forestry has produced many of the top managers of BC forest companies. Forest companies hire graduates of UBC’s Faculty of Forestry, not its Department of Philosophy. We at FOCUS think the relationships between government, universities, the media and the forest industry in BC needs to be more fully explored and understood. To that end, we open this first forum in the Forests section of our forums: Does a Forest-Industrial Complex exist in BC? If so, how can “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry,” to paraphrase Eisenhower, compel the “proper meshing” of the huge industrial and government machinery of forestry so that it doesn’t destabilize the physical environment. We welcome your comments, and start with two forest stewards that don’t think there’s a problem...
  21. Posted January 2019 Image: A redacted email suggests Mayor Desjardins initially wanted a second investigation into harassment allegations against Elsner. An email unearthed by an FOI request raises questions about the Elsner investigation and the Lowe Report. So do all the deleted emails. Go to story
  22. Posted January 2019 Photo: The new $115-million bridge has wobbles and abrupt changes in direction in the trusses. The design was created by Hardesty & Hanover and MMM Group. The City has always denied the new bridge has any problems, thus limiting its ability to assert itself in legal fights over the project. Go to story
  23. Posted May 2019 Photo: The Shoal Point condominium complex, whose water quality was the subject of a legal suit If a BC Supreme Court finding is correct, Victorians need to demand assurances from the City of Victoria about the safety of its water. Go to story
  24. March 2020 Wildfires in BC are getting bigger. Much bigger. The forest-industrial complex blames fire suppression. The evidence suggests large areas of fuel-laden clearcuts are changing fire behaviour. A RECORD COMPILED BY BC GOVERNMENT SCIENTISTS since 1990 captures in cold, hard numbers the scale of the ecological apocalypse underway in BC’s Interior forests. The record shows that since 1990, the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by wildfires in BC has doubled every nine years. For the nine years from 1990 to 1998, scientists estimated 52.3 million tonnes (megatonnes) of greenhouse gas emissions were released to the atmosphere by forest fires. From 1999 to 2007, that more than doubled to 120.9 megatonnes. Over the next 9-year period, ending with 2016, the total released doubled again, to 249.8 megatonnes. In 2017, 1,353 fires burned 1.22 million hectares, including some very large fires, all in BC’s Interior: the 191,865-hectare Elephant Hill Fire, the 545,151-hectare Chilcotin Plateau Fire—which was actually the merging of 20 separate fires—and the 241,160-hectare Hanceville Fire, another merging of smaller fires into a mega-fire. BC scientists estimated 176.6 megatonnes of greenhouse gases were released into the atmosphere by those 2017 fires. The next year was even worse: 2,117 fires burned 1.36-million hectares. Scientists haven’t yet made public their estimate of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere for that year, but it will likely be close to 200 megatonnes. Greenhouse gas emissions from wildfires in BC have doubled every nine years since 1990. The last 3 years suggest that rate of increase will continue. Last year—2019—saw a cooler, wetter summer and a relief for wildfire fighters. Yet the first three years of the current 9-year interval have already released 75 percent of the 500 megatonnes needed to maintain the doubling of the carbon released every nine years. All of the biggest fires, in both 2017 and 2018, occurred in areas where the impact of Mountain Pine Beetle infestation over the past 20 years has been most intense. The beetles have affected 16 million hectares of BC forests—an area more than five times that of Vancouver Island. Large areas of the 2017 fires overlapped salvage clearcuts of beetle-killed trees. In a report on the impact of the 2017 fires, the Ministry of Forests noted that about 80 percent of the fires’ area occurred in forests “significantly impacted” by Mountain Pine Beetle. The four largest fires of 2018 also burned in areas damaged by beetle infestation. The magnitude of the release makes provincial and municipal plans for reducing carbon emissions in BC appear functionally pointless—like trying to drain the Fraser River with a garden hose. Can anything be done to slow or reverse the trend toward bigger wildfires? That would depend on what’s causing wildfires to be bigger and whether or not humans can reverse the cause. Recently, the Vancouver Sun reported that two BC forestry scientists, Werner Kurz and Lori Daniels, are representing Canada in “a $1-million partnership between Canadian researchers and the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service to ‘de-escalate the devastating forest wildfires that are increasingly occurring due to climate change.’” The Sun reporter, Randy Shore, interviewed Daniels, a professor of forestry at UBC, who told him: “We are paying a huge cost in carbon today because we were so good at putting out fires in the past.” Daniels believes wildfires are getting bigger because of the build-up of fuel in forests, which Shore described as “fallen needles and dead branches.” If fire hadn’t been suppressed, those needles and dead branches would have been burned off by natural fire. Daniels offered a solution: “What happens if we thin out the forest and reduce the stress on those trees competing for a limiting resource like soil moisture?...Will the trees left behind grow faster and sequester more carbon? There is lots of evidence that under some circumstances, that is the case.” For such thinning to be effective at reducing fuel in the forest it would have to be removed. Daniels suggested the possible development of a new biomass economy: “If it is going to be burned, we should do that at high efficiency and displace fossil fuel with a form of sustainable energy. Lots of small communities are still reliant on fossil fuels, so these are linkages that we can make.” The idea sounds eminently reasonable, doesn’t it? But what if it’s wrong? What if “fire suppression” is not at the heart of escalating wildfires? Do forest scientists ever get things wrong? The forest-industrial complex—the forest-interested government agencies, industry, universities and media—that has led BC into the black-box carbon trap of exponentially-increasing emissions outlined above, is unable to hold itself accountable for the environmentally disastrous forestry practices it devised that have contributed disproportionately to a warmer climate. Its miscalculation of what was sustainable created giant clearcuts that shrivelled the forests’ ability to sequester carbon. That played a significant role in making winters too warm to kill the Mountain Pine Beetle, and that change was followed by widespread pine mortality, immense areas of salvage clearcuts, and now giant wildfires roaring through those same clearcuts. Now, it appears, the forest-industrial complex is diverting our attention away from what’s actually happening on the ground. The accumulation of giant clearcuts has altered microclimates and left hundreds of millions of tonnes of fuel on the ground. And now it’s burning, easily ignited by lightning, and affecting fire behaviour. A BC Wildfire Service air tanker tackles an aggressive wildfire in a clearcut An August 2018 “incident update” by the BC Wildfire Service describes the “behaviour prediction” for a fire near the Baezaeko River west of Quesnel: “Fire activity will have the potential to challenge control lines; don’t let your guard down. Be aware of gusty winds and the effect on fire behaviour, if only for a short time. The slash blocks have more fuel loading than the standard slash fuel type, expect higher intensity. This higher intensity can cause fire whirls to develop; this would cause rapid fire growth and increased spotting potential.” “Fire whirls” are like small tornados, formed by the rapid uplift of air in an intense fire. “Spotting” is the ability of fires to send out embers far ahead of a fire and start new fires. Wildfire Service incident updates commonly note the impact of logging slash in clearcuts that makes fires burn more intensely and dangerously. Yet nowhere to be seen in the forest-industrial complex’s description of what needs to happen now is an examination of the ways in which a landscape increasingly dominated by very large clearcuts has changed the behaviour of fire in BC’s forests. Nowhere to be seen is the option of reducing the volume of timber cut in BC to allow the provincial forests’ carbon sequestration capacity to recover. Unless you are delusionally optimistic, there’s no reason to believe that feeding tree parts to industrial burners will reduce the acceleration in the thermal destruction of BC’s forests. Once jobs are created to feed the burners, those bio-jobs will become the thing that must be protected at all costs. That way of thinking is what gave BC the beetle infestation in the first place. The stated belief that the acceleration in wildfire emissions is due to past fire suppression appears destined to become one of the great, all-time dead-end ideas in BC’s short but dramatic history of ecosystem disruption. Unless there is some real change in the fundamental factor driving this acceleration—the loss of BC forests’ carbon sequestration capacity—then between 2026 and 2034, the fifth nine-year interval in this exponential increase, BC forest fires will produce a total of 1,000 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions, or an average of 110 megatonnes per year. The Mountain Pine Beetle infestation affected 16 million hectares of BC forests. Only a small fraction of these have burned, so there’s a high risk of more and bigger fires in the coming years. An aside to those folks who might think the scientists are purposely overestimating emissions from wildfires in order to justify amping up industrialization of forests: the estimate for 2017 works out to about 50 tonnes of forest carbon per hectare, which is less than what would be left on the ground after an Interior clearcut. Let’s put the magnitude of the wildfire emissions problem in perspective. BC’s carbon emissions—from all sources except forest-related emissions—totalled 64 megatonnes in 2017. CleanBC, the provincial government’s emissions reduction plan, has so far been able to identify, on paper, just 19 megatonnes of annual reductions it hopes will happen by 2030. LNG Canada at Kitimat will trigger 9 megatonnes. Teck Resources’ Frontier oil sands project was going to produce 4 megatonnes. The City of Victoria is targetting about 0.390 megatonnes through its climate action plan. Compare those drops in the bucket to the 110 megatonnes of annual emissions from forest fires alone that now seem certain to be in our near future. Other net emissions—the loss of forest carbon sequestration capacity and the premature decay of forest carbon initiated by harvesting—caused by BC’s forest industry and tallied in Defusing BC’s big, bad carbon bomb in our last edition—are upwards of 190 megatonnes each year. It’s the Province’s official position that it can’t do anything about any of these forest-industry-caused emissions. Although the exponential growth in emissions from wildfires outlined above appears in the British Columbia Provincial Greenhouse Gas Inventory, as do other emissions related to BC’s forest industry, they are not counted in BC like your car’s tailpipe emissions. Is that because they don’t impact climate stability? No, it’s because the Province claims nothing can be done about these net emissions. In the Province’s Methodology Book for the British Columbia Provincial Greenhouse Gas Inventory, the authors state that emissions from forest fires “are more volatile and subject to natural factors outside of direct human control and so are not reported as part of BC GHG emissions totals…” Yet it has become an article of faith of the forest-industrial complex that historical fire suppression by humans is the primary cause of big fires, and big fires mean higher emissions. This official confusion is disconcerting and demands a ground-truthing expedition. FOLLOWING THE FIRES OF 2017, which included the 191,865-hectare Elephant Hill Fire, the Ministry of Forests’ Pat Byrne, district manager of the 100-Mile House Natural Resource District, told the 100-Mile Free Press in July 2018: “Much of the area that was burned by both the Gustafsen and Elephant Hill fires, they burned over fire-dependent ecosystems…These ecosystems rely on fires as much as the soil and the air and the water they get. It’s how they evolve…The forest relies on a 10 to 15 year fire cycle to thin out the vegetation and create a more open forest…Removing fire from the landscape resulted in a dense forest and created conditions where fire could burn hotter and more aggressively than a natural setting would have ever allowed.” Byrne told the Free Press: “You’ve got a fire-dependent ecosystem and you exclude fire from it. What do you expect is going to happen?” The usual refutation of the “fire suppression causes big fires” belief is that “The Big Burn” of 1910 in Idaho, Montana, Washington and BC, occurred before the era of fire suppression had begun. The Big Burn, also known as “The Great Fire,” “The Devil’s Broom,” and “The Big Blow-up,” burned through 1.2 million hectares, which just happens to be about what was burned in BC in 2017. The Ministry of Forests’ own records show that four of the ten largest fires (in area) in BC’s recorded history occurred before the era of fire suppression began. If big, aggressive fires occurred before aircraft were able to bomb fires with water and fire retardant, how valid is the forest-industrial complex’s claim that “fire suppression” is the main cause for today’s big fires? There’s even more-convincing evidence that the fire-suppression-causes-big-fires narrative may be a big smoke screen blown into the talkosphere so the forest industry can cut more trees. One of the tools that’s available today that allows us to ground-truth the claims of the forest-industrial complex—to actually see what wildfires are burning—is satellite photography. We can compare aerial images taken before a fire with images taken afterward to see what was burned, and how completely it burned. Satellite photography of the area burned by the Elephant Hill Fire north of Arrowrock Provincial Park shows that much of the area had been severely modified in the last 20 years (below). At the time of the fire, it was mostly regrowth in clearcuts and unplanted clearcuts. In this area there was little “dense forest” left to burn. On Ministry of Forests maps of the Mountain Pine Beetle infestation, this area is shown as having a 71 to 100 percent rate of “kill” of lodgepole pine, hence the widespread clearcuts left by salvage logging. (Click image to enlarge) This part of the Elephant Hill Fire, according to Ministry of Forests’ mapping of the Mountain Pine Beetle infestation, had been heavily impacted by beetle kill. Earlier satellite images, taken after the salvage logging but before the fire, show some areas with regrowth and other areas with none. Only the oldest regrowth survived the 2017 fire. Many thousands of square kilometers of former lodgepole pine forest, killed by beetles and salvaged, were burned in 2017 and 2018. The beetle infestation has affected 16,000,000 hectares of BC forest, only a small fraction of which has been burned by 2020. The area shown above is typical of the juxtaposition of giant fires and massive clearcuts that are transforming BC’s interior forests into a wasteland. The density of mature forest has been reduced to thin ribbons of dark green separating seemingly endless burned-over clearcuts. Only the roads and wetlands are fireproof. Satellite imagery allows us to see, close-up, the fate of specific features engulfed by the fires. The images below show one such area burned by the Elephant Hill Fire. The first image below was taken about 2010. It shows clearcuts that have been partially replanted. Note the light green regrowth, the unplanted areas and the extent of more mature trees (dark green). Note the large piles of slash piled close to the roads. After this image was taken, more logging took place before the Elephant Hill Fire burned this area in 2017. Click image to enlarge Compare that image with the photo below. This satellite image was made in 2019, about two years after the Elephant Hill Fire. Note that most of the regrowth in the clearcut has been killed or damaged. Much of the unplanted area of the clearcut has burned (light gray areas). Some of the mature trees that were left around the clearcuts have survived while others were killed by the fire. The slash piles are now ash piles. These features are typical of BC’s biggest wildfires in the Interior. Click image to enlarge The satellite photography also shows that areas where extensive mechanical thinning had taken place survived the fire in some places but were incinerated in others. Corridor thinning mimics, to some extent, natural fire’s ability to open up a forest stand, but it’s an interim stage that will lead to a clearcut in the not-too-distant future. An extensive east-west belt of such thinning running across the entire pathway of the Elephant Hill Fire north of Loon Lake did not prevent the fire from moving northwards. The same mixed fire-survival performance of extensive thinning efforts can be found in satellite photography of the Hanceville Fire. (The most current satellite photography can be found at inaturalist.org.) The satellite photography shows that slash, left in logged-over areas, was an important factor in the eventual size of the Elephant Hill Fire. Equally evident from the satellite photography is that any plantation regrowth younger than about 20 years has been largely wiped out. Satellite photography of the huge areas burned by the Hanceville and Plateau fires of 2017 shows the same general outcomes: vast areas of clearcuts burned clean with the small patches of adjacent, mature forest that had been left between clearcuts moderately to severely damaged. The 16 million hectares of BC forest that have been impacted by the beetle infestation, combined with decades of extensive clearcutting of live conifer forests, has created an apocalyptic landscape in BC’s interior forests. Ministry of Forests’ reports on the 2017 and 2018 fires show large areas of the Interior—entire forest districts—where the “cumulative percentage of merchantable forest volume killed since 1999” is “greater than 45 percent.” This description, of course, doesn’t include the loss before 1999. The “killing” is the result of the logging of live trees, beetle infestation and wildfires. The result is a vast open area in the Interior that is littered with hundreds of millions of tonnes of tree parts in various stages of decay, all of it potential fuel for wildfires, just waiting for ignition. Although much of this area hasn’t been replanted, that which has been is also, under the right conditions, potent fuel requiring only ignition. Flames fuelled by clearcut slash flare outward from the Chutanli Lake Fire, July 30, 2018 IN BC, THE CAUSE OF IGNITION for every wildfire is determined and recorded by the BC Wildfire Service, and so is each fire’s physical size. These records end up in the National Forestry Database. They show us that between 1990 and 1998, 59 percent of the area burned by wildfires in BC was attributed to fires ignited by lightning. Over the next nine-year period that rose to 81 percent. In the nine-year period ending with 2016, it rose to 85 percent. So lightning has become the overwhelming source of ignition of large wildfires in BC. The records also show that while the total area burned as a result of lightning ignition has risen, the actual number of forest fires started by lightning has fallen. Between 1990 and 1998, there were 12,158 fires ignited by lightning. During the next 9-year interval, that fell to 8,837 fires. That was followed by 9,339 fires ignited by lightning in the 9-year interval ending with 2016. The growth in the area burned by wildfires ignited by lightning isn’t the result of more lightning strikes hitting the forest—a factor that would be beyond human control. Now here’s the most critically important point in this story: Scientific research shows lightning is more likely to start a fire if it hits a harvested area than if it hits a forested area. Back in 2009, forest research scientists Meg Krawchuk and Steve Cumming published the results of an 8-year study of lightning ignition in 60,000 square kilometers of boreal forest in Alberta. They found that wildfires started by lightning ignition “increased in landscapes with more area harvested.” Because of the physical nature of the fuel in a “harvested area”—its dryness, smaller size, etc—it is more readily ignited by lightning than the fuel in an undisturbed stand of trees. Krawchuk and Cumming also noted: “In addition to the fine fuels and slash remaining after forest harvest, post-disturbance regeneration might also contribute to flammability.” The forest-industrial complex has, it would seem, created an immense area in the Interior of BC that is a crude incendiary device—like a Molotov cocktail—that only needs the right conditions of temperature, humidity and a bolt of lightning to burst into flames. The satellite imagery of BC’s recent big fires certainly confirms Krawchuk’s and Cumming’s speculation about the flammability of regrowth in clearcuts. In BC’s dry Interior forests, those plantations act like kindling and, in areas where fires burned in 2017, there’s now little remaining of 20 to 25 years of a build-up of kindling—or, as the forest-industrial complex calls it: “The Forests for Tomorrow.” Let me summarize. First, we know from National Forestry Database records that lightning strikes are igniting fewer fires, but the fires ignited by lightning are becoming larger. Second, we know from Ministry of Forests records and satellite photography that the cumulative area of harvested forest in BC’s Interior has grown very significantly in the last 20 years, and in many areas exceeds the amount of forested land. Third, we know that the big fires in BC’s Interior in 2017 all involved heavily harvested areas where either beetle-killed or live trees had been removed. Last, scientists have found that the more a landscape is harvested, the more lighting ignition occurs, and that’s because harvested areas have fuel on the ground that is more ignitable than standing forest. These facts strongly suggest that it’s the growing expanse of fuel-laden clearcuts that are producing larger fires. Climate change is no doubt making the fuel drier and more ignitable, and perhaps adding a little strength to winds that fan the fires. But it’s also possible that vast areas of clearcuts are creating those same effects all by themselves. Removal of the tree canopy allows the sun to heat the forest floor more readily, which reduces humidity and raises temperature. Removal of trees allows wind speed at forest-floor level to be higher in clearcuts than would be the case in an expanse of mature forest. Leaving 40 to 60 percent of the biomass of the forest in a clearcut creates a huge fuel load that is apparently readily ignitable by lightning and easily fanned by wind. Focus has obtained numerous photographs taken from fire-spotter aircraft, including those used in this story, that depict fires that apparently started in clearcuts, or clearcuts engulfed in flames. So there’s good evidence on the ground that this is happening. But this version of what’s happening is definitely not the narrative that is coming from the scientists whose role it is to keep timber flowing from the forests to the mills. The forest-industrial complex is pointing its collective finger at drier conditions created by climate change, and too dense fuel in the forest as a result of fire suppression. Its favoured solution appears to be to go into the forest and remove more trees. It’s possible that the forest-industrial complex is suffering from the cognitive bias known as the law of the instrument: Give a man a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding. CONSIDER THE MAGNITUDE OF THE PROBLEM: In 1997, BC’s 60 million hectares of forests were able to sequester the equivalent of 103 megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year. Wildfires were emitting an average of 6 megatonnes each year. Twenty-three years latter, BC still has 60 million hectares of potential forestland, but has lost those 103 megatonnes of sequestration capacity. Wildfires are now emitting, on average, 58 megatonnes per year. Those two changes amount to a net increase of 155 megatonnes per year in emissions related to our provincial forests. That doesn’t include the 88 megatonnes of emissions that we must attribute to the premature decay of wood that will result from harvesting trees for wood products each year. The prognosis is bad. Going in the same direction, a further increase in the industrial use of forests by mining them for bio-energy will, if the past is any predictor of the future, just make things worse. As I pointed out last edition, the lowest-hanging fruit for BC in mitigating the damage being done to climate stability by its forestry practices is to end the export of raw logs, most of which are cut from coastal forests. If the Province banned raw log exports and reduced the annual allowable cut by 6.5 million cubic metres, 11 megatonnes of annual carbon emissions would be eliminated. We previously estimated that would impact 1,650 jobs. In a future low-carbon economy (assuming that’s where we are going), there would be no possible justification for allowing 1,650 jobs to produce 11 megatonnes of net emissions. Instead, the forest-industrial complex needs to start redirecting resources to jobs that don’t destroy forests. It needs to reinvent itself into an agency that can bring the forest back to its former health and capabilities. As it ponders its future, perhaps the forest-industrial complex ought to take to heart the words of Aldo Leopold, the American author, philosopher, scientist, ecologist, forester, conservationist, and environmentalist: “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” David Broadland is the publisher of Focus. He is working with a group of scientists, journalists and citizens to explore the potential for conserving selected BC forests for carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation and short-distance tourism potential. He welcomes your feedback.
  25. January 2020 Over the past 20 years, BC forests were so heavily logged that net carbon emissions caused by the industry are now twice as large as Alberta’s oil sands. AT THE HEIGHT OF LAST SUMMER'S ECONOMIC MELTDOWN in the BC interior’s forest industry, Marty Gibbons, president of United Steelworkers Local 1-417, based in Kamloops, told the Canadian Press: “Something needs to change immediately or these small communities that don’t have other employers are going to wither and die.” Gibbons concluded that “the largest driving factor is the Province’s complex stumpage system that results in high fees.” The average stumpage rate in BC—the price the Province charges forestry companies for harvesting a cubic metre of tree on Crown land—was around $23 for both the interior and the coast in 2019 (1). But the average stumpage paid for timber harvested from Crown land by major raw log exporters like TimberWest and Western Forest Products in the Campbell River Natural Resource District was much lower, ranging between $8 and $11 per cubic metre. Smaller companies paid even less—as little as $5 per cubic metre. Yet raw logs for export were selling at an average price of $128 per cubic metre through 2019 (2). Raw logs worth $4.146 billion were exported from BC to other countries for processing over the past five years (3). This huge overcut—unnecessary to meet domestic and international demand for BC’s finished wood products—has averaged 6.5 million cubic metres per year over those five years, equal to 41 percent of the total cut on Crown and private land on the coast (4). So claims that high stumpage rates in BC are the problem that needs to be solved seem out of touch with reality. But Gibbons is still right: something “needs to change immediately.” The required change, however, might be more than what he’s thinking. The interior’s forest industry has been destabilized by two climate-change-related phenomena—devastating wildfire and explosive mountain pine beetle infestation—that have been amplified by the immense extent of BC’s clearcut logging. Gibbons wants to knock a few bucks off the forest companies’ costs so they can run more shifts at the mills. What’s really needed, though, is a much deeper kind of change, one that would quickly transform BC’s forest industry. To start, we need to end the export of raw logs and shift that same volume to a new class of forest: protected forest-carbon reserves. There’s an urgent need to remove carbon from the atmosphere and reduce emissions at the same time. The only way to remove carbon on a large scale and then store it safely for a long time is to not harvest healthy, mature forests of long-lived species. The next 10 years need to be full of bold ideas as we look for and find solutions to the climate crisis. Initiatives like the Carbon Tax in Canada are necessary to disincentivize the use of fossil fuels, but planet Earth isn’t going to give us time to tax our emissions into submission. We need some quick shifts that will cut 10 megatonnes with a few strokes of the Premier’s pen. In BC, protecting the forest instead of destroying it is our only realistic option. If we don’t do this, we’ll run the risk that the rest of the world will start counting the emissions we are releasing from our forests and begin to think of us—and our manufactured wood products industry—as the Brazil of the North. Perhaps what’s required most at this critical moment is recognition by the BC government that an international market for sequestered forest-carbon is coming soon, and that forest companies need to start switching from destroying publicly-owned forests to protecting them. Not just old-growth forests, but mature second-growth stands of long-lived species, too. Forest loss (yellow) on Vancouver Island and the south coast mainland between 2000 and 2018 Source: Hansen/UMD/Google/USGS/NASA Our government leaders don’t seem to be thinking straight yet. Instead, deforestation on the BC coast is accelerating. Over the past six years, the area of coastal Crown land that was clearcut increased 16 percent over the previous six-year period. Our provincial forest’s capacity to serve as a carbon sink has vanished. Its catastrophic collapse is recorded in a 20-year segment of the Province’s annual inventory of provincial greenhouse gas emissions. In 1997, BC forests could sequester the equivalent of 103 megatonnes of CO2 annually. By 2017 that had fallen to 19.6 megatonnes (5). From 2020 on, our forests will be a net source of emissions—even without including those from wildfires. The image above shows—in yellow—the physical area of Vancouver Island, and the adjacent mainland coast, that was clearcut between 2000 and 2018. Vancouver Island has become an ecological war zone. But a different economic role for the forest is emerging, one that doesn’t destroy it. That new purpose is highlighted by a gaping hole in Canada’s plan to meet its emissions reduction commitment under the 2015 Paris Agreement. Canada’s 2018 progress report to the UNadmits there’s a nearly 100-megatonne gap in the plan to 2030 (and this assumes the rest of the plan will actually work). How will Canada live up to its promise over the next 10 years? The progress report puts it this way: “Potential increases in stored carbon (carbon sequestration) in forests, soils and wetlands will also contribute to reductions which, for a country such as Canada, could also play an important role in achieving the 2030 target.” The report offers no other possibility for filling that gap. Canada, then, will likely depend on using the carbon sequestration capacity of its forests to meet its Paris Agreement commitments. Article 5 of the Paris Agreement, through its reference to a commitment in Article 4 of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change, encourages all countries to “…promote and cooperate in the conservation and enhancement, as appropriate, of sinks and reservoirs of all greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol, including biomass, forests and oceans as well as other terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems.” Depending on how Article 6 of the Paris Agreement is eventually detailed (its development was stymied at the Madrid COP), it’s possible that an international market mechanism for forest carbon is coming, and it can’t come soon enough. The over-exploitation of BC’s forests has added to an explosion in net carbon emissions, delivered to the atmosphere each year by the forest industry’s endless road building and progressive clearcuts. Below, I’ll show why this now amounts to over 190 megatonnes every year (and possibly much more), a far more powerful carbon bomb than is being dropped by Canada’s oil sands industry (6). It’s long past time for us to understand the inner workings of the bomb and to defuse it. There are two separate parts to BC’s bomb, and I will take you through each of these in some detail below. First, when a mature or old forest stand is logged, assuming it’s healthy, the living biomass that’s killed and cut up into small pieces begins a premature process of decay, often hundreds of years before that decay would occur naturally. Secondly, when that mature or old, healthy stand is clearcut, its potential to sequester carbon in the future is lost and it could then take anywhere from 60 years to several hundred years before a new replacement forest could sequester as much carbon as was being stored in the previous stand. Let me take you through the inner workings of each of these parts of BC’s carbon bomb. First, let’s consider the magnitude of the carbon emissions released when wood prematurely decays. Biomass left behind after clearcut logging on Crown land on Quadra Island (Photo by David Broadland) WHEN AN AREA OF FOREST IS CLEARCUT, three decay processes are initiated that result in emissions of carbon to the atmosphere. First, the removal of the trees allows the sun to warm the forest soil to a higher temperature than was possible when it was shaded by trees. That additional warmth speeds up decay processes and the release of greenhouse gases, a process somewhat akin to the melting of permafrost in the Arctic. Soil scientists tell us that forest soil contains even more carbon than all the trees and other biomass that grow in it. Recent studies have reported that as much as 20 percent of the carbon in the layer of soil at the forest floor is released to the atmosphere after an area of forest has been clearcut. This release is a wild card in our emerging understanding of the impact of clearcut logging on carbon emissions. For now it remains unquantified, but it’s definitely not zero. The second decay process begins after an area of forest is clearcut and the unused parts of trees left on the forest floor begin to decay. In his 2019 report Forestry and Carbon in BC (document at end of story), BC forest ecologist Jim Pojar estimated that 40 to 60 percent of the biomass of a forest is left in a clearcut. That includes the branches, stumps, roots, pieces of the stems that shattered when felled, the unutilizable tops of the trees, and unmerchantable trees that are killed in the mayhem of clearcut logging. For our purpose, we will use the mid-point of Pojar’s 40 to 60 percent estimate: half of the biomass is removed, and half remains on the forest floor. The Ministry of Forests’ log scaling system tells us what volume of wood is removed from the forest as merchantable logs. We then assume that an equal volume of wood is left in the clearcut. In 2018, the total volume of wood removed from BC’s forests, as reported in the ministry’s Harvest Billing System, was 54.1 million cubic metres. As per above, we are using the same number for the volume of wood that was left in clearcuts all over the province. So the total volume of wood in play is 108.2 million cubic metres. Both pools of wood—the wood left behind and the wood trucked away—begin to decay after a relatively short period of time following harvest. Each cubic metre of wood will eventually produce about 0.82 tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions (7). So the wood left behind will produce 44 megatonnes and the wood trucked away will also produce 44 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions—eventually. The average 6.5-million-cubic-metre cut for raw log exports accounts for 11 megatonnes of that 88-megatonne carbon bomb. You might have heard that the carbon in the logs that are harvested and turned into finished wood products will be safely stored in those products indefinitely. But the Ministry of Forests’ own research shows that after 28 years, half of the carbon in the wood products is no longer being safely stored; at 100 years, only 33 percent of the wood is still in safe storage (graph below). The rest will have returned to the atmosphere or is headed in that direction. This BC Ministry of Forests graph shows how the carbon stored in wood products declines over time. After 28 years, half of the carbon stored has been lost to the atmosphere. At 100 years, 33 percent remains. BC’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory quantifies the magnitude of the currently acknowledged deterioration of wood products. For 2017 it noted that “Emissions from Decomposition of Harvested Wood Products” contributed 42 megatonnes annually to the provincial greenhouse gas inventory, which is close to our estimate of 44 megatonnes for 2018 (8). For ethical reasons, we ought to attribute all of those future emissions to the year in which the wood was harvested. Note that the period of safe storage of carbon in wood products is much shorter than the expected life of most of the tree species that grow in coastal BC. A Sitka spruce is capable of attaining 700 years of age. Douglas fir commonly reach 600 to 800 years of age, and have been known to survive to 1000 years. Red cedar can reach even greater longevity. The Cheewat Lake Cedar near Clo-oose has been estimated to be as old as 2,500 years. The coastal forest’s longevity—compared with BC’s interior forests—arises, in part, because the coast’s wetter climate lowers the incidence of drought and wildfires that could kill the forest. As well, there are no mountain pine beetles in coastal BC. By eliminating the export of raw logs and instead protecting an equivalent volume of long-lived coastal stands each year, 11 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions could be avoided. That would be a much more substantial reduction in provincial emissions than, for example, the BC Carbon Tax has produced after 10 years. The author measures the circumference (27 feet) of an apparently healthy 700-800-year-old Douglas fir on Quadra Island. Douglas fir are known to live for as long as 1000 years. THE SECOND PART OF THE BOMB—the loss of sequestration capacity—is a measure of the net growth, per year, of the carbon stored by our forests. Provincial data shows that sequestration capacity held steady at about 103 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions per year between 1990 and 1999, and then began to decline through to 2017, the last year for which data is available. But the rate of decline suggests that our forests are now a net source of emissions, even without including the emissions released as a result of natural disturbances such as wildfires. The impact on climate stability of BC’s forests losing the ability to absorb 103 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions per year is no different than the impact of releasing 103 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions every year. Let me give you just a glimpse of how unbridled logging has reduced sequestration capacity. Consider the impact of logging roads. Logging in BC has required the construction of a vast and very expensive network of industrial-duty roads that have gouged out an equally vast area of previously productive forest and covered it over with blasted rock and gravel. The public has paid for these roads through reduced stumpage payments. They’re poor, if not impossible places for trees to grow. In BC, logging roads and landings are allowed to occupy up to seven percent of the area of a cutblock. As well, to avoid slash burning, the unmarketable wood left in a clearcut is increasingly consolidated in semi-permanent piles that, like the roads and landings, reduce the space available for a new forest to grow. A recent report at The Narwhal by Sarah Cox described a study in Ontario that examined the extent of such forest loss in that province. Cox reported that researchers there found “logging scars created by roads and landings…occupied an average of 14.2 percent of the area logged.” So our province’s seven percent restriction could well be an underestimation of the forest base that’s being lost. But let’s use seven percent and calculate how much forest has been lost. Sierra BC’s recent report, Clearcut Carbon (document at end of story), put the total area logged in BC between 2005 and 2017 at 3,597,291 hectares, which included private land on Vancouver Island. If seven percent of that area was covered with roads and landings, the area of forest lost over that 13-year period would be 251,810 hectares. That’s larger than Vancouver Island’s largest protected area, Strathcona Park. In this randomly selected, typical aerial view of Crown forest on Quadra Island, the permanent, ballasted logging roads occupy 8.2 percent of the area of the recent clearcuts. Sierra BC chose a 13-year period for its report because it takes at least 13 years after a clearcut has been replanted for the area to shift from being a source of carbon emissions to a carbon sink. The report grimly observed: “For at least 13 years, these areas are ‘sequestration dead zones’: clearcut lands that emit more carbon than they absorb.” In the case of roads, though, the forest land they now occupy has become a permanent just-plain-dead zone, and another one the size of Strathcona Park is being created every 13 years. While the blame for BC’s forests becoming a net source of carbon emissions has been directed at non-human causes like the mountain pine beetle and wildfires, the forest industry’s production of 251, 810 hectares of just-plain-dead zones and 3.6 million hectares of sequestration dead zones every 13 years is pushing ecological stability to the brink. Once upon a time, management of BC’s forests was based on the concept of “sustained yield.” It was a commonly held belief of residents of this province that this meant the annual allowable cut was restricted to no more than the amount of new forest growth each year. Many of us, including myself, have mistakenly believed that approach to managing the public forests was how the Forest Service still operated. This is clearly not the case. The Forest Service has turned the resource into an annual carbon bomb that has become one of the largest carbon emitters/carbon-sink killers in Canada. At more than 190 megatonnes a year (88 from premature decay emissions and 103 from loss of the forest-carbon sink), it’s well over twice the size of emissions from Canadian oil sands operations and three times the rest of BC’s emissions. Yet we cut far more than we need for our own use. That’s just plain nuts. The most obvious starting point for repairing BC’s broken forest-carbon sink would be to ban the export of raw logs. That would make it possible to put the 6.5 million cubic metres of trees that weren’t harvested into a protected carbon reserve each year until the provincial forest-carbon sink has been rebuilt to at least 1997’s level: 103 megatonnes per year. YOU MIGHT THINK THAT THE GREATEST CHALLENGE to eliminating raw log exports and putting that uncut volume into protected carbon reserves would be the huge loss in employment that would result. You’d be wrong. There were 17,800 people employed in “forestry and logging with support activities” in all of BC in 2018, according to BC Stats (9). This figure doesn’t include BC’s wood products manufacturing jobs, but eliminating log exports wouldn’t affect those jobs since raw log exports create zero manufacturing jobs in BC. 2018 was a very good year for employment in the forest industry. The total volume cut in BC forests, including on both public and private land, was 54.1 million cubic metres. Of that, 30 percent was cut on the coast and 70 percent in the interior. Based on that split, about 30 percent of the employment in “forestry and logging with support activities” was on the coast, or about 5340 jobs. In 2018, raw log exports were at a five-year low of 5.03 million cubic metres, equivalent to 31 percent of the coastal cut. So eliminating log exports that year would have eliminated about 31 percent of those 5340 coastal logging jobs, or 1650 jobs. It would have also eliminated, or at least greatly delayed, 8.3 megatonnes of emissions. To put those 1650 jobs in perspective, they represented less than one-tenth of one percent of BC’s total workforce in 2018. They are amongst the most carbon-emission-intensive jobs on Earth. In the approaching low-carbon economy, employment will need to shift from carbon-emission-intensive to carbon-absorption-intensive. Any job that is part of a low-cost process for removing carbon from the atmosphere is going to be in demand. Allowing trees to grow is currently the lowest-cost process for absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. This is unlikely to change. When BC starts to put thousands of hectares of forest land into carbon sequestration reserves each year, optimizing the amount of carbon stored will require scientists, surveyors, mappers, planners, foresters, tree planters, thinners, pruners, salvagers and fire suppressors. It’s likely to include some selection logging. If anything, optimizing the forests’ capacity for sequestration is likely to require more workers than are provided by road building and the mechanized form of clearcutting widely practiced on the coast. Where would the money for all this employment come from? The Carbon Tax is slated to rise to $50 per tonne in 2021. If the 5-year-average export cut was ended and the trees left standing, a net reduction in emissions of 11 megatonnes would have an annual value of $550 million. That’s a lot more than necessary to keep 1650-2000 jobs in a transformative BC Forest-Carbon Service. Do the arithmetic yourself. David Broadland is the publisher of Focus. He is working with a group of scientists, journalists and citizens to explore the potential for conserving selected BC forests for carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation and short-distance tourism potential. He welcomes your feedback. Forestry and Carbon In BC by Dr. Jim Pojar: Forestry and Carbon in BC Dr. Jim Pojar.pdf3.51 MB · 75 downloads Clearcut Carbon by Sierra BC: 2019-Clearcut-Carbon-report.pdf2.14 MB · 71 downloads
×
×
  • Create New...