Salvage Logging British Columbia’s Wildfires – Will Wildlife Conservation and Science Matter?

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The Lodgepole Fire in Southeast BC creating some great habitat but it’s about to be carved up by logging roads and clearcuts. Photo by Curtis Hall

Where There’s Smoke…

It’s early September and like most of western North America British Columbia’s wildfires are still raging. Homes are still being threatened. People are still on evacuation alerts. People are still breathing thick smoke-filled air. Some homeowners have not been allowed to return home after being evacuated. There has been no time to assess the effects of the fires on the province’s fish, wildlife or their habitats including our rare and endangered species. Yet today one of British Columbia’s largest forest companies distributed a list covering all the fire areas in the southeastern corner of the province that they plan to salvage timber from. This tidal wave of timber salvaging will start to unfold across the rest of BC shortly as history is repeats itself.

It’s no surprise the lumber giants have moved so fast to get at the burned timber while it’s still warm. BC’s three largest lumber companies have more milling capacity than all sawmills in the United States combined. The majority of all timber harvesting in the province is controlled by only five private lumber companies (Canadian Forest Products -Canfor, West Fraser Timber, International Forest Products, Tolko Industries and Western Forest Products).  With sawmills referred to as “Super Mills” a lot of “fibre” is needed to feed the mill’s diets. But with all this lumbering super power small towns across BC are dying as their forest economies dwindle, fish and wildlife populations are collapsing and, in 2017, the management of the public’s natural resources will receive the lowest proportion of the province’s provincial budget in the last half century.

It’s a well-known fact the province’s major forest companies are harvesting timber to the maximum while gradually decreasing investment in BC’s forestry infrastructure and increasing assets and holdings in the US.  Getting approval to harvest burned and insect attacked forests at rates that exceed the government approved annual allowable harvest levels has become the norm in BC as the effects of climate change are now a reality. All this does not bode well for the future of the province’s wildlife though.

How Does British Columbia’s Laws Protect the Public’s Wildlife and Habitat?

There are no specifically defined legislated objectives in British Columbia for fish or wildlife populations, their habitats or for measuring biodiversity. There is no legal requirement for the use of peer-reviewed science or scientific panels in forest management in BC. There are no legislated requirements to conduct scientific assessments of the impacts that large-scale proposed timber harvesting might have on the public’s fish, wildlife or habitat like there is in mining and other major development projects in Canada. There is no legal requirement for a forest company to change timber harvesting plans based on public input. Under the current professional reliance model of forest management in BC, professional Foresters employed by the timber companies make a lot of the decisions on how the public’s resources will be treated. Government scientists, Biologists and Foresters have no authority to challenge or override the private companies’ plans to manage the public’s land as long as their timber harvest plans meet the bare minimum requirements of a severely deficient set of forest management laws in the province.

From science we know high road density on the landscape negatively impacts wildlife. Yet there are no laws in BC controlling road density to protect wildlife or habitat. Forest companies have no legal obligation to ensure logged over areas are free of the invasive weeds that choke out wildlife habitat and reduce biodiversity. We know fire improves huckleberry production for grizzly bears yet there are no laws to prevent logging machinery from impacting the re-growth of huckleberry bushes in critical grizzly habitat after a wildfire. There are no regulations that require wildlife forage and browse to be co-managed in concert with trees.

There are no legal mechanisms in BC for individuals or NGO organizations to legally challenge decisions to harvest timber in a given area if wildlife values are not being managed to the satisfaction of the public. The strongest objective set by government for wildlife management in BC is to “conserve sufficient wildlife habitat in terms of amount of area, distribution of areas and attributes of those areas”; however, mitigating impacts of timber harvesting on wildlife or habitat must be “without unduly reducing the supply of timber from British Columbia’s forests”. That’s the law in British Columbia. Timber supply trumps wildlife conservation.

Doesn’t BC Practice Sustainable Forest Management?

British Columbia was made famous by the “Bowron Clearcut” when it became one of the few manmade features on Earth that could be seen from space. This clearcut was over 300 square kilometers and was a result of salvage logging that occurred during the 1970’s spruce beetle outbreak. By the year 2020 it is estimated that 20,000 square kilometers of BC’s lodgepole pine forests affected by the mountain pine beetle will be clearcut making it the largest timber salvage logging operation in the world. Moose populations have crashed is many regions of the province as a result of the mountain pine beetle salvage logging that has already been completed. Aerially spraying herbicides to rid plantations of willow and alder continue to impact moose in the habitats where extensive pine beetle salvage logging has taken place.

Prior to the start of the salvage logging of the mountain pine beetle effected forests, an independent group of forest ecologists advised the government that around 75% of the beetle attacked forests had substantial proportions of non-pine tree species that were not affected by the beetle. If these mixed forests were left unlogged they would have maintained timber supply for the next half century and made moose populations less vulnerable to decline.  The scientist’s advice was not accepted and almost every hectare of forest with any amount of mountain pine beetle killed timber was clearcut.

Much of the general public and many politicians still believe that wildfires are bad for the environment. Forest companies add spin to these perceptions by using terms like “salvage logging” and “sanitizing the forest”. The term “salvage” only refers to reducing losses of timber and the concept has no ecological context. “Sanitation logging” is a misleading concept because it promotes the idea that a forest ecosystem needs to be cleansed of natural ecological processes like dead and decaying trees. “Catastrophic” fires or insect outbreaks are not catastrophic for forests ecosystems or biodiversity. It’s very unlikely that salvage or sanitation logging has ever helped with the ecological recovery of a burned forest. In fact, researchers at Oregon State University that studied fires that burned in southern Oregon in 2002 reported that salvage logging destroyed about 70 percent of tree seedlings that had sprouted from the forest floor and that the slash and debris left on the ground after salvage logging actually increased the risk of future forest fires.

But Doesn’t Clearcutting a Burned Forest Mimic What Mother Nature Does? 

In classical forestry education we are taught that most forests in BC originate from stand replacing fire regimes. The new forests establish over a short period of time and grow into even-aged forests. Clearcutting causes forests to also establish and mature into even aged forests; therefore, the classical forestry theory is that clearcutting mimics or is at least a surrogate for natural stand replacing wildfire. A lot of the latest fire ecology science is suggesting that a lot more of BC’s forests were subject to frequent low intensity fires that thinned the forests and kept fuel loading down while maintaining forest structure, diversity and resilience.

Twenty or 30 years after logging it can be hard to discern if you are in an old cutblock or an old burn; however, I think that’s where the similarity ends. Even with severe crown fires there is still a lot of vertical habitat structure left after the fire is out. To a moose, elk or a deer this dead standing forest still provides the visual hiding cover that allows them to feed and not been seen by predators as easily; therefore, their distribution in and use of burned habitat is not compromised.  A moose’s long legs are an adaption to living with deep snow and water but their long legs are also thought by biologists to be an adaptation to living in old burns where the snags that have fallen become crisscrossed and tangled.  The ability to live in the tangled old burns may be an adaptation to avoid predators.

The Importance of Fire to Wildlife

It has been hypothesized that the extinction of the Mammoth gave rise to British Columbia’s biodiversity.  Mammoths that grazed over vast areas of North America maintained grassland-like habitats across much of the continent. Once they disappeared the grasslands began to grow over with shrubs and birch trees which eventually succeeded to conifer forests. These new vegetation communities gave rise to an era of fire.

Over the last 10,000 years almost every ecosystem in BC evolved with a unique fire regime.  A significant proportion of these assemblages of flora and fauna are adapted to fire as either fire resistant or fire dependent species. Fire resistant species either evolved strategies of avoidance or tolerance to fire.  Avoidance is when species inhabit or retreat to habitats where the lethal effects of fire cannot affect them.  Fire tolerant species have physiological traits that mitigate or tolerate exposure to lethal conditions of fire. Fire dependent species require fire to perpetuate the species – fire is needed for at least one part of their life cycle. Fire intolerant species are sensitive to fire and are destroyed by fire and whose presence may fade from an ecosystem disturbed by fire. Many of BC’s plants and animals are fire dependent.

A fire regime is a combination of the severity of the fire and how often fire occurs. Severity is controlled by the amount and type of combustible vegetation on the landscape and the sensitivity of the living vegetation. How often fire occurs on the landscape is often expressed as measures of a fire return interval or fire frequency which are regulated by how climate and weather interact to create lightning. Science also recognizes the use of fire by the First People’s of North America as contributing to the uniqueness of some the past fire regimes. The other variables that define a fire regime include the pattern, size, continuity and season of burn. All these factors work together to create unique fire regimes across the landscape at different points in time.

Generally low severity – more frequent fires created Fire-Maintained Ecosystems which are characterized by fire that is predominantly non-lethal to most of the vegetation. On the other side, higher severity fires that burn less frequently tend to be lethal to most of the vegetation so they are referred to as Replacing Fires.

High levels of biodiversity are often correlated to mixed–severity fire regimes. Mixed-severity fire regimes are influenced by mixtures of high and low severity fires at varying scales, patterns and timing across the landscape. Mixed-severity fire regimes are dominated by intermediate factors – intermediate fire severities and intermediate fire return intervals (i.e., 30-200years).

Fire mosaic is the pattern and variability of burned and un-burned vegetation across a landscape. Mosaic fire creates diverse patterns of vegetation, edge conditions, open and interior micro climate conditions that provide habitat for a diversity of wildlife species. Ecotone gradients are a pattern of ecological communities where high levels of biodiversity are observed. Ecotone gradients like the grassland-forest interface are known for high value habitats for a variety of plants and wildlife species. Fire plays a role in maintaining ecotone gradients such as the boundary between grasslands and forests where forest encroachment onto grasslands is mitigated by frequent fires.

Fundamentally, fire creates complexity on the landscape which allows for plant diversity. Plant diversity allows for wildlife diversity. Diverse ecosystems are resilient ecosystems.  Resilient ecosystems are better capable of resisting or recovering from stresses and disturbances.

Ungulate winter range has always been considered to be the factor limiting ungulate populations in BC. While the limitation is generally correlated to the lesser amount of area available for ungulates to winter on, summer range nutrition is reported to play a very significant role in population dynamics as well. Summer range is a critical time for adult females and new offspring and access to high nutrition food during pre-natal and natal periods is vital for growth and survival.

There are number of reported negative population feedback dynamics attributed to poor summer range nutrition. Low pregnancy rates, low offspring production, poorer female body condition and body mass, low juvenile survival and increased vulnerability to predation and harvest are some of the population dynamics attributed to poor summer range nutrition. It is reported in the scientific literature that fire enhances nutrient cycling, improves the digestibility of forage/browse, increases the crude protein content of forage/browse and increases the long-term biomass production of forage and browse. Fire improves nutrition which leads to sustainable and resilient wildlife populations. In BC you can’t have robust wildlife populations without fire. One study in northern BC reported that Stone’s Sheep that have access to significant portions of burned habitat had higher lamb to ewe ratios and lower incidence of lungworm than herds that did not have access to burned habitat.

In 2003, the Okanagan Mountain Park fire in burned approximately 25,000 ha of dry forest habitat south of the City of Kelowna.  10 years prior to the fire the Mountain Goats in Okanagan Mountain Park numbered around 8 animals. 10 years after the fire they had increased to 85 animals (962% increase). This increase is directly attributed to improved population dynamics resulting from habitat enhancement caused by the fire.  In game management units MU 8-9 and 8-10 the hunter harvest of mule deer and elk increased 32% and 144% respectively in the decade following the fire.  This increase in harvest occurred with about a 15% decrease in the number of hunters and 15% decrease in the number of hunter days in those management units. There was no inventory data before and after the fire so directly correlating increases in hunter harvest to increases in population size is not possible with a high degree of confidence; however, an increase in abundance due to the fire can’t be discounted either. Prior to the fire there were no mountain sheep in the area. Between 2007 and 2009 around 53 sheep were transplanted to the burned habitat and over the next 6 years the herd size increased by 14%. It is likely the favorable habitat and forage value created by the fire acted positively on mountain sheep population dynamics.

Huckleberries are fire tolerant and fire creates the conditions for huckleberry plants to thrive, expand and persist on the landscape. Since the early 1900s the Flathead grizzly bear population management unit (GPMU) in southeastern BC has had the shortest fire return intervals (most frequent fire) and the highest percentage of the land base burned by fire on an annual basis. Because of the fire regime in the Flathead and abundance of huckleberry plants, huckleberry production is a strong bottom up regulating factor for grizzly bears in the Flathead.

Populations of woodpeckers including the black-backed woodpecker depend on having significant areas of standing burned snag forests. The literature suggests this woodpecker species may be declining in BC, although trend data are difficult to interpret due to the low sample sizes. Fire suppression and post-fire salvage logging have negative implications for the species yet BC has not identified this woodpecker as a species of concern to be considered in how much of a burned forest should be logged. However, over the next few years in the United States, the potential listing of the black-backed woodpecker may lead to federal legal challenges when lumber companies plan to clearcut forests burned by wildfires.

Dr. Chad T. Hanson and his group, the John Muir Project of the Earth Island Institute in Berkeley, Calif., calls any burned forest where the trees have been left alone a “snag forest”. Dr. Hanson has pressed the argument over the past decade that snag forests are among the most important plant and animal habitats in North America. Dr. Hanson has made himself a thorn in the side of state and federal agencies in the US, pestering and sometimes suing them. But gradually, policy makers have begun to acknowledge that burned forests must be viewed as special places.

The Time to Act is Now

Currently there is an outbreak of the spruce bark beetle in BC covering an estimated 1600 square kilometers. To date in the summer of 2017, wildfires have burned 12,000 square kilometers of the province. There is a gold rush about to take place in the province and the gold is black charred timber some of which is critical to leave untouched for the benefit of wildlife and biodiversity conservation. Under the current forest management system in BC there will be no involvement of scientists and no meaningful opportunity for the public to influence what happens to their fish, wildlife and habitat unless there is significant opposition unleashed by the public and First Nations that forces a change in direction from the new government.

If you care enough to change the way fish, wildlife and habitat will be treated after the 2017 fire season is over you must act now. Demand that your government mandate a new and better approach to protecting fish, wildlife, habitat and biodiversity values in the forests that were burned this summer. Tell elected officials that the business-as-usual approach to forest management in BC will not be acceptable to plan harvesting in fire affected wildlife habitats.

You must demand that your fish, wildlife and habitat values be assessed at a landscape-scale using a roundtable approach that includes scientists, biologists, ecologists, First Nations, hunters, anglers, trappers, guide-outfitters and conservationists.

The future of your (burned) public land is in your hands. Contact your elected official today.

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Is a Public Institution Promoting Hatred Against Hunters in British Columbia?

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Why Do Men Trophy Hunt?

Is a prestigious University in British Columbia promoting hatred towards hunters?

Hatred in the World Today

Hatred and racial tension are escalating in the United States and Canada almost on a daily basis.  A tragic example of the consequences of this tension occurred on August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia when the hatred boiled over and a peaceful counter protester was murdered at a white supremacist rally.

Every hunter is aware of the boldness of the social media attacks being waged against hunters. We have all seen social hate campaigns unleashed against individuals in the Cecil the Lion controversy and the Namibia Black Rhino conservation hunt.  Death threats and targeted hate campaigns are directed daily against public hunting figures as well as the average hunter including many of our youth.

Some anti-hunting websites, social media sites and organizations endorse harassment of hunters and even go so far as tolerating people who advocate murdering or torturing hunters, guides and politicians. In July 2017, it was reported that animal rights activists who stalked and harassed the popular Spanish hunter Melania Capitan may have played a role in her suicide.

Not in Your Backyard

These news stories of hatred all seem so far away from hunting in the quiet backcountry of British Columbia. But they are not that far away. Hatred against hunters is being promoted by one of the province’s most prestigious Universities right under your nose.  In April of this year, I read an article that the University of Victoria posted titled: Why Men Trophy Hunt: ‘Showing off’ and the psychology of shame. It was co-written by a faculty professor at the University.  After reading it I sent the following letter to the Chair responsible for the professor’s conduct. In it I said:

____________________________________________________________________

April 12, 2017

Johannes Feddema                                                                                                                                                           Professor and Chair                                                                                                                                                         Department of Geography                                                                                                                                     University Victoria                                                                                                                                                               Victoria, BC, Canada

Dear Johannes,

Under Canada’s Human Rights Act of 1977 and BC Bill 14 harassment is considered a form of discrimination involving unwanted offensive or humiliating behavior. Bullying is a type of harassment which can take the form of either verbal attack with words or in the case of cyber-bullying, using electronic or social media to threaten, embarrass, intimidate, exclude or damage a reputation. By law, employers are obligated to ensure employees are not engaging in acts of harassment and that employees are not being harassed by clients or customers. Shaming is a form of harassment and there have been very tragic cases of people committing suicide after been publically shamed on social media. The literature also contains studies documenting the severe consequences that shaming and the feeling of shame can have on people.  

UVic hosted a lecture today titled:  Preventing Harassment: Victim, Bystander and Activist. I presume the lecture was an educational opportunity to talk about the dangers of harassment. On April 7th the University posted a publication[1] by Chris Darimont, Hakai-Raincoast professor of geography at the University of Victoria in which Mr. Darimont advocated for the use of public shaming. Mr. Darimont states:

“What this theory suggests is that widespread shaming— similar to the Cecil the lion incident in 2015, which drew worldwide condemnation— might influence the future of trophy hunting. Shaming tends to erode status.”

As a citizen of the province, I want to raise this matter with you. One of your academics is advocating harassment of licensed hunters rather than condemning the behavior. In B.C., a 10 year old youth can legally hunt when accompanied by a licensed adult hunter. Women make up the fastest growing demographic of hunters in North America and many first generation hunters of various ethnic backgrounds are taking up hunting in B.C. I am deeply disturbed that Mr. Darimont, using his position at the University, would endorse, advocate or even slightly suggest in an indirect way that people should be shaming anyone for the sake of a difference in personal values regarding hunting.  

In various social media sites dedicated to stopping hunting in B.C. I am witnessing the progression of social media shaming from that of verbal assaults, threats of violence and even desire to commit murder. Currently in B.C. there are professional wildlife biologists involved in management activities including the wolf cull in the endangered caribou recovery zones who have to operate in complete secrecy because their lives have been threatened by activists. I’m not suggesting Mr. Darimont has anything to do with those incidents but they are examples of the seriousness of what Mr. Darimont’s behavior can and has led to in the province.

While this matter does not involve harassment in the workplace per se, harassment of a UVic employee or harassment against me personally I am proposing that an academic and an academic institution are expected to treat the rest of society with the same values it espouses in its human resource policies and that it follow the principles of the reasonable person standard.

Please consider this letter a formal complaint against Mr. Darimont in his capacity as a professor at the university for publishing statements that endorse public shaming and harassment of law abiding citizens. I urge you to investigate the matter and try to find an acceptable solution to Mr. Darimont’s public behavior.

Sincerely

Mark Hall

[1] http://www.uvic.ca/home/about/campus-news/2017+trophy-hunt-chris-darimont+ring

____________________________________________________________________

Time to Take a Stand Against Hatred

On behalf of all hunters in the province I attempted to raise this issue with the University in a professional, quiet and respectful manner. Over the last 5 months, there was never any action taken to remove the article from the University website and there was never any follow up to my letter.  The University must simply agree that shaming hunters is an acceptable action to promote to students attending the University.

Universities in British Columbia are public institutions. If having one of your publicly funded institutions promote hatred against yourself or your kids because you/they are hunters is unacceptable to you then you must take action to stand up for your rights.  You do have the right to be free of discrimination in Canada.

Join me in standing up for our rights, as hunter conservationists in the province of British Columbia, by sending a personal email to the Honourable Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education, Skill and Training.

Email:  AVED.Minister@gov.bc.ca

Please keep your message respectful and maintain dignity expected of a hunter conservationist. The Minister will know nothing of this issue and you will simply be helping inform her of it and to convey your expectations of how a public university in BC should behave. My recommendations are that you, in your own words, tell Minister Mark that:

  • You are citizen of the province who is a lawful hunter.
  • Hunting is a way of life for yourself and a means to provide sustenance for your family.
  • You object to a public institution endorsing hatred against hunters.
  • She request that the University of Victoria remove the article that promotes hatred towards hunters.
  • The University issue a public apology to all hunters of the province

This issue of hatred against hunters might seem far from the conservation priorities hunters should be focused on. You might be asking why I have written an article about this topic then. It’s because I believe that the issue of hatred against hunters has everything to do with conservation. Wildlife conservation is complex and the threats facing wildlife are pushing us further down the path of being an unsustainable society.  Sustainable wildlife management needs public policy supported by science. Science needs adequate funding and conservation needs people to care about what’s happening to their land.  However, without everyone in society acting with respect for one another there will be no conservation and there will be no good outcomes for wildlife.

As hunters we tend to tolerate the social media hatred knowing that the keyboard warriors behind it are cowards and do nothing meaningful for wildlife or conservation. We know that hunter conservationists willingly carry the freight in paying for conservation across North America for the benefit of all citizens whether they hunt or not. True hunter conservationists can accept disagreements and controversy surrounding hunting in modern society because we recognize people’s differences stem from different personal worldviews and philosophies.

But we must not tolerate it when our public institutions and academic scientists turn to promoting hatred against any group – hunters or not. Hatred is not the British Columbia way and it’s not the Canadian way.

Make your voice be heard.

Write Honourable Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education, Skill and Training.

Email:  AVED.Minister@gov.bc.ca

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