Cedar and spruce being high-graded, says new Forest Practices Board report

  • Jan. 25, 2008 5:00 a.m.

by Heather Ramsay-Helicopter high-grading is jeopardizing the future of logging on the north and central coast, according to a recent Forest Practices Board investigation. The FPB report, released Jan. 16, says that in 54 cutblocks examined on the central and north coasts, including Haida Gwaii, valuable cedar and spruce had been selectively logged by helicopter at the expense of any future harvest opportunity and with no viable plan for regenerating the forest. This “high-grading” technique is also known as high-retention logging and is intended to remove trees with value, while leaving more than 50 percent of the forest standing. Due to the economic reality of logging in remote coastal locations, selectively harvesting the most valuable trees is becoming more popular. Twenty to 60 per cent of the harvest on the north and central coast uses this system. The FPB report acknowledges that this practice is often chosen to manage for biological diversity or visual impact, and is allowed under current legislation, but what is being sacrificed is the long-term economic value of the forest. Not only are the least valuable trees being left, but due to the provincial definition of a “stocked” stand, little or no replanting is taking place in these areas. The Forest Practices Board has found that when left to naturally regenerate, a species shift from high-value cedar composition to low-value hemlock dominated stands takes place. “It’s a serious problem,” said Bruce Fraser, chair of the FPB. “The issue exists on the Queen Charlottes as it does on the north and central coasts,” he said. He said the board took pains not to mention individual licensees in the report, but he said that companies on Haida Gwaii have done the most to mitigate the problems. Mark Salzl, stewardship coordinator for the Queen Charlotte Forest District, said one reason for this may be that the district has had a cedar strategy since 1996. He said there is a minimum stocking standard for cedar and Husby Forest Products, which is the only company doing high retention heli-logging on the islands, has added other positive strategies into its plans. Mr. Salzl said the company has worked to open up stands by removing some of the poorer quality hemlock in the area. These trees aren’t valuable to the company, but cutting them lets in more light and allows the cedar to regenerate better. He also notes that high retention logging is not clear-cutting and that can be seen as positive. That said, Mr. Salzl is still concerned about the impact of high retention logging and his office plans to monitor it into the future. Not only is there no minimum stocking standard for spruce, but “there is always a risk toward high grading and a species shift,” he said. Not only that, but the practice is supposed to create an uneven aged stand that will allow companies to log in an area for years to come. But improper high grading can deplete the area of high value timber on the first pass. The FPB investigation identified a number of other issues, such as provincial government policies that encourage this approach, professional stewardship issues involving the adequacy of prescriptions that professional foresters are writing for these sites, and licensee implementation of practices on the ground that are different from what was prescribed. Mr. Fraser said an industry/Ministry of Forests group known as the Coast Region Implementation Team has been looking at the issue and is looking at ways to address the problems identified in the FPB’s report.

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