The islands are leading the way province-wide in identifying and protecting karst formations, according to a special report by the Forest Practices Board, “Protecting Karst in Coastal BC”. Karst is a type of rock formation, and occurs where water dissolves limestone, creating sinkholes, disappearing streams and caves. Most of coastal BC’s karst formations are found on Haida Gwaii and Vancouver Island.
Recently, the Queen Charlotte Islands Forest District manager implemented the first karst identification order in BC, says the report. His order identified three types of karst features: karst caves; “significant” surface karst features, and “very high or high vulnerablity” karst terrain. Under this identification, only features rated with high vulnerability are now protected.
The report, which was released January 11, says karst is a valuable resource with direct economic and environmental values. BC’s karst caves attract caving enthusiasts from around the world to marvel at the stalactites and stalagmites. The caves also have scientific and cultural values as they preserve fossil records from prehistoric times and were used by First Nations peoples for shelter, burial sites and ceremonial purposes. The dissolved nutrients, fractured bedrock, and well-drained soils of karst terrain is excellent for growing forests and for supporting rare and diverse animal and plant species, according to the report. Karst terrain can be damaged by forest practices such as road building and by introducing logging debris, sediments and pollutants into karst by water flow. In 2002, a contractor in Kootenay Inlet on Moresby Island, filled in or blew up previously identified and marked karst depressions where surface streams went underground. There was no way to repair or undo the damage, and a $50,000 fine was imposed on the company’s owner by the Ministry of Forest’s District Manager Len Munt. (The case was later appealed and the penalty withdrawn). What went wrong in the first place? There had been good planning and preparation, but they failed to prevent damages as the contractor and equipment operators did not realize the sensitivity of the karst features, according to the report. Since this event, there have been changes in regulation of forest practices, which now place more responsibility on licensees, contractors and equipment operators to ensure field practices do not damage features like karst. To avoid damage, forest practices do not need to avoid karst areas, but will often have to be modified. Cave entrances, limestone outcrops, disappearing streams and sinkholes are reasonably obvious but assessing their sensitivity requires professionals.
The report concludes that karst is a sensitive resource, that the government can identify karst that needs protection, and that once identified, it is up to the licensees, contractors and their equipment operators to recognize it and to determine when to call in professionals.
The question remains, according to the report, as to whether or not these changes will prevent future damage to these sensitive geologic features. The full report is available at www.fpb.gov.ca. More information on karst can be found in an MoF on-line training course at: www.for.gov.bc.ca/hfp/training/00008
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