Glyphosate herbicide is applied to a logged area after seedlings are replanted. (Doug Pitt/Natural Resources Canada)

Chemical spraying in B.C. cuts natural forest firebreaks

The forestry practice of eliminating aspen stands is contributing to the intensity of forest fires in British Columbia.

Broadleaf trees like aspen act as natural fireguards because they’re less flammable than coniferous species.

But under forestry regulations, species like aspen are regarded as competitors with coniferous trees, which are preferred for their harvestable timber.

As a result, aspen are often eliminated by spraying with the herbicide glyphosate, the cheapest way of removing competition.

READ MORE: Burns Lake sawmills think outside the box to increase timber supply

“Chemical brushing with herbicides is one of the techniques Canfor uses to reduce this competition and increase seedling survival,” company spokesperson Michelle Ward told Lakes District News.

Ward explained that in the Houston area less than 5 per cent of the 5,400-5,600 hectare harvest area is sprayed to eliminate competitor species, which also includes grasses and fireweed.

Forestry companies are required by law to reduce competition with the main stock species.

Section 46.11(2) of the Forest and Range Practices Act Regulations states that no more than 2 ha, or 5 per cent of a reforested area is exempt from the “stocking standards.”

In everyday language, the stocking standards refer to commercial species like pine, spruce or Douglas fir, and non-commercial species like birch or aspen must be eliminated if their stands are larger than 2 ha.

“The problem is you’re precluding the existence of firebreaks. You need a 10-20 hectare patch of it. If it’s only 2 ha it’s too small, it’s useless as a firebreak. And this rule is applied across a huge area,” said James Steidle of the group Stop the Spray B.C.

Broadleaf species aren’t only essential as natural fireguards but in the larger forest ecosystem many species of birds build their nests in aspens where there are more insects for them to eat, and moose often graze on aspen.

The good news is that public opposition means glyphosate spraying is rarely done in the Lakes District, said Phil Burton, a professor of Ecosystem Science at UNBC.

In the licensed area of Hampton Lumber – owner of Babine and Decker Lake Products – no cut blocks have been sprayed in the last 20 years, said Steve Zika, CEO of Hampton Lumber.

Some even better news is that on a provincial level the areas sprayed with glyphosate have gone down from 18,546 ha in 2015 to 12,812 ha in 2017, according to a spokesperson from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

For the Nadina district, 105 ha was sprayed in 2015, 197 in 2016 and 128 last year.

READ MORE: B.C. forestry ministry cutting back on use of herbicide glyphosate

However, aspen stands are still sometimes removed from forests in this region by other means.

“People [also] do it with saws. The main difference is that usually they’ll sprout back after being cut with a saw. But with the glyphosates it affects the roots as well, and reduces the chances of them growing back,” Burton said.

In the context of last summer’s intensive wildfires, wider swathes of aspen could help ensure future fires are less destructive.

“We need to re-open our land use plans and recognize the need for community protection zones in which getting that crop of conifer trees isn’t the priority, but rather reducing fire susceptibility,” he said.

“Maybe we should even plant belts of broadleaf trees around First Nations communities and villages and towns. So we can designate fire protection as a priority.”

Just Posted

Coastal GasLink gets interim injunction against Unist’ot’en

The LNG pipeline company can start work Monday with enforcement approved by court.

Biking among traditional outdoor sport draws for Burns Lake poll shows

Mountain biking is one of the top four outdoor activities that drew… Continue reading

Climate change affects Nechako watershed, worsens fires, group says

The Nechako watershed is feeling the effects of more intense widlfires and… Continue reading

Oil tanker ban to be reviewed by committee

Indigenous groups for and against Bill C-48 travel to Ottawa to influence the Senate’s decision

Fat tires on thick ice

Burns Lake fat bikers came out to enjoy the conditions on Kager… Continue reading

REPLAY: B.C’s best video this week

In case you missed it, here’s a look at the replay-worth highlights from this week across the province

Canucks score 3 power-play goals in 4-2 win over Oilers

Vancouver sniper Boeser has 6 goals in last 5 games

Microscopic parasite found in Prince Rupert water affecting thousands

More than 12,000 residents affected by the boil water advisory issued Dec. 14

Trudeau lashes out at Conservatives over migration “misinformation”

Warning against the “dangers of populism,” Trudeau says using immigration as a wedge political issue puts Canada’s future at risk.

B.C. hockey coach creates ‘gear library’ to remove cost barrier of sport

Todd Hickling gathered donations and used gear to remove the cost barrier for kids to play hockey.

Canada’s ambassador meets with second detainee in China

Global Affairs says John McCallum, Canada’s ambassador to China, met with Spavor Sunday

‘They’re coming:’ Flying cars may appear in urban skies by 2023

Air taxis will number 15,000 and become a global market worth $32 billion by 2035

B.C. VIEWS: Andrew Wilkinson on taxes, ICBC and union changes

Opposition leader sees unpredictable year ahead in 2019

5 tips for self-care, mental wellness this holiday season

Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions urging British Columbians to prioritize self care through festive season

Most Read