Areas of exclusion for old growth deferral

Includes areas that experienced pine beetle infestation, high burn severity rate

Old growth deferrals in the Burns Lake could have a major impact on the local economy. (File photo/Lakes District News)

Old growth deferrals in the Burns Lake could have a major impact on the local economy. (File photo/Lakes District News)

Members of the local forestry community, along with elected officials for the Village of Burns Lake have expressed their concerns about the expected impacts of old growth logging deferrals to the area.

According to Frank Varga, Burns Lake Community Forest (BL ComFor) general manager, the BL ComFor is expecting a five per cent decrease to its timber harvesting land base and 663,000 cubic meters of impact long term, and standard timber inventory loss of 60,000 cubic meters in harvest planning. In terms of dollar value, Varga says that it’s difficult to say due to the constant change in market conditions.

“In today’s market [Fall of 2021] the volume assuming 60-70 per cent green, and 30 per cent dry could be worth upwards of $5-6 million gross value standing for lost value of the 60,000 cubic meters of standard timber inventory lost.”

Lakes District News reached out to the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources (MFLNR) to ask why forests around Burns Lake are being included in the areas to be deferred, when significant amounts of those forests were impacted by the pine beetle, as well as whether logging of these impacted areas is actually beneficial to the environmental health of the forest by regenerating the dead areas.

As it turns out, some of the impacted areas will not be included in the old growth deferral plan, but some will.

According to the MFLNR Representative Nigel McInnis, the proposed deferral areas exclude areas that have been highly disturbed, including all forests with; over a 70 per cent mortality rate from insects and disease which is mostly areas affected by mountain pine beetle, a high or moderate burn severity rating within the perimeter of fires that burned between 2007 and 2020, and a harvest history using provincial government cutblock data.

“These areas were not considered old growth in their assessments and were not included in proposed deferrals. Stands with low mortality from mountain pine beetle, areas where fires burned with low severity, and unburned fire skips were included in the deferral assessments,” said McInnis.

The reason that some impacted areas with lower morality rates were still included in the proposed deferrals is that many of the forests that were disturbed by fire or insects still have important biodiversity values, according to McInnis.

“This can include forests with large dead trees that provide habitat for some species, patches of unburned forest that maintain live trees, or stands of trees that were not killed by insect infestations. Remnant areas of older forests are often of increased importance to habitat in landscapes with high rates of disturbance.”

McInnis went on to say that in the Burns Lake area, old growth includes trees that are older than 140 years. In many ecosystems around Burns Lake, old forests are currently considered rare, in part because of the mountain pine beetle. Deferrals are focused on the remaining stands of old forests.

According to Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad, there shouldn’t be any deferral of old growth in the area whatsoever. “The announcement of deferrals seems to be more political than scientific with the largest areas impacted in the interior and the north. When we think about old growth, we think about big trees on the coast,” said Rustad.

“This is not what is being talked about in our area. My largest concern is these deferrals are removing a large portion of our midterm timber supply that our families and communities were counting on to help us through the impacts from Mountain Pine Beetle. The deferral magnifies the impacts of the pine beetle and will certainly put forestry operations in our area at risk.”

Lakes Disrict News also asked Hampton Lumber CEO Steve Zika if the provincial government’s announcement has given him cause for concern about timber supplies for his mills, as well as whether he believes the deferrals will effect contractors in the local area. “The old growth issue is a very complex, dynamic initiative by the government that could have dramatic negative effects on the rural communities and the forest industry in B.C. It is difficult to assess the specific local area effects at this time,” he replied.