Washouted out section of a hillside

Connecting the dots between clearcut logging and BC’s megafloods

Vancouver based filmmaker Daniel J Pierce just released a film that attempts to connect the dots between clearcut logging and the megafloods wreaking havoc in BC’s Interior. 

Daniel J Pierce – photo provided

He acknowledges that the climate is changing and there was an extreme event, but says this is only half of the story.

“We have loaded the dice in favour of more of these events, by so badly degrading the hydrological functioning of the ecosystem.”

Pierce cites scientific papers like:

Pierce has been documenting forestry issues since 2008. 

He spent some of this time on Cortes Island, filming areas like the Basil Creek Watershed, the Children’s Forest and and Delight Lake Watershed. Pierce interviewed Chief James Delorme of the Klahoose First Nation, Mark Lombard, Bruce Ellingsen and some of the other people who established the Cortes Island Community Forest. 

He told Cortes Currents, “Being in the city is a better place for my work but I always kept a piece of my soul on Cortes. I’ve been back to visit once and I have the dream in my heart of telling the story of the Cortes Island Community Forest.”

Last March, Pierce released a video about the flood that destroyed part of Grand Forks in 2018. (He has just changed the ending.)

As he explains in the podcast, a heavy spring snowfall was abruptly followed by hot summer weather that “sent a lot of water dumping down the Kettle River.” The lowest part of Grand Forks was destroyed in the resulting flood. The Provincial and Federal governments provided funding to buy out homes at their post flood value. A house that might have been worth $150,000 before the flood was worth $40,000 or $50,000 after the flood. 

“So you had some people lose their entire life savings and that entire neighbourhood became displaced,” explained Pierce. “Some people in the community started going to the source, which was what’s going on in the watershed above grand forks.”

This was one of the areas infested by pine beetles, which consequently became “a short term goldmine for the logging companies to salvage the pine on the landscape.” The BC Government reduced stumping fees from $25 to 25 cents a tree. Any stand with 30% dead pine could be totally clearcut. 

“They were logging all this healthy greenwood, which severely degraded  the watershed in a very short period of time,” said Pierce.

Screenshot of a clearcut inthe Grand Forks area – Courtesy Daniel J Pierce

A class action suit was brought against B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, the major logging companies Interfor, Weyerhaeuser and Tolko, three First Nation-owned companies and pulp producer Mercer Celgar, last year. They are accused of logging too quickly and creating the conditions that led to the 2018 flood.

Among other things, the plaintiffs pointed out this logging occurred above the snow line. 

“There’s no shade. So the sun melts this through 30% faster, which then causes all that water to dump down the hill stress sides. That’s how you end up with these monstrous spring flood events,” said Pierce, who was “essentially regurgitating” what he learned from forester and ecologist Herb Hammond.

According to Hammond (as paraphrased by Pierce), we essentially created the pine beetle disaster:

  1. global warming removed the biggest control factor for the pine beetle – the long cold winters would kill more beetle eggs over the winter.  
  2. the hotter summers and drought conditions also stress the trees, diminishing their natural ability to fight back against the beetles.
  3. clearcutting dried out the landscape, stressing ecosystems and making them more vulnerable to the beetle.
  4. By suppressing forest fires that normally clean out a forest, we left vast quantities of mature pine forests for the beetles to eat
  5. We eliminated a lot of habitat for birds and other predators of the beetle that would actually help regulate beetle populations. 
  6. Instead of  taking a scientific approach and trying to prevent future pine beetle outbreaks, the BC government  basically gave the logging industry a carte blanche to clearcut vastly unsustainable quantities of timber. 

“We’re now seeing the consequences of that across Southern BC,” said Pierce. “Our activity: how we’ve used the land, how we’ve degraded ecosystems over decades has actually led to more fires, more beetle outbreaks, and now more floods.”

He said you need to study each area individually to understand the megafloods that struck BC this month. 

In Abbotsford, for example: “Sumas Prairie used to be Sumas lake. It’s a low lying agricultural land that was drained many years ago. Water naturally wants to flow there. There was a pump station failure and a historic rain event. I don’t want to downplay any of that. It was a perfect storm.”

Screenshot of CBC News map shown in BC Floods and Clearcut Logging

Turning to the floods in Merritt and Princeton: “You can’t help, but notice how much forest cover has been lost from industrial logging and, since the pine beetle … it looks like almost half the watershed is gone. It’s a staggering amount of timber. Now you also need to match that up with a map of the actual watershed. Where is that water flowing? And  which part of that is actually going through Meritt?”

Forests naturally absorb water in a number of ways.

  1. The needles take up a massive amount of surface area and hold a lot of water. 
  2. Healthy forests possess lots of plant matter and woody debris that suck up moisture
  3. The roots hold onto water and the soil. 
  4. The mycelial and fungal networks hold onto water.

“When you log, when you clearcut in particular, you’re removing a lot of that natural system that’s sucking water out of the ground,” said Pierce. “The roots aren’t sucking water up anymore. The soil dries out the fungal networks dry up.  You don’t have all that surface area holding onto water.”  

In his new film, Pierce utilizes a series of satellite images to track the deforestation of Merritt since 1984. 

“This is more than just a weather event, this is a man-made disaster,” he said.

Top photo credit: Screenshot of hillside from the Grand Forks area – Courtesy Daniel J Pierce

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