Cortes Community Forest Five-Year Plan Update: Tour of the Green Mountain Cut Block 

On a recent, crisp, spring morning, eleven Cortes Islanders joined Mark Lombard, Operations Manager for the Cortes Forestry General Partnership, for a tour and conversation about the future of the Green Mountain area of the Community Forest. CFGP is an equal partnership between the Klahoose First Nation and the Cortes Community Forest Cooperative (CCFC). This tour was part of community consultation around the development of the CFGP’s new five-year plan. Operations in this area are expected to occur in the later part of the next five-year period.

Mark Lombard (in high-visibility vest) and community members in the Green Mountain area on April 20, 2024.

Water Crossings

While another section of the Green Mountain area was harvested by the CFGP in 2018 and was accessed on the other side of the region, the section slated for timber harvesting in the next five-year plan is accessed via a road that is used by several residents and by hikers (on foot) to reach the Green Mountain trails. Access will also require crossing two streams, one of which was actively flowing at the time of our visit while the other appears to be more seasonal and flows underground in certain areas. 

There will likely be two points of crossing for the flowing stream. Lombard said the preferred locations of crossings would be places that are dry in the summertime. Logging trucks would be used to remove the cut logs by crossing the stream, moving into the operating area, and hauling out the timber at one of the two specified crossing sites in order to minimize impacts.

One crossing would take advantage of a landing at the uphill end of the operational area that was installed when the region was originally logged 80-100 years ago, and the other would probably be at the downhill end of the cut block. Establishing crossing sites would involve installing culverts and temporary bridges. The bridges and new roads into this part of the Community Forest would be “decommissioned” after the operation is completed. The expected result, explained Lombard, would be the stream going back to its natural course and some small trail-like passages remaining in the forest.

Strategic Thinning

The current plan is for this to be an intermediate harvest with enough retention so as not to trigger the requirement for re-planting. “If we do a little thinning in this five-and-a-half to six hectares, it might be a shade over 2,000 cubic meters. That would be sort of the same thing that was done in Coulter Bay, where we tried to retain 55 square meters per basal hectare,” said Lombard. He stressed that, when finished, the site will look more like the Coulter Bay/Carrington block, harvested in 2020, than the Larson’s Meadow block, harvested in 2015, where retention was slightly below the threshold and planting was required. Importantly, when retention falls below 40 m2/basal hectare (the combined cross-sectional area at chest height of trees left per hectare of cut area), the BC Ministry of Forests requires re-planting, a resource-intensive, expensive, and time-consuming practice. 

Nick Gagnon is a board member for the CCFC and works in the field for CFGP. He uses a small processor machine that is nimble enough to be used for thinning a dense forest and has a relatively light impact on the ground. Gagnon described the goal of thinning in this forest. “There’s a lot of density in here, and we’re going to see a lot of natural die-off if we let this go for another 80 or 100 years,” he said. “Just looking around, there’s some really nice stuff to leave that’s going to grow pretty good.”  He described how he looks at clusters of three to five trees and identifies one or two that are most likely to be out-competed in the long term. Removing these, he explained, will allow for better growth of the trees left behind.

Nick and Harlan Gagnon in the Community Forest.

Reducing the density of trees and thinning out canopies may also reduce fire danger. “The best understanding is that thinning it out, taking out the ones that are close to dying off, so there won’t be so much dead standing, and thinning the canopy mimics natural disturbance patterns,” Lombard told the group. “Hopefully, this has the benefit of producing logs, which is the mandate of the Community Forest, but also has a wildfire benefit.” 

It may also support a more resilient forest that will continue to age. But no one knows for sure what the impact of logging activity will be on the future of the forest. Sonya Friesen pointed out that logging has historically contributed to fire-prone conditions in this and other second-growth forest. “It’s a 50/50 chance whether we improve it or make it more fire-susceptible,” she said.

Lombard acknowledged Friesen’s point, but reminded the group, “This is not a priority area identified in the Community Wildfire Protection Plan,” and therefore planned activities will not be specifically designed to reduce fire risk.

A Consistent Local Supply

For the 18 months, the CFGP has not been able to keep up with demand by local mills for a number of reasons. “I wonder if, in your planning, is there some place you can set aside [for small harvests] in case that happens again?” asked Ralph Garrison. 

“That’s a really good thought. We would like to be able to do that,” replied Lombard. “I think, once we’ve got substantive planning ahead, community consultation ahead, tours ahead in the areas that are slated to be the areas that operations would happen in, say, the first half of the next five-year plan, we won’t have to say it’s going to happen on [specific dates]. Once the road is created, we could come and cut a couple loads for the Klahoose or one of the other mills at roadside. And it’s in the five-year plan, it’s going to happen at some time, it wouldn’t be the whole harvest of the area. That’s a very likely possibility… I think it is important that we evolve a little bit to be able to supply our local mills if they need a couple of loads.”

Aging the Forest

The average age of the trees in the area is thought to be about 80 years. As we walked toward the middle of the future operational area, we came across a much older Doug fir dominating the landscape. This tree was spared during original logging in the area, probably in the 1930s, and will be left again this time.

Friesen asked if the Community Forest has an age limit for the trees they harvest. “In every 0.1-, 0.2-hectare spot, we never take the biggest tree, doesn’t matter how old it is,” said Lombard. “And we don’t take the old growth vets.” He added that three large cedars in the Community Forest were taken down recently during operations in the Gorge Harbour area after being specifically requested for the Klahoose mill, but they were all under what’s considered to be old growth on the coast—250 years.

Although the exact boundaries of logging activity have not been clearly identified, some of the area under consideration includes forest that was identified by the Ministry for old growth recruitment. 

Lombard pointed out the old growth recruitment areas designated by the Ministry are not always good sites for this purpose. “They’re based on air photo interpretations so they’re not accurate at the one-, two-, three-hectare granular level. If the Community Forest didn’t operate in any of the recruitment polygons that are, some of them, mis-labeled, there’d be almost nowhere left to operate,” he said. On the other hand, he described another area in the Von Donop forest that he would like to see added as an old growth recruitment area based on the condition of the forest there and its being adjacent to other recruitment areas.

Cortes has a rich supply of high-quality second-growth wood and greater potential for old growth recruitment than much of the rest of the Province, such as Vancouver Island, where most of the wood is third-growth. Because of this, Friesen suggested, old growth recruitment should be valued as highly as old growth.

“I don’t think we’re negatively impacting the potential for old growth recruitment by doing this first pass in here,” Lombard responded. “Some would argue that it would move it in that direction, though I’m not trying to say that is the main goal… Because the trees we would keep are a lot of the nicest ones.”

Reflecting on the Future

There is much unknown about how the forest will look in the decades to come: Will the additional light due to thinning promote more rapid growth of the remaining trees? Or might logging accelerate drying that is already occurring due to climate change conditions, increasing forest stress and slowing tree growth?

“One way to keep a record of the change would be to set up a station for a 360º photograph, take a picture now, and then take another picture in ten years. Then you’ve evidence you can look at, a useful visual,” suggested David Shipway, president of the CCFC Board.

As the tour came to a close, Lombard tied pink flagging tape to a tree near the stream to indicate where a temporary crossing could possibly be built. “This is dry in the summertime. We could put a culvert in, cross on this relatively flat, more accessible area, put a haul road just far enough across so we could work to it, and when the yarding is done for that whole area, pull the haul road out and decommission it,” he said. “But, nothing’s been decided yet. There’s going to be a forester hired, and an engineer [who will help make those decisions],” he said.

“It’s hard to say goodbye,” Friesen reflected, regarding the forest around her. “It’s just what you’re attached to, right? Attachment is real.”

See also: Cortes Community Forest Five-Year Plan Update: Tour of the Larsen’s Meadow Cut Block 

Note of disclosure: Maureen Williams is a former Board Member for the CCFC.

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