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

Public consultation around plans for the next five years of timber harvesting got back underway on Saturday, March 23, with a tour of the Larsen’s Meadow cut block led by Operations Manager Mark Lombard. Two more public tours are currently scheduled: March 30 in the Carrington/Coulter Bay area and April 20 in the Green Mountain area. These outdoor tours are part of the follow-up to an initial public meeting in the Spring of 2023, when maps and preliminary plans were presented.

Lombard works for the Cortes Forestry General Partnership (CFGP), which holds the tenure (right to log) for the Cortes Community Forest, comprising much of the Crown Land on Cortes Island. CFGP is a partnership between Klahoose First Nation (KFN) and Cortes Community Forest Co-operative (CCFC). 

Ten people turned out on this cool, damp, Spring morning to see the Larsen’s Meadow cut block that CFGP originally logged in 2015 and hear about plans for its future. “This is one of the areas that we anticipate operating in during the next few years,” explained Aaron Ellingsen, who sits on both the CFGP and CCFC Boards. “Probably on the earlier side, rather than the later side.” 

[MAP, from CFGP website; Larsen’s Meadow ‘areas of interest” for potential harvest over the next few years are the four purple ovals inside the bold rectangle.]

Ellingsen said the plan is to remediate some deficiencies created during the original logging, since the planted trees are not growing at the rate required by the Ministry of Forests. “We’re going in in order to try to create a better growing environment for those trees, as well as to do a little bit more harvesting.” He added that dialogue with the community regarding this and other areas included in the five-year plan is ongoing and feedback is welcome.

The Provincial Ministry of Forests sets standards for silviculture (tree cultivation) that dictate, among other things, how quickly trees planted in a harvested area need to grow. If they are not growing at that rate, the tenure-holder are required to demonstrate they are taking meaningful action to remedy the problem. In the case of the Larsen’s Meadow cut block, Lombard said, “We left too many trees to get the trees we were required to plant to grow well.” 

In fact, Lombard pointed out that the deadline for reaching free-growing status in the Larsen’s Meadow cut block was seven years after planting. Now,  even after nine years, this block is not free-growing and still requires laborious tending. 

Despite the Ministry requirements, Dennis Mense said he felt getting seedling trees to grow efficiently should not be a top priority. “I come from a climate background,” he said. “I consider [climate change] to be an existential problem. And to me, if those trees are growing and they’re growing slower, I’m okay with that, because I think this is one of the places in the world that people might still be able to exist.” Mense said he supports harvesting enough trees to meet local needs, but encouraged leaving the rest, since environmental conditions, including high temperatures and drought, are not likely to support the trees growing well even if the canopy is opened so they get more light.

David Shipway, president of the CCFC Board, said there’s a sweet spot they’ve aimed for in subsequent logging operations. “We almost took just a bit too much of this stand, even though there’s a lot of retained trees, big trees. We were required to plant to meet the numbers game. But if we actually just thinned a little less we wouldn’t have had to plant and we wouldn’t be in this situation where we’ve got to ensure the free-to-grow situation.” 

Shipway was referring to some more recent operations that have involved smaller openings in the canopy and were therefore under the threshold for the Ministry’s replanting requirements. “The projects I’ve got planned for the next five years are mostly leaving enough retention that we won’t have a replanting obligation,” said Lombard. Silviculture is extremely expensive and resource-intensive, and has been problematic on the island, he noted.

Sonya Friesen, a former tree planter, said of the Larsen’s Meadow cut block, “It’s beautiful. I think it should be an example of excellent forestry that you guys did.” Friesen said she wanted the conversation to be honest, to acknowledge that getting more wood volume is a motivation for more logging in the Larsen’s Meadow cut block.

The two cut blocks we visited were on the north side of the road. Seas of white plastic tree cones stood, many with the tops of small trees emerging, amidst a landscape of sword ferns in some areas and brushy salal and opportunistic hemlocks and white pines in others. Most striking were the large fir and cedar trees scattered throughout the blocks that were left during previous operations.  Lombard indicated most of the logging will be done on the south side of the road this time, with a few of the larger trees on the north side to be taken as well to allow more sunlight penetration and harvest valuable wood. 

The forest at Larsen’s Meadow was logged in four distinct blocks during the Community Forest’s first operation in 2015. At the first block, Lombard said the retention level was 32 square meters of basal area per hectare. This refers to the combined area of the trees, at breast height, left standing per hectare of logged land. About 28 m2 per hectare was retained at the second block. His plan is to thin the forest on the other side of the road, staying above the legal retention threshold of 40 m2 per hectare for not needing to replant. “It will look very similar,” he said.

When asked about the expected volume of the cut, Lombard said, “It’ll probably be around 3,000 m3,” compared with about 4,700 m3 harvested in 2015. “It may be that we won’t necessarily do that all at one time, [depending on] if we want to supply local mills more slowly or if we want to put wood in the water [ie, sell logs off-island].”  He added the volume of merchantable logs could be around 2,100 to 2,200 m3 and the rest would be firewood.

The planted trees are not only being shaded by left trees and outcompeted by shrubs and new natural trees, but also have to deal with being shaded by bracken fern, bending under the weight of snow, and being eaten and rubbed by deer. Deer browsing is a huge problem. When asked about wolves controlling deer populations, Lombard said, “I haven’t seen much wolf activity here,” though he has seen it in other areas of the Community Forest.

Where there aren’t many of the most valuable trees—fir and cedar—Lombard said he can harvest hemlock, which is used by local mills for a variety of purposes. “It makes great paneling,” commented Ellingsen, who makes and sells hemlock paneling and flooring through his company, Ellingsen Woods.

George Sirk mused about the possibility of planting more Western white pines, since the deer don’t seem to browse as heavily on that tree species. But just as the Ministry dictates how quickly a replanted forest must grow, it also regulates what tree species can be planted in a cut block. 

“The government has rules for the public land and in this area their preferred species are fir and cedar. So that means you have to have 650 viable stems of preferred species per hectare to be free-to-grow. You’re allowed to have acceptable species in addition,” said Lombard, but only after the minimum requirement of preferred species is planted. Acceptable species in the Cortes Community Forest include hemlock, white pine, and alder.

Friesen described another interesting phenomenon she has observed. “Some of the thinking is, the planted trees have something because of all the juicy stuff they’re originally planted with, that they actually are targeted [by deer] before the natural ones.” 

“Your planted species seem to get targeted because we’re forcing them in early,” Friesen added.

“We’re fighting against nature,” said Mense. “We’ve known for hundreds of years that you don’t beat nature.”

Lombard agreed, saying, “Nature will do a better job, so, we just have to leave a little bit more so we’re not legally required to plant.”

Mense shared his perspective that the story of our Community Forest could be more important than following the rules. “Maybe we need to change those rules,” he said, if they don’t make sense. “Maybe we could put a chink in the way people think.”

 “It might be worth inviting the person who does the silviculture surveys to come give a talk at the Hall. Then everybody hears what the rules really are and he hears everybody’s feedback on all that, right. There’s actually a good conversation to have,” Shipway suggested.

Mense expressed his appreciation for the chance to engage in dialogue with Lombard and members of the CCFC Board. He shared his hope that the Board would make more of an effort to listen respectfully to the concerns and guidance of their membership, which includes many experts. He said he felt the Friends of Anvil Lake had valid concerns about recent road-building in the Gorge Harbour cut block that were not responded to appropriately.

After the tour, Sirk sent an email with his list of bird species for March 23, 2024, in the Larsen’s Meadow cut block: Pacific Wren 2; Audubon’s warbler 2; Northern Flicker 1; Hairy Woodpecker 1; Red-breasted Sapsucker 2; Golden-crowned Kinglet 1; and, Chestnut-backed Chickadee 1. (ed. note: we also heard a red-breasted nuthatch!)

The next two events related to the Community Forest Five-Year Plan are as follows:

  • Saturday March 30 at 10am @ Coulter Bay – meet at the entrance to the new community forest road in Coulter Bay.
  • Saturday April 20 at 10am @ Green Mountain – meet at Green Mountain Road

Links of Interest:

Top image credit: A 9-year old cutblock in Larsen’s Meadow

Note: Maureen Williams is a former CCFC Board Member.

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2 thoughts on “Cortes Community Forest Five-Year Plan Update: Tour of the Larsen’s Meadow Cut Block”

  1. Good article, just one correction : the purple blobs on the map are just “areas of interest” for potential harvest over the next few years of activity in the CF. They are not “cutblocks”, and detailed plans have yet to be finalized. The blobs were made large enough so people could actually see them in a public presentation of the map.

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