Tracking BC Timber Sales

Tracking BC Timber Sales Progress

The first thing that attracted me was the fine detail. While Global Forest Watch’s online map is full of pertinent detail, it doesn’t look like a satellite map. This is better. Zooming in on Refuge Cove, for example, you can see individual buildings, boats tied up at the wharves, and trees coming right down to the water’s edge. Zooming out to see a larger area, Refuge Cove is set within a block of green. The surrounding area is coloured pinkish- brown, so it can be quickly identified. There are a number of orange blocks east of Refuge Cove. These are the areas that will be logged next. The Wilderness Committee’s new ArcGIS StoryMap is tracking BC Timber Sales extraction of logs from our forests. 

tracking BC Timber sales
The BC Timber Sales lands (the entire pinkish brown area) surrounding Refuge Cove on West Redonda Island – courtesy BCTS Hotspot Interactive Map
One of many planned Cutblocks near Refuge Cove, on West Redonda Island courtesy BCTS Hotspot Interactive Map

BC Timber Sales

According to the BC Government website, “BC Timber Sales (BCTS) manages about 20% of the province’s allowable annual cut for Crown timber, generating economic prosperity for British Columbians through the safe, sustainable development and auction of Crown timber. BCTS operates in 33 communities and directly supports over 8,000 jobs across B.C.”

Torrance Coste, National Campaign Director for the Wilderness Committee, adds, “BC Timber Sales is the BC Government’s in house logging agency. It is a stand alone agency within the Ministry of Forest, with staff and offices. They set out the cutblocks, build the roads to those cutblocks (using contractors) and auction them off the highest bidder. You or I could forma a little logging company and bid on a block. If we were the highest bidder, we would get the rights and then we could sell those logs as we please.”

He did not think it was problematic for government to be involved in logging, “except BC Timber Sales is responsible for some of the most egregious and controversial logging in all the province. If you skimmed through news headlines in the past couple of years from the Nahmint Valley to Schmidt Creek, on Vancouver Island, to the Sunshine Coast and Skagit headwaters – these are all BC Timber Sales operations.” 

“This agency is supposedly managing forests on behalf of British Columbians and in the public interest. They should be working within the public interest and not racing corporations to the bottom. Not logging the last old growth right up beside parks and in really beloved areas.”  

Coast Douglas-fir in Vancouver 1887” by William McFarlane Notman – This image is available from the McCord Museum under the access number VIEW-1803 & licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

The Ministry of Forest’s Response

As might be expected, a Ministry of Forests spokesperson disagreed with this assessment:

“All our operations are scrutinized by the Forest Practices Board, which audits at least two of our areas each year and our operations are audited every year by third-party auditors on behalf of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. All of these audits have shown that overall BCTS operations are environmentally sensitive and sustainable.” 

Regarding the Wilderness Committee’s StoryMap, he added:

” The BCTS block location information the Wildness Committee is using is part of BCTS transparency on where we plan to harvest. The final boundaries of those harvest area will be dependant on a considerable amount of analysis of a variety of environmental and cultural factors, legal requirements, and consultation with First Nations, the public and stakeholders.

“The photos in the Wilderness Committee’s website show a considerable amount of retention including the protection of either a legacy tree or a culturally significant Cw. It also includes shots of second growth harvesting (Elphinstone).”

The photo of Mount Elphinstone, on the Sunshine Coast, used in the Wilderness Committee’s BC Timber Sales Hotspots Guided Tour. These are immature, second growth trees. Note the amount of sapwood (the outer yellowish ring) visible in the butts. In mature timber, this is almost totally replaced by heartwood (the brown/orange spots in the centre of each log) – author. photo by Emily Hoffpauir, Wilderness Committee.

Close To 50% of the Annual Cut

The Ministry spokesperson continued, “Over 50% of the province’s current merchantable timber supply is comprised of forests considered as old growth (OG).  Old growth stands are currently supporting about 60% of BCTS and non BCTS harvesting in the province.  Heightened BCTS harvest levels in the 101-120- and 121-140-year categories are largely related to ongoing mountain pine beetle salvage in the interior. On Vancouver Island BCTS OG harvest has been slightly less than 50% over the past 3-5 years.”

“Eliminating or significantly reducing old growth harvesting would have significant impacts to the larger forest sector and BCTS program.  Any reduction to old growth harvesting would reduce the size of the timber harvesting land base (THLB) and cause a corresponding decrease to associated annual allowable cut (AACs).”

The Amount of Old Growth Forest

“The total area of Vancouver Island that is forested is 2.877 million hectares. Of this amount, over 906,000 hectares is old forest including the 190,000 ha. of old forest available for harvest.  Over 350,000 ha. of old forest is currently protected.”

However, our modern forests look very different from those that the first European settlers saw (see photo taken in Vancouver during 1887, above). Most of the massive ancient trees are gone.

The Wilderness Committee claims that only a little more than a third of our forests were suitable for logging “and much of this has already been logged”:

“Near the rain-drenched Pacific coast, unlogged valley bottoms are home to giant rainforest trees such as Sitka spruce and Douglas-fir that can sometimes reach over 80 metres in height. Red cedar trees can be as much as 18 metres in girth, and live well over 1,000 years. Unfortunately, on Vancouver Island, over 90 per cent of these valley bottom ancient forests have already been logged.”

Surrounding Cortes & Quadra Island

Tracking BC Timber Sales
Screenshot of the BC Timber Sales areas (pinkish brown) surrounding Cortes and Quadra Islands – courtesy BCTS Hotspot Interactive Map

Though there are no parcels in our immediate area, we are surrounded by lands managed by BC Timber Sales. They control vast parcels to the west of Campbell River, large parcels on Sonora, East Thurlow and West Redonda Islands, as well as almost all of Maurelle Island. To the east, BC Timber Sales looks after vast tracks up the Discovery Sound and in the Lund Area.   

Coste said that satellite images of old growth tend to look like “a 1970’s shag carpet … second growth looks more like a mini-golf surface, or even a golf course green.”

How The Other 80% Is Logged

Most of BC’s forests (about 80%) are leased out to companies in volume or area based tenures, known as tree farm licenses.

The land immediately southeast of Campbell River courtesy BCTS Hotspot Interactive Map

“On Vancouver Island that number is quite a bit lower, about 60%. A third of Vancouver Island is private land. Much of it was part of the E&N land grant given to the coal baron Robert Dunsmuir. The vast majority of that is held by TimberWest or Island Timberlands. They have amalgamated their forest management under the banner of Mosaic Forestry Management,” explained Coste. “BC Timber Sales and Mosaic do not have much to do with each other. One logs land the government controls, and the other is on private land,” says Coste.

“The bulk of the land Mosaic controls is on the eastern and southeastern parts of Vancouver Island and then various parcels in the Gulf and Discovery Islands.”

Some of this is Southeast of Campbell River, where the forests are easily accessible and the remaining trees are mostly second and third growth.

The stars identify three Vancouver Island hot spots (l to r) Tahsish River, Schmidt Creek and Tessium Creek courtesy BCTS Hotspot Interactive Map

BC Plans To Expand The Forest Sector

According to the Ministry spokesperson:

“This government has a plan to revitalize the Interior and Coastal Forest sector, but it requires transitioning from being a primary producer of dimensional products to a producer of both dimensional and value-added products. Our plan includes sustainably managing and harvesting the province’s forests to produce higher-value wood products such as mass timber. That is why we are continuing efforts to expand and diversify demand for our wood products abroad. Over the coming years we expect a transition to higher-value products including engineered products, wood composite products and industrial wood pellet production.”

“In addition to helping to grow businesses and getting families into homes quicker, mass timber construction also has a reduced carbon footprint when sourced from sustainably managed forests. This will help government reach its CleanBC goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

“According to FEA and market reports, BC’s current capacity is approximately 76,000 m3 per year.  The capacity is expected to almost double in the next two years.  The North American market, which is one of BC’s major markets, is expected to see its consumption grow from 108,000 m3 to 250,000 m3 by 2023.”

BC Timber Sales Hotspots

He also pointed to a supposed error in the Wilderness Committee’s list of BC Timber Sales Hotspots on Vancouver Island:

“Please note: One of the committee’s hotspots includes the Silverdaisy, which government announced was not going to have any further harvesting https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/forestry/bc-timber-sales.”

The Ministry spokesperson appears to be misinformed. Searching the Wilderness Committee website, the most recent references to logging in the Silverdaisy were two news reports from December 4, 2019 – the same day as the BC Government news release about the cessation of logging:

However the Wilderness Committee has recorded a number of hotspots, some of which are on Vancouver Island.

Some of the biggest trees still standing on the West Coast are in the Nahmint Valley, West of Port Alberni.

“In the last few years, the government agency has auctioned off cutblock after cutblock in this beautiful valley, with the clearcuts including some of the largest douglas-fir and red cedar trees in Canada.” – BC Timber Sales: A government agency out of control, The Wilderness Committee. 

One of the last tracts of intact rainforests in the Tahsish River Valley, which flows into Kyuquot Sound, is filled with giant hemlock and fir.

“Part of this valley will never be forest again. There is no soil. It is burned right down to the limestone. There are big, eight foot wide, charred cedar stumps sitting on bone white rock. It is extremely dramatic and heartbreaking, but when you are up on those burnt blocks you can look down the valley and see some some standing forest. There is some hope for the watershed … The standing forest is beautiful and what BC Forest Sales is targeting,” said Coste.

the Tessium Creek Watershed –  BC Timber Sales: A government agency out of control

He added that much of the Tessium Creek Watershed’s old growth is gone.

“The entire valley bottom has been logged in about the last twenty-five or thirty years. The tree plantations that have come back range in size from knee high to a Christmas tree – so not a forest. In the left side of the photograph (below) you san see the logging road ends just before a patch of standing old growth forest. We got out our maps and GPS and sure enough that is where BCTS is putting blocks up for auction.”

While trees in the Lower Tsitika River Provincial Park (near Telegraph Cove) are protected, the surrounding areas are not. Massive cutblocks have been clearcut in the Upper Tsitka Valley and neighbouring Schmidt Creek.

The Process

Coste described the  BC Timber Sales website as ‘not user friendly. 

“Nerds like myself, with the time to do so, can scour this website. We look at where they are logging, where they have recently auctioned forests to be logged, or where they are planning to log. Then we load We load up our camera gear and our camping equipment and then we head out to take a look. That’s the process, it is as simple as that.”   

A BCTS old growth clearcut in Thursday Creek, Upper Tsitka Valley – Louis Bockner photo *Sierra Club BC/Wilderness Committee)

“The reason the public does not know about BC Timber Sales is there is no stand alone place to see the extent of their logging and what it looks like.  There was no place to do that, so we built one. That’s what our storymap project is all about.”

Coste invites members of the public to submit information and photos about BCTS logging in their area. You can contact him at torrance@wildernesscommittee.org .

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