Global Forest Watch

What The Map At Global Forest Watch Reveals About Our Area

More than 4 million people have visited the Global Forest Watch website since it was launched in 2014. The interactive map uses satellite imagery to depict changes in the forest cover in red (loss) and blue (gains). (The green areas are forested.) Some of the The website uses recent satellite data. The map at the top of this page shows the changes in our area between 2001 and May 8, 2020, when Landsat 8 passed over.

Shortcoming Of This Map

One shortcoming of this map is that it only depicts changes in the overall coverage. It does not say whether the percentage of immature trees, with a high percentage of sapwood, is increasing. Or whether the province’s old growth forests are disappearing. However the map’s analytical tool does state that 11% British Columbia’s forest cover disappeared between 2001 and 2018.

The loss in Comox-Strathcona areas was slightly higher, 12%.

Map of Cortes adapted from screenshot of Global Forest Watch by Roy L Hales

Cortes Island

Unfortunately, the analytical tool does not provide statistics for smaller areas, like Cortes Island. The dominant color in the map above is green, forests that have been undisturbed during the twenty years of satellite imagery. There are some patches of white, cleared areas, especially in the south.

A number of Cortes Islanders are concerned about having a sustainable cut. Though we will never live to see it, we would like to think that someday the island’s forest canopy will be comparable to what it was prior to European settlement.

Satellite imagery confirms that the forest canopy is expanding (blue) in the north of Cortes island. There are significant patches of pink (recently cleared areas) in the Gorge and Cortes Bay, but blue patches are filling in both of them. The only area where there is more pink than blue is Mansons Landing.

Squirrel Cove

I am going to focus on the Squirrel Cove area because I live here and am aware of some of the recent changes.

A number of parcels close to the Klahoose village and Squirrel Cove have recently been cleared, as you can see by the pink patches. However there is at least as much blue where the forest is growing back on Island Timberland’s land, immediately to the south of them.

Many of the pink patches, especially the large cluster in the lower left, are on private land and not subject to regulation.

The most encouraging area on this map is Seaford, where half of the formerly cleared area appears to been reclaimed by forest.

Map of Squirrel Cove Area adapted from Global Forest Watch by Roy L Hales

The areas that most of us are watching were logged by the Cortes Community Forest Cooperative in 2015 and 2016. It seems that saplings encased by plastic cones, to protect them from deer, are not visible to satellite imagery. Thus we see these patches as pink, but they will eventually turn blue.

Bruce Ellingsen, director of the community forest, explained, “Just to clarify the map info: trees are measured above of below 5 metres (16 feet). Red areas show where forest cover has been lost since 2000. Blue on your map, Roy, show areas that have regrown to a greater height than 5 metres over the same time frame.”

In a previous interview, Ellingsen estimated that the Community Forest is currently harvesting the land under its control on a 250-350 year rotation cycle. If this continues, the 38% of the island they control will eventually be old growth forest.

Quadra Island

While Cortes tends to be more blue, or sustainable, Global Forest Watch’s map of Quadra tips more to the pink side. Thus I was not surprised to read a 2017 Discovery Islander post about TimberWest actively logging.

“TimberWest’s logging, hauling and booming on Quadra by local
contractors contributes greatly to our local economy, with up to 40 positions at least partly dependent on TimberWest’s Quadra logging. These jobs pay from $30 to $80 per hour. The fact that people are generally unaware of this is due to the hauling of logs to tidewater at the dryland sort at Gowlland Harbour and very rarely on the ferry.”

That said, what percentage of Quadra’s canopy loss is due to logging and how much is simply expanding human settlement?

Ellingsen explained, “Red areas North of Heriot Bay will be almost all due to logging Crown land.”

Inland From Campbell River

This question does not seem as pertinent in the area between Campbell River and Courtenay. The pink areas fill the landscape, in a manner not seen on Cortes or Quadra, and are mostly found inland from more settled areas.

“On the map Inland from Campbell River visually all of the red and blue areas are logging of private forest lands resulting form the E&N railway land grant. These lands can be logged at whatever rate the owner wishes,” said Ellingsen.

According to the City of Campbell River website:

Campbell River is the hub for the coastal forest industry on Northern Vancouver Island, serving both public and private forest lands and an access point for experienced labour and forest industry contractors as well as business and sector support services within the region. Forestry has been an influential industry in Campbell River’s economy for decades and continues to be an economic driver.” 

Thus it is not surprising to find Yellow pages listings for 10 logging companies in Campbell River, six in Courtenay and one in Merville. The city identifies four major licensees: Western Forest Products, Interfor, TimberWest, and Island Timberlands.

Last November a Ministry of Forests spokesperson emailed, “The actual harvest age of stands [in British Columbia] can very from less than 50 years, on the most productive sites the Coast, to 140 years or more in the Interior … On Vancouver Island, 50% of the harvest in the past 5 years has come from old growth defined as stands that are older than 250 years.”

Ellingsen adds, “Looking at the Global Forest Change default view on the website mentioned above gives a very dramatic impression of the logging worldwide that has occurred in the last 20 years at any level of detail that you want to zoom to. I strongly suggest to the reader to check it out and zoom in on areas of interest to you.”

(This article was initially published on May 17, and additional material added May 18.)

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