Burns Lake Community forest fined for visual quality objectives infraction
What is valued and significant and what is not?
The interpretation of scenic vistas in the local area is highly subjective and difficult to interpret say two local forest industry representatives.
Klaus Posselt, owner of Tahtsa Timber and Alistair Schroff, an independent forestry consultant said to Lakes District News last week that something needs to be done about the visual quality objectives (VQOs) that currently constrain the Lakes Timber Supply Area (TSA) land base
The discussion followed the news of a Ministry of Forest Lands and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO) charge for a VQO violation towards the Burns Lake Community Forest (BLComfor) recently.
Posselt said he is frustrated by the ministry objectives, and equally frustrated by the charge brought on the community forest.
"This is really a charge against the entire community. It is something that effects everyone," he said.
BLComfor was fined $7,500 for logging a cut block south of Burns Lake on the West side of Guyishton Lake. The site was determined by the ministry to be a 'significant viewpoint'.
"It is one of the biggest fines that I have heard of and is designed to send a signal to others. It is supposed to be a deterrent and shows the ministry are treating VQOs very seriously," Schroff said.
Cheekwan Ho, MFLNRO spokesperson said VQO violation fines can range up to $50,000. "The average is usually around $5,000," she said.
Dawn Stronstad, BLComfor's general manager said they are not planning to appeal the decision.
"BLComfor contravened the legally established VQOs for this area and will continue to manage the community forest according to applicable legislation," she said.
"Staff chose what they felt were significant public viewpoints when we commissioned the visual quality assessment for the area, choosing two viewpoints, but missed Guyishton Lake. This was not intentional."
The cut block in question is a 16.3 hectare net area, consisting mainly of pine leading stands.
"BLComfor had a few other cut blocks in the vicinity of this block that were harvested in 2004-2005 and the cumulative effect of harvesting in the area resulted in the contravention."
The term 'significant viewpoint' is used extensively in the Forest Planning Practices Regulation section 1.1, but was never defined until the VQO Inspection Manual was published. There appears to be plans to submit the following definition at the next opportunity for a legislation update: “A significant public viewpoint means: a place or location on the land or water that is accessible to the public, provides a viewing opportunity and has relevance to the land form being assessed.”
"Guyishton Lake is deemed a scenic area by the government. They used both the recreation site and the surface of the lake in the analysis," Stronstad said.
Posselt said deciphering what is 'a significant viewpoint' and what is not is highly personal and open to great interpretation, yet this is one of the guidelines that licensees are required to follow when assessing a potential logging site.
"Is it a significant viewpoint? What is significant to me, may not be significant to you," Schroff said.
"If you are to stand at the Guyishton Lake camp ground and look out then yes, you can see the cut block," Posselt said.
He said Radley Beach is also considered a significant viewpoint by the ministry, but he feels the two areas are worlds apart in terms of public traffic.
Schroff said, "The Guyishton Lake camp site is very rustic. There are only a few camping spaces and travel to the area is difficult."
Stronstad also said the site is considered remote.
The Recreation Sites and Trails Branch personnel in Smithers deem the Guyishton Lake recreation site a remote site. To my knowledge, Guyishton Lake recreation site has always been deemed a remote site, which has lower visitation and receives only monthly maintenance visits. The effort required to maintain the site suggests this site is not used to the same extent as other sites in the area," she said.
Ho said there are set areas designated as 'scenic' in the Lakes TSA. "These include Guyishton Lake and others such as Francois Lake, Babine Lake, Tchesinkut Lake, Augier Lake and the Hwy. 16 corridor. Local view points are usually determined by established recreation sites, campsites or from the lake itself which would be the view when someone is fishing or boating. VQOs however, are the setting of these scenic areas and are often done through a process like the land and resource management plan, which is a public process."
Schroff said that VQOs were developed in the mid 1990s and he feels they are no longer relevant post mountain pine beetle.
"They were developed before the mountain pine beetle hit the area and now they are entrenched in the law. In 2004 they were made part of the Forest Practices Act and can be very restrictive in terms of harvesting. When VQOs were first introduced there was lots of green timber and it wasn't a huge issue. No one considered the full impact," Schroff said.
"There was no relief of the VQOs following the release of the [recent] Lakes Timber Supply Review. It is very constraining. What if the VQOs were removed for a short time? Removing visual quality constraints would lift the short term timber supply by 500,000 cubic metres per year. In other words, it allows five million more cubic metres of timber in dead stands to be salvaged," Schroff said.
Schroff also noted that lifting the VQOs temporarily would not mean a free for all resulting in a barren landscape. He pointed out that there are other rules that have to be followed, which would result in approximately 80 per cent of the timber in the Lakes TSA remaining untouched.
"There is still a lot of timber that is not being accessed and licensees are struggling. It is glossed over in the report [Timber Supply Review]."
Schroff said, "VQOs are defined with a broad brush and cover a huge areas of the Lakes TSA."
Posselt agreed, saying the interests of local residents should trump those of people just passing through the area.
"There are a lot of good reasons to relax the VQOs. It is a forest fire hazard to the community. We are surrounded by dead pine. It also means preserving jobs and a quality of life. How many tourists come to the area and how much do they spend when they are here? The whole issue is ridiculous. They are not going to say to a wheat farmer in Saskatchewan that he or she can't cut an entire field of wheat because tourists like to see the wheat blowing in the wind are they? We have to live here and deal with the consequences. It used to be that big square cut blocks would be made, but now we follow the contours of the land. Do we want to keep looking at dead trees or do we want a new and vibrant forest?"
"Boer Mountain is a tourist attraction and could be considered a significant viewpoint. Tourist traffic is increasing with the mountain bike park and from the top of Boer Mountain you can see the entire valley. Does this mean that we can't take a single tree out of the valley? This just goes to show the ridiculousness of it all."
Posselt said the local community need to be able to make a decision. "We can't have someone from Whistler call up saying no clear cuts because they might someday travel here. VQOs are not a natural law. We created the law and if it turns out to be a dumb law then we can change it."
He went on to say that the majority of the dead pine won't start to fall down for another 10 to 15 years and will no longer be economical to harvest at this point.
The Chief Forester set a harvest level of two million cubic metres, saying that previous harvesting targets of 3.2 million cubic metres per year were never achieved, however Posselt and Schroff say this is not true. "When you consider the timber local mills bought from wood lots, community forests, and private land, the total harvest levels were much higher than the chief forester states for the Lakes TSA. These sources are now substantially depleted. This means timber supply is very constrained under the current allowable cut. In other words, the threshold where mill closures will start is closer than it was before," he said.