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Time to consider longer rotation ages in some forests

Jim Hilton’s column to the Free Press

A reader passed on a link to a recent article from the Vancouver Sun “ BC’s forest loss can be seen from space. According to data from Global Forest Watch, an online forest monitoring platform, B.C. lost 86,000 square kilometres of tree cover from 2001 to 2021.”

The article was accompanied by satellite photos of logging areas around Nanaimo and the 2017 wildfire east of Quesnel. I have made some slight changes to the following information that was sent to me by the concerned reader.

“Every hectare of forest land has changed many times over the centuries. As nature dictates with living things, they get old, fall to disease and pests - mostly beetles - and burn, and are reforested with whatever species mother nature feels is appropriate for the time.

We have seen part of that with nature’s forest replacement strategy - the massive spruce, pine, and Douglas fir bark beetle infestations in mature forests (+/-100-140 years old or so), and forest fire events in the BC interior - setting the stage for its reforestation process. That’s nothing new.

Fortunately, what is new, to the province’s benefit, is that the forest industry and government have jumped in to salvage value and create employment from these events before the trees rot and burn in the previous old cycle of nature. Harvested areas are reforested as part of the forest renewal commitment for future generations. Harvested forest areas are still forest areas. They are full of trees. Young trees. Trees that are growing for our future.

Harvested areas are full of biodiversity, too. The forest management actions are instrumental in our conservation and protection strategy. Unfortunately, the high-altitude pictures do not tell the full story. You have to get down on the ground to be part of the action.” I would say this represents the opinions of many people involved with the forest industry.

While the title of the Sun article may infer that the forests will be lost and the main author of the article, Rachel Holt (an ecological consultant) states that “We’ve always logged (old-growth) forest. We’ve lost a lot of it and it’s never coming back.”

As pointed out in the Sun article about 30 per cent of the 86 km2 loss was due to the recent wildfires which may come back to the original forests in 200 plus years. In reference to the logged areas she states that.

“While some of the tree canopy will recover with time, it won’t necessarily be the same forest that comes back. Logged old-growth forests, some of which were many thousands of years old, will never return, replaced instead with second-growth forests of a very different nature.”

I think many foresters would agree with Rachel Holt that on the timber harvest, land base second-growth forests will differ from old-growth since they will not likely be much older than 100 years before they are harvested again.

In conclusion, both authors make valid observations about the state of our forests but pests, wildfires and climate change will no doubt impact the anticipated annual harvest calculated prior to these events. Time will tell how much the infusion of $300 million dollars will impact the provincial forest industry while it is more likely that market conditions will have a major impact.

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