Science Confirms Activists’ Warnings

by Paul Senez

A brief report from the "Structure, Processes and Diversity in Successional Forests of Coastal British Columbia" workshop held in Victoria, British Columbia, February 17-19, 1998.

The main purpose of this joint Canadian Forest Service and BC Ministry of Forests workshop was to share findings from recent research in coastal BC forest types on the effects of converting old-growth forests to managed forests, how various ecosystem attributes change during stand succession and the extent to which they are restored as forests mature.

The format of the workshop included oral presentations organized around the specific themes of Stand and Ecosystem Structure; Ecosystem Process; and Biodiversity studies, a poster session, a moderated panel discussion (featuring Jerry Franklin, Hamish Kimmins, Larry Pedersen, Jim Walker and Carl Winget), a keynote address and an evening public lecture by Dr. Jerry Franklin.

The initial presentations focused on studies conducted as part of the Canadian Forest Service’s multidisciplinary Coastal Forest Chronosequence project. Presentations from studies conducted in other successional forest stands elsewhere in coastal BC were also presented, interspersed with overviews of research results from similar forest types in the US coastal Northwest and Alaska. A variety of topics were addressed at the workshop, such as: changes in stand structure and composition; site carbon and nutrient concentrations and balance; natural disturbance regimes; and species diversity.

The workshop began with a series of perfunctory remarks from the conference co-chairs, Tony Trofymow (CFS) and Andy MacKinnon (BC-MOF), and BC - Minister of Forests David Zirnheld and Canadian Forest Service Director, Carl Winget. BC’s Chief Forester, Larry Pedersen also welcomed the workshop participants and Laurie Kremsater gave a keynote address

Both Zirnheld and Pedersen reiterated how BC is committed to "sustainable management of her coastal forests" highlighting both the Protected Areas Strategy and the Forest Practices Code as tools to achieving that commitment.

In her keynote address, Laurie Kremsater, of UBC’s Centre for Applied Conservation Biology noted that an understanding of how forests and forest attributes change over time as old forests are converted to managed ones and how these managed forests develop though time is vital to developing forest management regimes that will help meet social goals. She noted that those goals keep changing - that what we want and need form our forests changes faster than does our knowledge of the forest resource. She commented on how the list of wants seems never-ending and that it was easier to detail what we don’t want to have happen. She identified four categories of ‘things we don’t want to lose’: 1) No loss of species; 2) No loss of productivity; 3) No loss of future options; and 4) No loss of economic opportunities. She further identified that the challenge remains in taking the results of scientific inquiry and influencing forest management.

(Kremsater, L.L., "Changing Forests, Shifting Values and Forest Management." Centre for Applied Conservation Biology, UBC, Vancouver.)

Approximately 35 researchers reported on the findings of their recent research on the various components of the effects of converting old-growth forests to managed forests. Many of the research studies were funded by Forest Renewal BC, FRDA II, and/or other private and public funding sources.

The workshop could be characterized as scientists talking to other scientists, often using language and concepts not easily understood by the layperson. However, statements such as the following are easily understood for the messages they contain.

"BC is conducting a vast, province-wide experiment with its forests, converting them from wild, idiosyncratic, resilient ecosystems to less variable, more predictable (maybe), managed ecosystems."

(Pojar, J. and K. Price, "Lessons from the Rainforest: Linking learning with research." BC Forest Service, Research Branch, Smithers and Burns Lake, respectively.)

"I was once told that forestry was ‘applied ecosystem management’. The more we learn about how forests work, the more forestry seems like ‘applied risk management’."

(MacKinnon, J.A., "Research and the Forests of Coastal BC." BC MoF, Research Branch, Victoria.)

"We can not recreate old growth."

(Carey, A.B., "Ecological Foundations of Biodiversity: Lessons from natural and managed forest of the Pacific Northwest." Pacific Northwest Research Station, Olympia, Washington, USA.)

"Concerns have been expressed for the biodiversity of organisms unique to small streams [e.g. the pacific Giant Salamander and Tailed Frog - both considered at risk from forest practices] …"

(Richardson, J.S., "Biodiversity of Headwater Streams: Effects of forest practices on invertebrates, amphibians, and organic matter transport." BC Environment, Vancouver.)

"It appears that fungi do not survive clearcutting"

(Goodman, D.M. and J.A. Trofymow, "Comparison of Communities of Ectomycorrhizal Fungi in Old-Growth and Mature Stands of Douglas-fir on Southern Vancouver Island." Canadian Forest Service, Victoria, BC)

"…application of the Forest Practices Code in the montane without knowledge of it’s effectiveness, or a plan to monitor it’s effects, raises concerns with biologists and resource managers."

(Joy, J.B. and J. Voller, "Coast Montane Biodiversity Project: A study of the diversity, structure, and process of coastal montane forests." Pacific Slope Consulting Inc., Victoria and BC MoF, Research Branch, Victoria, respectively.)

"Microhabitats associated with the canopy of ancient Sitka spruce trees are not replicated in any second growth forest canopies…"

(Winchester, N.N., "Severing the Web: Declining biodiversity in converted northern temperate ancient coastal rainforests." University of Victoria.)

"Bat roosting…was greatest in old-growth stands and riparian areas…with less activity documented in second growth stands and other habitat types…"

(Grindal, S.D., "Habitat Use by Bats in Second- and Old - Growth Stands in the Nimpkish Valley, Vancouver Island." Axys Environmental Consulting Ltd., Vancouver.)

"Clearcutting is NOT like most natural disturbances in the intensity and uniformity of its impacts. The plantation model of stand structural development is NOT comparable to development of most naturally-regenerated stands…" [emphasis in original]

(Franklin, J.F., "The Natural, the Clearcut, and the Future." University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA.)

Despite the fact that most, if not all, of the presenters stopped short of calling for changes in our current old-growth management strategies, it was clear that if we really care about maintaining and protecting biodiversity we must abandon the liquidation / conversion model of industrial forestry as it is currently practiced in this province.

By the end of the workshop it was abundantly clear that the results of the scientific inquiry taking place in the coastal forests of Alaska, BC and the pacific Northwest confirms and supports what forests activists have been saying all along - that our current forest policies will not protect or maintain biodiversity. Forest industry apologists who for too long have claimed an exclusive ownership of science in their defence of destructive forest policies now have no choice but to relinquish science as the defender of the status-quo and look for another white knight (perhaps that shift is already taking place as the debate moves from science to economics.)

A selection of abstracts, as well as the full text of the keynote and overview papers will be published in a special issues of Northwest Science sometime in this year.


[Please note that an edited version of this report appears in the Spring 1998 edition of the British Columbia Environmental Report.]


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