Over the next five years its expected 257 hectares of forest within the Peachland Creek watershed will be harvested, a figure as low as it's ever been, but still too much for some around Peachland’s council table.
A group of forestry industry representatives were before council this week to provide an update on harvesting plans in Peachland’s community watershed — where Tolko, Gorman Bros., Westbank First Nation and B.C. Timber Sales all operate.
“When is enough, enough?” asked Mayor Cindy Fortin, in response to statistics that show 70 per cent of the watershed unlogged.
“If you have ever seen an aerial [photograph]...of our watershed it just looks horrible up there,” the mayor added, asking the companies if they would ever stop clear-cut harvesting.
“People want to be able to go up and enjoy the outdoors as well, without going so many metres and ending up in a clearcut that is looking pretty messy.”
Coun. Patrick Van Minsel asked the timber representatives if there was any alternative to logging within the watershed.
The skeptical councillors received a matter-of-fact response.
Tolko woodlands manager Michael Bragg explained that B.C.’s chief forester sets an annual allowable cut, or area of forest to be harvested across the province per year.
“There is an expectation that we distribute that cut across the timber supply area. There is an expectation by the taxpayers, or by the people of BC that their resources are utilized to pay for schools, pay for highways, pay for infrastructure,” Bragg said, noting Tolko contributed $321M to the tax base in the Southern Interior last year.
With 54 community watersheds in the Okanagan, they are impossible to avoid, he said, adding every community the forest sector interacts with asks them to log a neighbour's watershed rather than its own. As a result, harvesting operations are spread evenly across them all.
Dave Gill, Ntityix Natural Resources (WFN) general manager, said forestry operations allows the bush to be maintained and often times replaces the role of forest fires, which we suppress, in the ecosystem.
“Westbank firmly believes that the land is there to be taken care of,” he said. “You don’t protect everything by just putting a fence around it and say ‘stay out.’ You need to be in a watershed and be on the land to keep it healthy.”
“Just by saying it's a park, or locking it up to keep everybody out, will probably do no good to anybody in the long term,” he said.
The representatives explained that one of the greatest sources of sediment within the Peachland watershed originates from “legacy” natural resource roads built many decades ago, which have murky ownership and have fallen into disrepair.
The only way those “legacy” roads get dealt with is if logging crews are out working in the bush, the representatives said.
“There is so much of that out there. Those old roads are just riddled throughout that watershed, and it's just a matter of when we are in that neighbourhood we will deactivate or decommission those roads, but it's a long process,” Gill said.
Bragg said their efforts can be hampered by “weekend warriors” who spend time in the watershed with activities like 4x4ing or mud bogging.
“We can do all the wonderful jobs we do, we can leave the road in immaculate shape… and then you get the weekend warriors out in the spring when the ground is soft and they can create ruts,” he said.
District manager for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Ray Crampton, reiterated that the forest sector is a massive driver of B.C.’s economy and forest professionals “don’t take our code of ethics lightly” when laying out harvesting areas.
“We need to generate revenue for the province, but we also need to ensure good water quality and sustainability for all British Columbians,” he said.
“There is perception, and there is reality. And I mean no disrespect in that,” Crampton told Mayor Fortin. “But it’s easy to talk in a boardroom or talk on Skype about what is. And everyone has a different thought bubble over their head about what it is and why it is.”
Instead, he said it would be more productive if Peachland council joined them on a field trip to view logging operations within the watershed to show what is happening.
“It’s best if we get out on the land and talk about it together,” he said, adding past field trips with groups concerned with logging have been productive.
Fortin agreed to the field trip, but went on to ask if any of the industry representatives get their drinking water or spend recreation time in the Peachland watershed.
“Anybody?” she asked.