Scientists and forestry experts met in Quesnel this week to look for solutions for the future of the sector. From left: Brion Salter, U.S. Forest Service geographer; Dr. Susan Pritchard, U.S. Forest Service forest ecologist; Dr. Nick Povak, U.S. Forest Service ecologist; Dr. Robin Gregory, UBC senior research scientist; Dr. Paul Hessberg, U.S. Forest Service landscape ecologist; Robert Gray, forest fire ecologist, Gray Consulting; and Erin Robinson, Fraser Basin Council regional manager. Melanie Law photo

Ecologists, industry experts look at solutions for forestry sector in face ‘new normal’

Scientists met with forestry bigwigs in Quesnel to brainstorm restructuring forest management

The City of Quesnel facilitated a session this week for forestry professionals and scientists as part of an ongoing project to re-examine the future of the industry.

The Landscape Modelling and Scoping Session took place Sept. 25-26 at the Billy Barker Casino Hotel showroom, bringing together around 40 experts from across the province, as well as a team of scientists from Washington, USA, including landscape ecologist Dr. Paul Hessburg.

The session was designed to build upon ideas from Quesnel’s Future of Forestry Think Tank, which was held in May this year, to reconsider how the forestry industry manages the landscape in order for the sector to remain viable when faced with climate change, widespread forest fires and beetle epidemics.

READ MORE: Quesnel Think Tank calls for ‘forest resiliency’ to keep sector viable

West Fraser Mills’ chief forester for B.C. operations Jeff Mycock was in attendance, and addressed the gathering on Wednesday morning.

“We are hearing that this is climate change and this [large-scale forest fires; beetle kill] is the new normal … yes, climate change is a major factor, but this is a forest management problem with a forest management solution, and that’s the mantra we want to get more broadly endorsed,” he explained.

Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson continued: “Climate change is an accelerant. The root cause is the forest management conundrum, where we thought we were doing something that was sustainable forest management, and it’s not.”

Session attendees were charged with coming up with short- and long-term solutions to address the issues currently facing the forestry sector.

Simpson explained the experts in the room had the resources and tools to frame the questions, so that if Quesnel’s industry is sanctioned to implement a new way to work on a land-base, the industry will be able to engage with the community and local stakeholders on the issues as well as the methods to move forward.

Research from the United States

Dr. Hessburg attended the session along with a team of scientists from his U.S. Forest Service Pacific North West lab in Washington State. The lab has been working for around 25 years to diagnose problems with how we manage the landscape – including forests – and chart a new course.

“We’ve been applying what we’ve learned from our research to the landscape.

“We are applying those same kinds of ideas here – how did the landscape change as a consequence of management and our uses over 100 years, and what did those changes bring about in terms of landscape processes – like wildfire and its behaviour; defoliation [stripping a tree of its leaves] as a natural process, but now a highly inflated process; and bark beetle mortality. All these things are natural agents across the landscape and they are behaving in a peculiar and large-scale way right now. What caused that?”

Hessburg argued that we need to take a longer view of landscape management, and to co-operate with how a landscape naturally functions in order to find a new way to manage the forests in terms of industry.

“What we are finding out is that when we don’t mimic that [natural] functionality, that’s when we go askew. We are noticing it throughout the Western U.S. as well.”

READ MORE: Era of Megafires – what people need to know

Hessburg and his team have been studying U.S. forests to discover how not allowing natural wildfires to occur combined with industrial logging has affected landscapes.

“There is some wilderness in the U.S. where we haven’t logged. So we can go there and say, ‘If we haven’t logged but we’ve kept fires out for maybe five decades, what does that look like?’ When you remove the logging influence, how does that differ from places where you kept fire out and you logged?” explained Hessburg.

Hessburg said he believes recent ecological events mean the current environment for collaboration between forestry management and science is at its best.

“We commonly recognize the need to up our game, we recognize things are broken and we might be the most clever if we work together to apply knowledge, answer questions and figure out answers together.”

Dr. Susan Pritchard, a forest ecologist from Seattle, summed it up: “I think the catchphrase would be that necessity is the mother of invention.”

Effects of landscape planning on local industry

West Fraser chief forester Mycock said the company recognizes the sector’s systems for ensuring sustainable forestry management are no longer optimum.

“We are participating in this process in the hopes of creating more stability and more certainty in the future, with the underlying premise being that healthy forests equal healthy industry, which equals a healthy community.”

He said he can’t answer questions as to how changing the way the industry manages forests will affect local forestry jobs and the economics of the sector as a whole, but he believes continuing with the current forest management system will only mean trouble for the future.

“There’s many different ways to approach the problem. How do we rebuild these landscapes? Do we plant the same density [of trees], or vary the density? Do we promote deciduous forests more than we have historically? Probably we are looking at different recipes for all those kinds of approaches than what we have historically done,” he said.

Mycock said the forestry industry has adapted before, finding a way to process beetle kill, among other things, and can adapt again.

“What we know today is that we see a lot of uncertainty and instability in a land-base that we thought was more stable. … We feel compelled that we have to do something. We have to work towards a different outcome.”

The City of Quesnel is continuing conversations with provincial and federal politicians in the hopes of getting a greenlight to work on the local land-base and implement some of the ideas that are being developed by this session as well as others that have taken place in the region since May.

The Landscape Modelling and Scoping Session was funded by the City of Quesnel and the Cariboo-Chilcotin Beetle-Action Coalition, as well as funds from Cariboo Strong.

READ MORE: City council allocates remainder of Cariboo Strong funds

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