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July 1st, 2015 ~ Vol. 85 No. 26
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Time to ask about how our Forest Reserves are treated
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Vyk Harnett photo
View of Forest reserve area from Adanac road.
LORNE FITCH, P. BIOL.
Landowners bordering the Forest Reserve must feel special these days, especially where logging is proposed. Senior Alberta Forestry staff have visited them, sometimes repeatedly, to warn them of the dangers of unlogged forests.
The message is, these landowners face grave danger from wildfire and even if they escape the conflagration, in the aftermath of the fire their water will be poisoned. The solution? Log these forests now, without delay.
We expect partial truths, mistruths and untruths in politics and advertising but not from senior bureaucrats who likely hold professional certification as Professional Foresters. Their message on fire and logging verges on fable.
Logging has long been touted by the Forest Service and the timber industry as a preventative for fire, not because this is factually correct but because it supports more logging. The notion that we can prevent fires with logging has been largely discounted by independent foresters, researchers and fire ecologists.
To objectively address the fable about fire we all have to recognize that whether we live in the forest, next to the forest or in a house far from a forest we all face the risk of fire. The risk varies but despite all we do it cannot be reduced to zero.
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Fires are an ever present risk in forested landscapes and part of natural ecological processes. Decades of rigorous forest fire suppression has increased (not decreased) the risks of wildfire and especially catastrophic ones because of a build-up of fuel loads. Homogenizing our forests with industrial clear-cut logging has created even-aged stands of primarily lodgepole pine with closed canopies, which fire experts point out significantly enhances fire risk.
The Lost Creek fire which burned to the edge of the Crowsnest Pass in 2003, is viewed as an epic and catastrophic wildfire. Knowledge that is lost to many is this fire occurred in watersheds subject to almost continuous logging since the early 1900s. If logging was the silver bullet, following the reasoning of the fable, this fire shouldn’t have happened.
As for wildfires “poisoning” the water, this seems to be a case of being careless with the truth. The United States Environmental Protection Agency, in an exhaustive review, found fires can impact water quality, from addition of sediment, nutrients and other constituents. However, none of this constituted “poisoning”, in the sense people would expire from drinking untreated water. In reality, logging duplicates many of the impacts of fire on water quality.
Landowners who border the Forest Reserve (and the rest of us) deserve to hear a balanced, objective review of logging and fire. That might start with the facts about fire risk and not the smokescreen to enable more logging. Factual information would also include the hydrologic effects of logging, like greater spring runoff, greater flood risk and lower later season flows when downstream residents and fish need the water most.
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Part of that balanced story would be the impacts of sediment bleeding from cutblocks and logging roads causing harm to threatened fish species. Of concern to the neighbors downslope of the Forest Reserve is the proliferation of exotic, invasive weeds that logging inevitably brings.
If the Forest Service was really serious about mitigating some of the impacts of wildfires we might see a concerted effort to reintroduce fire, in controlled ways, to reduce fuel loads and create diverse vegetation mosaics more resistant to fire. We would see more selective cutting, thinning and wider, fire-resistant riparian buffers. Fire protection would include a rollback of much of the road and trail network implicated in many of the human-caused fire starts.
Using the threat of forest fire as an excuse to log is fearmongering at its worst. One begins to wonder in whose interest are these Forest Service staff operating. The evidence suggests it is not in the public interest. Working in the public interest requires adherence to professional standards of objectivity, truthfulness and fairness. Landowners and the public are not well served with fables and fairy tales.
Perhaps this is an opportune time for our new government, with new mandates, to ask some fundamental questions about the Forest Service and how our Forest Reserves are being treated. A start might include a review of the conduct of “professionals” in the Forest Service and the fables spun to enable logging.

Lorne Fitch is a Professional Biologist, a retired Fish and Wildlife Biologist and an Adjunct Professor with the University of Calgary.
lafitch@shaw.ca ; 403 328 1245
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July 1st ~ Vol. 85 No. 26
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