Forestry and forests can unify

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BY ECOLOGICAL RESEARCH NETWORK

In 2020, we were hit by an enormous amount of change. 

People in our community are worried about COVID-19, their jobs, their housing and the state of the environment. We’re witnessing increasingly dangerous fire seasons, deeper droughts, wilder storms, declining salmon populations and increasing numbers of species at risk — the hallmarks of a century of land-use change and accelerating climate change. We write as part of a newly formed Ecological Research Network, comprising resident scientists who are studying aspects of forestry, water, ecology, climate change and fire risk on Salt Spring Island.

As we read Jamie Harris’s impassioned opinion piece in the Driftwood on Nov. 25, 2020, followed by letters by Sheila Dobie and Jean Wilkinson (Dec. 17, 2020), we empathize and want to contribute to this conversation about the value of coastal Douglas-fir forests. As Jamie’s letter makes clear, we could all benefit from discourse and collaboration among islanders on the subject of our forests. The health of our forests affects the safety of our communities from fire, the health of local ecosystems and watersheds, and the viability of local forestry livelihoods. All of these things are important elements of our island’s economy and culture. 

How we manage our forests bears directly on the safety of our communities. In the last decade, more forests have been cleared as a result of road building and development than forestry. Today our forests are vastly different from what they looked like 150 years ago. Old-growth forests have been replaced with fragmented stands of second and third-growth forests. Forest understory shrubs and deciduous trees that act as fire retardants are being lost as a result of over-browsing by deer. This has left soils dry, increasing risk of drought-related tree dieback. These factors, taken together with more than 100 years of fire suppression under increasingly hot and dry weather, have all the ingredients for creating significant forest fires. 

Our forested ecosystems also support water uptake and storage in our creeks, lakes and groundwater systems. The presence of forests within watersheds reduces erosion, holds soil moisture, moderates temperature and supports biological diversity, which makes these forests even stronger. Types of forestry that actively retain large, mature trees, the understorey, soil moisture and wildlife trees are key to reducing fire risk and drought.  By harvesting less wood than the forest generates, managed forests can still capture more carbon than they release; which is important to mitigating climate change. 

Recognizing the various values of our forests, the Salt Spring Local Trust Committee has expanded the charter for their Coastal Douglas-fir and Associated Ecosystems Project to enable community members who would be affected by changes to forest management to contribute to this planning process. We are now presented with a golden opportunity to come together as a community to discuss issues of safety, the health of our ecosystems, and the security of forestry, farming and other rural livelihoods on Salt Spring. The potential result: better policies and rules to improve our forests while providing timber, firewood, recreation, wildlife habitat and carbon storage.  

One thing is for sure when it comes to forests and forestry on Salt Spring: we all value good jobs, healthy ecosystems, sustainable water supply and a future that’s safer from forest fires. We are not interested in banning logging on this island. The Coastal Douglas-fir Project is another example of an opportunity for all of us to work together to ensure the different values we share are considered. 

We look forward to working with island foresters, farmers, related businesses and the Islands Trust to help realize these important potential outcomes.

The Ecological Research Network, affiliated with Transition Salt Spring, includes Ruth Waldick, Tara Martin, Briony Penn and Susan Hannon. 

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