Lillooet, AAC Rationale

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- wildlife habitats

The Lillooet TSA has a great diversity of wildlife species, including ungulates such as mountain goat, bighorn sheep, deer, and moose; predators including grizzly and black bears, and wolves; furbearers such as marten, fisher, and lynx; numerous forest bird species such as woodpeckers that depend on large diameter trees and snags; and reptiles such as the western racer. Habitat also exists in the TSA for red-listed (endangered/threatened) and blue-listed (sensitive/vulnerable) species such as the prairie falcon, spotted owl, pallid bat, wolverine, badger, and western rattlesnake.

The forest inventory used in the timber supply analysis for the base case recognized approximately 1280 ha as being environmentally sensitive for wildlife (Ew). In the analysis, about 45 percent of this Ew area, 582 ha, was deleted from the timber harvesting land base. The analysis also applied the Lillooet Forest District Integrated Resource Management Timber Harvesting Guidelines, which recommend that at least 20 percent of the timber harvesting land base be at least 80 years or older at any one time in order to provide thermal cover conditions for ungulate winter range. The base case implicitly addresses some additional wildlife habitat needs through the large area of productive forest land that is not in the timber harvesting land base, as well as forested areas in other management zones within the TSA (such as the selection zone); although, as is the case for biodiversity (as discussed above), the magnitude of this protection is uncertain at this time.

In an effort to reduce the number of guidelines directing forest development, use of the Lillooet Forest District Integrated Resource Management Timber Harvesting Guidelines was discontinued when the Code was introduced. The Code and associated regulations and guidebooks will direct development planning to ensure protection of wildlife habitat.

BC Environment submitted that the timber supply analysis did not specifically model ungulate winter range, grizzly bear habitat, or rare and endangered species, and that the forest cover requirements assumed in the base case may not be adequate to protect wildlife habitat. Concern was also expressed that if non-conventional logging methods were to occur outside the assumed timber harvesting land base, this could impact mountain goat winter range.

Currently, protection of ungulate winter range is the principal objective of wildlife habitat management in the TSA. Approximately 209 000 ha of ungulate winter range lie within the total operable area of the TSA, of which an estimated 100 000 ha overlap with the timber harvesting land base. This substantial area represents about 38 percent of the timber harvesting land base and is primarily deer winter range defined on the basis of the capability of the land to support wintering deer. BC Environment staff suggests that, for deer winter range, ideal forest cover objectives would allow no more than 20 percent of the area to be below a green-up height of 3 metres (as opposed to 33 percent assumed in the IRM zone), and would require greater than 40 percent of the area to be under thermal cover at 19.5 m height (compared to 20 percent mature cover as assumed in the IRM zone).

These prescriptions are similar to a 5-pass harvesting regime, which sensitivity analysis shows to have a significant short-term timber supply impact when modelled for the entire timber harvesting land base. However, as noted, the above-referenced management strategy has not been approved by the district manager and does not reflect current management or planning objectives in the TSA at this time, nor is it implied that this regime should be considered for the entire TSA. The 14 percent of the timber harvesting land base that lies in the selection zone, and the 3 percent in the visual zone, are primarily in the winter range and are subject to management prescriptions that should accommodate deer winter range. Nevertheless, much of the winter range falls within the IRM zone. Given the timber supply impacts of assuming a 5-pass harvesting system for the large deer winter range in the TSA, this issue could have significant implications for timber supply depending on the balance to be struck between managing for deer and managing for timber outputs. The Lillooet LRMP process can provide a means of developing appropriate guidelines, tailored to the TSA, which can be incorporated in detail in the next timber supply analysis. For the present determination, I have been mindful of the potential risk which this factor presents to the timber supply in the near term.

Moose winter range is associated with wetlands and riparian areas in the TSA. According to BC Environment, the BCFS analysis base case has indirectly modelled mature forest cover requirements in moose winter range (i.e. 20 percent of the forest cover must be greater than 80 years old), but the analysis does not model special habitat requirements around wetlands. BC Environment staff would like no more than one-third of the forest surrounding wetlands to be less than 20 years old, and the buffer surrounding wetlands to be about 200 metres in width. If these prescriptions are adopted in the TSA, this will represent a slight downward influence on the timber supply projected in the base case. However, at this time, the currently approved management regime is as modelled in the base case.

Grizzly bear habitat requirements were not directly modelled in the base case. BC Environment would prefer a 5-pass harvesting system for about 8000 ha (3 percent) of the timber harvesting land base in wetter biogeoclimatic units, and a 4-pass system for about 4000 ha in drier biogeoclimatic units. BC Environment stated that a forthcoming provincial grizzly bear strategy may provide additional direction on the management of grizzly bear habitat. As noted above, sensitivity analysis shows that the use of a 5-pass system (on the whole timber harvesting land base) creates a short-term supply reduction, but no effect is shown with the use of a 4-pass system. I have recognized in this determination that if a 5-pass system is needed for some grizzly bear habitat areas, that this would represent a small downward influence on projected short-term timber supplies.

The base case does not provide for any special habitat requirements for rare or endangered species like the spotted owl. BC Environment estimates that about 34 000 ha of productive forest lands are capable of providing spotted owl habitat in the TSA, but it is not known how much of this is in the timber harvesting land base or in protected areas. The provincial government is developing a provincial strategy concerning spotted owls, but at this time, the timber supply impacts of the strategy and its applicability to the Lillooet TSA are not known.

In summary, there is uncertainty over what management practices should apply in important wildlife habitat areas in the TSA in order to integrate the maintenance of wildlife and timber supply. The Lillooet LRMP provides an appropriate forum for public discussion and resolution of this issue, for incorporation into the next AAC determination. The current uncertainty respecting management practices and impacts on timber supply highlights the need to assess, in the next timber supply analysis, the contributions toward achieving desired wildlife habitat conditions that are made by any new protected areas, by new Code provisions for riparian habitats and for biodiversity, and by the extensive area of productive forest land that is not in the timber harvesting land base.

I am aware that sensitivity analysis shows that changing to a 5-pass harvesting system over the entire TSA would result in a reduction of about 5-percent from the initial base case harvest level, and that potentially more restrictive forest cover guidelines to meet habitat objectives in parts of the TSA could therefore have an impact on timber supply. In view of the potential risks to timber supply associated with the uncertainty in this issue, in this determination I have acknowledged the risks to future timber supplies associated with the need to protect important wildlife habitat, as discussed under "Reasons for decision".

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